Jean Donovan : biography
Jean Donovan (April 10, 1953 – December 2, 1980) was an American lay missionary who was raped and murdered along with three Religious Sisters in El Salvador by a military death squad while volunteering to do charity work during the civil war there.
Jean Donovan was born to Patricia and Raymond Donovan, who raised her in an upper middle-class home in Westport, Connecticut. She had an older brother, Michael. published by the Inter-Religious Task Force of Cleveland; accessed online December 9, 2006. She attended Mary Washington College in Virginia (now the University of Mary Washington), and spent a year as an exchange student in Ireland at University College Cork, deepening her Roman Catholic faith through her contact with a priest there who had been a missionary in Peru.
Upon the completion of her master's degree in business from Case Western Reserve University, she accepted a position as a management consultant for the Cleveland branch of the nationwide accounting firm, Arthur Andersen. by Rev. John Dear, December 2, 2005; accessed online December 9, 2006.
Donovan was engaged to a young physician, Douglas Cable, and felt a strong call to motherhood as well as her call to do mission work: "...I sit there and talk to God and say 'Why are you doing this to me? Why can't I just be your little suburban housewife?'
While volunteering in the Cleveland Diocese Youth Ministry with the poor, she decided to join the Diocesan Mission Project in El Salvador. She was accepted into and completed the lay-missionary training course at Maryknoll in New York State.
Donovan traveled to El Salvador in July 1977, where she worked as a lay missioner in La Libertad, along with Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline nun. The pair worked in the parish of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in La Libertad, providing help to refugees of the Salvadoran Civil War and the poor. They provided shelter, food, transportation to medical care, and they buried the bodies of the dead left behind by the death squads.
Donovan was a follower of Archbishop Óscar Romero, and often went to his cathedral, the Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador, to hear him preach. After his assassination on March 24, 1980, about eight months before their own murders, she and Sister Dorothy Kazel stood beside his coffin during the night-long vigil of his wake.
In the weeks before she died, Donovan wrote a friend:“The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme and they were right to leave... Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.” accessed online December 9, 2006.
Films and plays
Donovan is the main subject of the 1982 documentary Roses in December, which also includes footage regarding Archbishop Romero and Sister Dorothy Kazel. at American Friends Service Committee lending library; accessed online December 9, 2006. This documentary won the Interfilm Award at the 1982 International Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg.
Melissa Gilbert played Jean Donovan in a 1983 television movie, Choices of the Heart, which has been criticized for lacking clarity about the political context of the women's killings. The movie won the 1984 Humanitas Prize in the 90-minute category. Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen, and Mike Farrell were among the cast members.
In Salvador, Oliver Stone's 1986 film about an American reporter trying to cover the overall conflict, Cynthia Gibb portrays the Donovan-based character Cathy Moore and is shown in several scenes interacting with the main character. The film also depicts the rape and murder of the four women.
In March 1996, a one-woman play written by Lisa Wagner premiered in Kansas City and then went on a national tour which included a month in Chicago. Wagner had written an earlier work about Dorothy Day called Haunted by God. The 1996 play, written with her parents' permission and with research in El Salvador among the people who knew Donovan, was called Points of Arrival. The narrative displays Donovan's sunny personality in the context of her somber spiritual journey, with emphasis on the last months of her life. It was developed with support from the Joliet Franciscan Sisters (Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate) and Call to Action, a progressive Catholic group. September 1996; accessed online December 12, 2006.
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