By Jeannine Gramick
June 6, 2013 was the 20th anniversary of Ann Manganaro’s untimely death at 46 from cancer.
Ann was a Sister of Loretto, co-founder of Karen Catholic Worker House in St. Louis, and a physician who dedicated her life to the poor in El Salvador.
Even though I never met her, I have heard many people speak lovingly about Ann. I first heard about her from my friend Cathy Arata, SSND, who worked with her in El Salvador during that country’s violent civil war. I came in touch with Ann more recently when I went to San Salvador in March to be part of El Salvador’s first national conference on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights at the Jesuit University of Central America [UCA]. In between sessions, I visited with Fr. Manuel Acosta, who teaches at the UCA. He shared warm memories of Ann who was “committed” and “strong,” a true “companion and fellow sufferer” with the people of El Salvador. He knew no one who did not have the deepest love and respect for her. At the UCA, I serendipitously met Marilyn Lorenz and a delegation of Nerinx students who were meeting up with a film crew documenting Ann’s life.
My introduction to others was facilitated by Gene Palumbo, a freelance journalist who came from the U.S. in the 1980s to cover the civil war. Gene, like so many others, was eager to share stories about Ann to keep her memory alive. Gene offered to take me and Frank DeBernardo, the Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, who was with me at the conference, to the rural community where Ann spent her final years.
Before we left San Salvador, we met with Dagoberto Menjivar who like Fr. Acosta, was trained by Ann as a health promoter and worked with her in Chalatenango. Ann encouraged him to study medicine but he objected, saying he was too old. Not leaving it at that, Ann countered that she started medical school in her 30s. So in 1994 at age 23, Dago enrolled in the medical school of the National University. Dr. Dagoberto Menjivar is now the director of the clinic Ann founded.
We left Dagoberto and traveled for several hours in Gene’s 1979 jeep. The passenger side door did not open from the outside and, of course, there was no air conditioning. Now this felt like the warm and cozy El Salvador Ann loved!
Our first stop was at the modest home of retired Bishop Eduardo Alas Alfaro, who was the Bishop in Chalatenango while Ann lived there. “When I think of Ann,” he said, “I think of an angel passing through our lives… She served the people and gave us hope. That’s who she was.”
We continued to Guarjila and up to the Clinica Ana Manganero, which is much bigger than when Ann founded it. When the clinic staff negotiated with the government for a grant to expand, the team insisted that the clinic continue to bear Ann’s name.
I met Marlene Cruz, a clinic nurse trained by Ann. Half of the health workers Ann trained continue to staff the clinic today. Marlene told the story of Ann’s arrival in 1987.
There were “no doctors, no nurses, no health workers, no houses, no roads, no water.” Ann worked tirelessly in and around Guarjila and once a month would visit the surrounding communities in the midst of the bombings. Because of Ann’s training of midwives and health promoters, there have been no infant mortalities in Guarjila to this day, Marlene said.
The clinic celebrated the 20th anniversary of Ann’s death on June 6, 2013. Three of Ann’s sisters came for the celebration. Marlene had met Ann’s family in the U.S. in 1997 and was struck by the fact that Ann had grown up in comfortable circumstances but opted to live with El Salvador’s poor. “She made a big impact on me,” Marlene said, “because she gave herself to people who had nothing.” Marlene turned to a picture of Ann on the clinic wall. The picture was framed with the words, “Because love is stronger than death, Sister Ann lives in us.”
Ann Manganaro, you live in Loretto and in everyone whose lives you touched. I am blessed to know you.
Photo credits: All photos were taken by Francis DeBernardo