Footsteps of Faith | Sojourners

Footsteps of Faith

On the night her daughter was killed, Pat Donovan remembers, "I was up all night. I had this terrible feeling that if she didn't come home, something terrible was going to happen to her. And I kept begging God to bring Jeannie home."

Before she learned that her only daughter was missing in El Salvador, Pat Donovan knew something was wrong. Three days later, the worst fears of Pat and her husband, Ray, parents of a 27-year-old lay Catholic missionary, came true. A grave was found, and the bodies of Jean Donovan, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, and Dorothy Kazel, four Catholic women working with the people of El Salvador, were uncovered.

On December 2,1980, Jean and Dorothy, an Ursuline sister, drove their white Toyota van to San Salvador's international airport to pick up two Maryknoll sisters, Maura and Ita, who were returning from Nicaragua.

After meeting their friends, they were to return to the port town of La Libertad, where Jean and Dorothy were based. But they never returned. Two days later their grave was discovered. They had been sexually assaulted and shot.

There was little to prepare Ray and Pat Donovan, then 63 and 56 respectively, for their daughter's death. But, in a sense, they were also not quite prepared for her life. Little-in Jean's early life offered hints of the momentous decisions she would make in her mid-20s. Jean's decisions not only radically altered her commitments, her life, and her faith, they altered those of her parents as well.

Jean Donovan had placed her life on a path from which there was no going back, not because she met her death in El Salvador but because it was there that she met her calling. And it was Jean's life, even more than her tragic and horrible death, that dramatically changed the course of the life of her parents.

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