A Courageous Witness

Maryknoll Father Ron Hennessey was courageous,

Maryknoll Father Ron Hennessey was courageous, open to life, funny, welcoming, wise, a brilliant political strategist and holy - very holy. Simply put, he was one of the best human beings I have ever known. He survived years of extremely dangerous mission assignments accompanying Mayan communities targeted by the genocidal scorched-earth strategies of the Guatemalan military. And he served the people of El Salvador during some of the most violent years of the U.S.-supported war there. Hennessey’s sudden death in 1999, when he was at home in Iowa to celebrate his sister’s funeral, left a gaping hole in many hearts and, we feared, big gaps in an important eyewitness account of Central America’s agony during the last 35 years of the 20th century.

Those of us who were gifted by his sister Dorothy Marie with copies of the letters Hennessey so faithfully sent home, or who heard his stories firsthand when a particular memory - sometimes comical, often painful - surfaced, knew that despite their humble telling, Hennessey’s stories were extraordinary.

Tom Melville, through his friendship with Hennessey and his own years in Guatemala, knew that too, and he spent many hours with Hennessey retrieving details of his experience. Through a Glass Darkly: The U.S. Holocaust in Central America is the fruit of that effort and of additional extensive research.

Melville’s unusual literary technique of reconstructing conversations from Hennessey’s stories works well, immediately engaging the reader in the horrific reality of Guatemala between 1964 and 1995. His detailed account of Guatemalan and U.S. political intrigue also provides excellent context and important analysis for the heart-wrenching human tragedy that unfolds around the Maryknoll missioner.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2005
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