Each of us who works in Catholic education finds our inspiration from a unique constellation of influences and experiences. For Partnership Schools’ Enrollment Manager, Nick Endo, one of those influences is a group the Catholic Church celebrates today: six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter, all called to serve at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in El Salvador and murdered together 31 years ago today. The legacy of these Jesuit martyrs shapes Nick’s work today.
I was eighteen years old when I visited the rose garden at the Jesuit residence of the UCA for the first time. Six Jesuit priests lived together in a simple green house at the university during El Salvador’s civil war, and they doggedly persisted with their work in service of the poor, despite numerous death threats and the murders of other priests. When I visited that garden, I was stepping into the space where, after being dragged out of their beds in the middle of the night on November 16, the Jesuits were shot and killed by members of the Salvadoran Army.
Eight rose bushes were planted in the garden by the time I visited, one for each of the six Jesuit martyrs and two others for Elba and Celina, their housekeeper and her daughter, who had also been killed that night. As I stood and looked at each of the roses, I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be Obdulio, Elba’s husband and the Jesuits’ gardener who discovered the eight bodies at dawn. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to have been a student at the university or a friend of the priests and the fear they must have felt upon hearing the news. And I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be one of the Jesuits themselves: to work for the liberation of the poor all while knowing that doing so was putting their lives at risk.
That dedication to a mission of justice, shaped by faith, struck me that day as the worthiest way to live. That day in the rose garden has animated every day of work I’ve done in Catholic schools since—from teaching theology at a Jesuit high school on the island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia, to returning to El Salvador to support college students at the UCA in their personal and spiritual development, to my work now, helping families of all backgrounds access the profoundly liberating experience of learning and growing in our schools.
The story of the UCA’s martyrs has stuck with me for several reasons. First, I am inspired by the way the Jesuits exemplified the idea of a faith that does justice. Even as flyers bearing the slogan “Be a patriot, kill a priest” were scattered outside of churches in the country, the Jesuits’ radical faith pushed them to commit their lives to serving marginalized communities—a deep embrace of God’s preferential option for the poor.
As a college theology major, I was also drawn to the way the Jesuits interpreted Scripture to reflect on their historical reality. As a result, they urge us to understand the need for salvation not just from abstract evil, but from the sin of unjust societal structures around us, like poverty and social oppression.
Finally, I am animated by their approach to education, especially since I have spent almost my entire life in Catholic schools, first as a student, then as a teacher and staff member, and now as the Partnership’s enrollment manager. Ignacio Ellacuría, the UCA’s president who was among the six Jesuits murdered on November 16, was a philosopher; as an academic and part of an established religious order, he could have easily maintained that the university hold itself apart from the political turmoil around it. Yet he worked for exactly the opposite. He argued that the key objective of the university was to understand la realidad nacional (the national reality) and to do work in service of the poor. It was the choice to center the university on this objective that ultimately killed Ellacuría and the others. For those inspired by the legacy of the martyrs—including me—I hope that faith does not pull us away from present realities, but rather energizes and informs our work to shape them into something new, more just, and more truly Christian.
Today, I reflect on how the legacy of the UCA martyrs connects to my work now. The day-to-day responsibilities of my role in enrollment can sometimes feel quotidian—organizing data, helping school teams process applications, tracking scholarships. I know, though, that my work is ultimately in service of something much bigger than myself. My colleagues and I aren’t just working on spreadsheets, or even academic results; we are shaping scholars to become saints. As the enrollment manager, I get to help make an excellent, values-driven education accessible to as many students from as many backgrounds as possible and to ensure that our schools—which, combined, have been serving their communities for over a thousand years—can continue to serve students for centuries to come. This work feels special to me and, in my own very small way, like I am doing my part to continue the legacy of the martyrs.
I’ve been back to El Salvador several times since I first traveled to the country on a cultural immersion trip shortly after graduating from high school. Each time, I have tried to make at least one visit back to the rose garden. While a horrible act of violence occurred in that place, it was not sufficient to extinguish the pursuit of social justice that lives on in many of us privileged to have visited there.
Today, we honor the eight UCA martyrs and ask God to let their lives inspire us to commit our own lives to the pursuit of justice for the poor.
Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J.
Ignacio Martín-Baró, S.J.
Segundo Montes, S.J.
Juan Ramón Moreno, S.J.
Joaquín López y López, S.J.
Amando López, S.J.