Kevin Yonkers-Talz
Kevin Yonkers-Talz
Kevin Yonkers-Talz is the co-founder of Casa de la Solidaridad, an academic initiative between the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the University of Central America (UCA) in El Salvador and Santa Clara University.

Like many, I never met the UCA Martyrs. My first visit to the UCA was in 1992, three years after the deaths of the six Jesuits, Elba and Celina. I am, however, a witness to their spirit living on in the Salvadorans with whom I work, in my work with Casa de la Solidaridad and, more personally, in the lives of my four daughters.

Allow me to provide some modest reflections on how I see the spirit of the UCA martyrs — their legacy — living on today.

Lolo Guardado


One of my wisest Salvadoran friends is Lolo Guardado. He is a loving husband and father of two precious girls. When he was eight years old, he survived the massacre of Rio Sumpul. He currently struggles to provide for his family. In the short video below, Lolo talks about what the UCA martyrs mean to him and his family.


Casa de la Solidaridad


Fifteen years ago, my wife and I helped co-found Casa de la Solidaridad, a praxis-based model of education rooted in the Jesuit tradition of higher education, specifically to commemorate the lives and commitments of the UCA Martyrs. In 2000, Fr. Kolvenbach said during his talk given at Santa Clara University that, “The real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become.” I see the spirit of the UCA Martyrs living on in the lives of our alums. Here are some examples of who they have become.


Sophia, Grace, Hannah and Emma


Raising our four daughters in El Salvador, although at times challenging, is the greatest gift. One of the things I most appreciate about raising them here is that they are growing up as comfortable hanging out at our friend’s house in Tepecoyo, where people live with dirt floors and sheet metal walls, as they do at my folks’ house in the suburbs outside of Chicago. At the same time, they are keenly aware of and feel the discomfort of having friends with limited resources. They are friends, for example, with Lolo’s (mentioned above) kids and, therefore, see the consequences of a life marked by economic hardship. Each year, we participate in the vigil/Mass at the UCA commemorating the lives of the Salvadoran martyrs, and we tell the girls the stories of what happened with varying degrees of detail depending on their ages. Trena and I experience a great deal of consolation knowing that the spirit of the martyrs will live on in our girls.


The Jesuits died because of the way they imaged what it means to be a university and then, of course, for how they implemented that vision. Being outspoken advocates for justice and peace in El Salvador in the late 80s came with a high cost. For those of us who work at Jesuit colleges and universities, I believe their lives and commitments offer us both inspiration as well as a challenge as we continue to live our mission of promoting faith that does justice. 

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