Dean Brackley, SJ, started his career as an educator and community organizer, and ended it working for social justice in El Salvador.
Born in upstate New York in 1946, Brackley entered the Jesuits in 1964. He was ordained a priest in 1976 and received a doctorate in Religious Social Ethics from the University of Chicago’s Divinity School in 1980.
For most of the 1980s Brackley worked as an educator, teaching at Fordham University, and as a community organizer in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He also led a church-sponsored leadership program in the South Bronx. He described witnessing the reality of poverty and drug-related violence. Brackley explained:
how this experience of “dense life and death drama, with its daily crucifixions and resurrections, helped gather together [his] scattered self” that followed years of soul searching living as a privileged man in a world of injustice. For him, this gathering together occurred not only in response to this social ministry but because as he was emerging from a long and continued discernment on these experiences the Jesuits’ 32nd General Congregation convened and “affirmed the service of faith and the promotion of justice,” providing a framework for his experiences. (Heather Z. Lyons, “A Summary and Reflection on Dean Brackley’s, S.J., Justice and Jesuit Higher Education.”)
After graduates of the School of the Americas killed six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter in 1989 at the University of Central America in San Salvador, Brackley volunteered to take the place of one of the martyred Jesuits.
He joined the staff of the Universidad Centroamericana in 1990 and administered the university’s School for Religious Education and assisted in schools for pastoral formation sponsored by the UCA. He is the author of The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspectives on the Transformative Wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola (Crossroad, 2004) and of numerous articles in America, Revista Latinoamericana de Teología, and Grail.
Beyond his academic responsibilities, Brackley did pastoral work in a poor urban community in San Salvador. He described life in El Salvador as, “a mix of economic, political, generational, moral and religious crosses and resurrections.” He reflected:
When I worked in the South Bronx in New York in the 1980s, I saw how the exclusion of large sectors of the population from a decent way of life produces a threefold crumbling: of communities, families and individuals themselves. In El Salvador it feels like I’m witnessing the globalisation of the old South Bronx. In today’s more urban society, social exclusion generates tremendous insecurity, rampant delinquency with urban gangs that, in tandem with organised crime, drug dealing and violence, undermine a state of law. The violence sometimes surpasses that of the civil wars in the 1980s. With 92 homicides per 100,000 young people, El Salvador is among the most dangerous places for young people in the world. (http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20090218_1.htm.)
Lecturing extensively in the U.S.A. and Europe, Brackley did much to keep the memory of the recent martyrs of El Salvador alive and to continue their struggle for social justice.
Crosses and Resurrections: Good News from Central America (Part 1)
By Dean Brackley, SJ
The first part of a lecture by Dean Brackley, SJ, Professor of Theology and Ethics at the Catholic University in San Salvador. Brackley writes passionately about the religious and social challenges facing the Central American nation of El Salvador.
Crosses and Resurrections: Good News from Central America (Part 2)
By Dean Brackley, SJ
The second part of Dean Brackley’s public lecture. Brackley talks about the importance of the growing international solidarity for suffering peoples and for the entire Church.
Remembering the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador: Twenty Years On
By Dean Brackley, SJ
Brackley comments on the November 2009 decision to grant El Salvador’s highest honor posthumously to the six Jesuits murdered 20 years earlier.