When Ita Ford decided to become a missionary sister, she was following in the footsteps of a distant relative.
Bishop Francis Xavier Ford was one of Maryknoll’s fist missionaries to China, where he served from 1918 to 1952. He died in a Chinese prison.
Born in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York, Ita joined Maryknoll after college in 1961. Ill health forced her to leave the community so she worked as an editor for a publishing company for several years. In 1971, she reapplied to Maryknoll and was accepted.
After studying in Bolivia for two years, Ita was assigned to Chile. Within months of her arrival, a military coup overthrew the government, yet Ita decided to remain in Chile to work among the poor. In 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero asked for help in El Salvador, and Ita and another sister decided to go. Shortly before their arrival, Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980.
In El Salvador, the two Maryknoll sisters worked with refugees. During their fist summer, they were caught in a flash flood, and only Ita survived. Following her friend’s death, Ita chose to stay in El Salvador. She was soon joined by another Maryknoll sister, Maura Clarke.
On this day in 1980, national guardsmen in El Salvador gunned down Sr. Ita Ford, Sr. Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sr. Dorothy Kazel, and a United States lay woman named Jean Donovan. The soldiers were later convicted and served 17 years of a 30-year prison sentence for the women’s rape and murder.