Sister Laura Glynn, MM

Born: January 6, 1930
Entered: September 6, 1950
Died:  August 15, 2004

On Sunday, August 15, 2004, at about 7:15 p.m. Sister Laura Glynn died in Quito, Ecuador. Laura and Sister Elsie Monge went by their office to pick up some papers. Laura got out of the car to unlock the door at the bottom of an incline leading to the building’s underground garage. Because Laura was having trouble with the lock, Elsie turned off the car, put on the emergency brake and went to assist Laura. Just as the garage door opened, the vibration of a heavy truck on the street caused the Sisters’ car to start rolling down the incline. Laura was hit by the car.

Mary Lou Glynn was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on Januray 6, 1930, to Laura Tuttle Glynn and John F. Glynn. She had two brothers and two sisters.

Mary Lou attended Southwest Grade School and St. Joseph’s Junior High and Academy in Hartford, graduating in 1948. She entered Maryknoll on September 6, 1950, and at Reception received the name of Sister Laura John. She made First Profession of Vows on March 7, 1953. at Maryknoll, New York. Laura attended Maryknoll Teacher’s College from 1952 to 1956 and received a Bachelor of Education degree. She made Final Profession on March 7, 1959, in Siuna, Nicaragua.

Laura was assigned to work in Middle America in 1956 and went to Siuna, Nicaragua, where she studied Spanish. For ten years, Laura taught in a school that served the poor of Siuna. She was 2nd Councilor of the Maryknoll Sisters in the Middle America Region in 1961. In 1966 Laura was appointed House Superior in Santiago de Veraguas, Panama, and Principal of St. Vincent School where she also taught. The only other Sister in the school at the time was Elsie Monge. In 1968 both Sisters withdrew from the school to work in the education of the rural population through a radio station being founded by the Diocese of Santiago de Veraguas for that purpose. Both Sisters wrote radio programs related to consciousness raising under the auspices of the Diocesian Social Office and trained leaders in the rural areas of Veraguas. It was during this time that Father Hector Gallegos, pastor of one of the extensive rural parishes and supporter of the rights of the poor farmers, disappeared. This event had a profound effect on Laura and Elsie and on the campesino movement that had begun in the Diocese. The Sisters’ investigation into Father Hector’s disappearance brought them into conflict with the path chosen by the local Bishop and they were asked to leave the Diocese in 1973.

The two Sisters returned to Maryknoll, New York, and in 1974, following studies, they went to work in Ecuador in the Diocese of Riobamba under Bishop Leonidas Proano. They began working in Chimborazo with Indian communities and later moved on to an Institute of Social Formation in Quito. From there they went to Valle del Chota to support the Afroecuadorian communities of Ecuador. They helped to form the Federation of Agricultural Workers in the Valle del Chota (FETRAVACH). In 1976, Mardoqueo Leon, one of the leaders of FETRAVACH, was murdered. Elsie and Laura became involved in the intense investigation of this case and in actions of solidarity related to it, to see that those responsible for this crime be brought to justice.

In 1977 there was a massacre of sugar cane workers in Ecuador, and this, along with many other abuses of the time, led a Lutheran pastor, Washington Padilla, together with leaders of other churches and popular organizations, to form a National Ecumenical Commission of Human Rights (CEDHU) in 1978. In 1981, Elsie and Laura were invited to direct CEDHU and they have given it solid content, commitment and credibility in all of Ecuador and beyond. Laura’s contributions in this work were in the areas of investigation and documentation of human rights violations, organization and participation in educational efforts and in protests, the elaboration of a bi-monthly human rights bulletin called “Rights of the People,” and in being available to listen to the problems of the many people who come to share their suffering and seek help, counsel and support in CEDHU. Together with Elsie, Laura helped in the formation of human rights organizations throughout the country. Meanwhile, Laura was always a constant friend and spiritual support for all the staff of CEDHU as the work expanded and developed, entering as well into areas of international solidarity.

Over the last 23 years both Laura and Elsie have been on the front lines of the struggle for human rights in Latin America. In Ecuador they and their co-workers have been involved in many cases of the disappeared. CEDHU gave its support to the formation of the organization of the Families of the Victims of Repression in Ecuador. Every Wednesday people from this group of families protest in the main plaza of Quito, wanting to know what happened to their loved ones. They are asking for the truth and demanding that those responsible for the disappearances be brought to justice. Since the early 1980’s Laura and Elsie have continued in solidarity with these families, and every Wednesday Laura would be with the people in the plaza. The Sisters’ work has broadened the understanding of human rights from civic and political rights to social, economic and cultural rights as well.

Laura’s tragic death has been a shock to everyone, especially to her family, her co-workers at CEDHU, her many friends and the Sisters of the Peru-Ecuador Region.

The innumerable expressions of solidarity and the outpouring of love during these days has been extraordinary. The people’s deep sense of loss and pain at Laura’s death seem related to the fact that so many people truly felt loved by her. They had great respect for her and appreciated her presence with them in their times of joy and sorrow and in their struggles for justice and peace. So many people during these days spoke of her warm smile for each person she met. Everyone admired her ability to love, her care for the poor and marginated and her absolute authenticity. Her warm sense of humor helped all to laugh and not take themselves too seriously.

In Quito on Monday, August 16, there was an evening Mass and wake service for Laura’s close co-workers and friends. The official wake took place on Tuesday, August 17, from one in the afternoon until midnight. It was a time to celebrate Laura’s life with great reverence with those who loved and appreciated her. The sharing was done with musical instrumentals, song and words dedicated to Laura. Many people entered the funeral parlor carrying flower arrangements, adding beauty to the sad occasion.

The following morning people came early to the funeral parlor until 11:30 a.m. when all made their way to St. Teresa’s Church in Quito for the Ecumenical Service. The church was full and all participated in the songs and prayers of gratitude and for Laura’s life. Representatives of different church and civic groups were present, including a  representation from the Indigenous Peoples and other human rights groups. Bishop Luis Alberto Luna Tobar, a well respected Ecuadorian Catholic leader in ecumenical and human rights movements, gave a moving refection on Isaiah 61: 1-3, relating the verses to the life commitment of Laura and Elsie. Raul Borja, a collaborator with CEDHU from its foundation, gave an impressive history of Laura’s life in Ecuador. Sister Ellen McDonald expressed our Maryknoll Sisters sympathy and solidarity with the Glynn family and the people present, and gave a short resume of Laura’s life before her arrival in Ecuador. Elsie thanked everyone for their presence and for the outpouring of love and solidarity that she has been experiencing during these difficult days. The Maryknoll Sisters who had the privilege to be in Quito at this time expressed their deep sense of gratitude to God for Laura’s life among us.

The Glynn family requested that Laura’s body be cremated and her ashes were buried in the side of a hill of a cemetery in Quito on Thursday, August 19, 2004. Once again her co-workers and friends prepared a beautiful burial service for Laura who had adopted them and who they now hold dear as a true Ecuadorian.