Loyola University Chicago

Ignatian Heritage Month

2015 Recipient

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Sister JoAnn Persch is executive director of the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants, the first recipient of Loyola’s new Martyrs Award. “We have so many wonderful men and women volunteers who make up this organization,” Persch says. (Photo: Natalie Battaglia)

Loyola announces winner of new Martyrs Award

By Ana Plefka | Student reporter 

Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom of six Jesuit priests and two others who were assassinated in El Salvador for speaking out against the government and advocating for the poor.


It was after this anniversary last November that Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., then president of Loyola, proposed that the University do something different to honor the Salvadoran martyrs.


“Father Garanzini noted that the people who knew the martyrs first-hand are aging out. We have fewer and fewer people who can talk directly about them,” said Chris Murphy, director of staff mission formation at Loyola. “He said we need to do something to carry on the legacy of these Jesuits.”


From Garanzini’s idea came Loyola’s new Martyrs Award, an honor that keeps the memory and mission of the Salvadoran martyrs alive by recognizing a faith-based organization committed to social justice.


The recipient of this year’s inaugural Martyrs Award—and the $25,000 grant that comes with it—is the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants (ICDI), a Chicago nonprofit that helps those caught in the immigration detention process.


“I was thrilled when I received the letter about the award,” said Sister JoAnn Persch, the executive director of ICDI and a graduate of Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies. “We have so many wonderful men and women volunteers who make up this organization, and I think they deserve to be recognized.”


Winning an award in commemoration of the Salvadoran martyrs is more than just a material recognition to Persch. While on a delegation in El Salvador more than 25 years ago, Persch met Amando López Quintana, S.J., one of the six Jesuits slain in 1989.


“He spoke very clearly about how they knew their lives were in danger,” said Persch of her conversation with López before he was assassinated. “He was such a peaceful man, but you could see the courage he had. It really impressed me.”

The ICDI, which Persch co-founded, is a perfect reflection of this courage and commitment to serving the marginalized that the Martyrs Award acknowledges.


The vision behind the ICDI started in January 2007 when Persch and Sister Pat Murphy, the nonprofit’s other co-founder, stood outside the Broadview Immigration Staging Center with an immigration case lawyer to support immigrants being deported that day.


“We knew we had to be there every week,” Persch said. “Everything that has grown grew out of the call we felt that day.”


Nearly nine years later, volunteers from the ICDI still visit Broadview every Friday from 5–10 a.m. to pray on buses filled with those being deported, support families who are saying goodbye to loved ones, and act as witnesses to the injustices of the immigration system.


Not only does the ICDI support immigrants facing deportation, but the organization’s staff and volunteers also offer prison visitation services, a court watch program, and a post-detention accompaniment network that helps people who are released from Broadview.


While the ICDI does not have any formal plans yet for the Martyrs Award grant, Persch said the money could help the organization rent space to house people who are released from detainment or prison with nowhere to go and no family to ask for help.


Persch said no group or person should be excluded from fighting to right the wrongs faced by undocumented people and immigrants.


“This is not a Catholic issue,” she said. “We have 16 different faith groups represented in our volunteers. It’s a faith issue, a human issue.”

The award ceremony and presentation took place in Damen Student Center. There was a Memorial Mass in Madonna Della Strada and a reception followed in McCormick Lounge. 


Martyrs Award 109 

Mark Kuczewski, PhD, from Loyola University's Neiswagner Institute for Bioethics & Health Policy addressed the issue of the academic as an ally to undocumented medical students.


Martyrs Award 150


Flavio Bravo, '16 and Mayra Martinez, '18, spoke about student activism and cultivating an inclusive community through which their efforts a scholarship for undocumented undergraduates was created.


Martyrs Award 210


Stephen N. Katsouros, S.J., Dean and Executive Director, Arrupe College titled his talk, "To see everything with new eyes: Arrupe College's impact on access and achievement in Jesuit higher education."


Loyola University Chicago honored the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants, who respond to migrants and refuges from El Salvador and Latin America, with the inaugural Martyrs Award. Loyolans reflected on their efforts to live out the Jesuit mission of the Martyrs in light of the issue of immigration and undocumented people:


Marcos Gonzales, S.J., MSW Student,  Migration Studies Sub-Specialization, “Social Work and Migration: Immersed in Reality.”


Stephen N. Katsouros, S.J., Dean and Executive Director, Arrupe College, “To see everything with new eyes: Arrupe College’s impact on access and achievement in Jesuit higher education.”


Mark Kuczewski, PhD, Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics & Health Policy, “The Academic as Ally


Joseph Saucedo, Director, Office Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, with  Flavio Bravo, ‘16 and Mayra Martinez, ‘18,  “Student Activism & Creating an Inclusive Community for Undocumented Students”

Martyrs Award Reflection:

Melanie Schikore, PhD, Assistant Director, Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants, "Fearless Faith and Bold Hope:  Accompaniment, Service, and Advocacy for Today's Global Migrants"

Sister JoAnn Persch accepted the Martyrs Award on behalf of the ICDI on November 16—the 26th anniversary of the Salvadoran martyrs’ assassination—at 3:30 p.m. in the Damen Student Center. There was also a panel discussion at the event, where Persch and others discussed the ways in which students, faculty, and community members live out the Salvadoran martyrs’ mission in the context of immigration issues.

Future recipients of the Martyrs Award will be chosen through an internal nomination process at Loyola. An award committee will review any organizations or individuals who are nominated for their faith-based, social justice work. The committee will then recommend a winner that the president and provost will approve. Learn more