Ita Ford and the Spirit of Social Change
The life of Maryknoll Sister Ita Ford, one of four American churchwomen murdered by the El Salvadoran military in December 1980, underscores the complicated relationship between religion and left politics. Although largely overlooked in the historical scholarship on post-World War II American social movements, Catholic Sisters such as Ford played important roles as participants in and catalysts for social justice efforts, whether in the 1960s U.S. Civil Rights Movement or as practitioners of liberation theology in the 1970s and beyond. In Chile and El Salvador, Ford put her faith into action through the work of accompaniment: advocating for human rights, engaging in grassroots community organizing, and aiding refugees. Her life and work highlight how secular and sacred forces intertwined within late-twentieth-century struggles for social and political change.
Marian Mollin's current book project, a historical biography titled "The Power of Faith: Understanding the Life and Death of Maryknoll Sister Ita Ford," explores the historical questions raised by Ford's life and death, placed squarely within the context of postwar U.S. women's history, social movements and the "global sixties," the history of women religious, the dynamics of the late Cold War, North American and Latin American Catholic history, and the history of gender, missionaries, and empire. Ford's extraordinary life, which straddles momentous changes in Catholic, U.S., and Latin American history, highlights how gender, national identity, and religious faith intersected in the mid- and late-twentieth century to shape transnational efforts for social and political change. Just as important, this study reveals crucial hints about how to sustain activism and hope in the midst of anti-democratic forces of violence and repression.
Dr. Marian Mollin is an associate professor of History at Virginia Tech. She is a historian of gender, social movements, and political protest - an interest spurred by her experiences as a political organizer and activist in antiwar, Central America solidarity, social justice, and environmental causes. Her research, broadly framed, explores the connections between identity, activism, culture, and religion in the twentieth-century U.S.
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