Fr. Cortina’s dedication, no-nonsense, take action work ethic reminded me this season of St. Joseph. We do not hear the words Joseph says when he is asked to care for Mary and Jesus, we just see his actions. We do not hear his fear as he confronts checkpoints, scarce resources or an unknown future. This is not to say that Fr. Cortina was quiet, the analogy may not go that far. He had a lot to say about many things. While he was a professor, engineer, and Jesuit, the things he left behind were evidence of his work and his presence. He built stoves that intensified heat, using less fuel. He built a medical clinic with Dr. Ann Manganaro, Sister of Loretto, during the height of the war. When people of Guarjila tell stories about him, they tell stories of him continuing Mass during air raids, smoking cigarettes endlessly during a hunger strike. He was there, he was present and he was angry about the injustices of war and poverty. His anger motivated him to take action for and with the people he accompanied. For his actions and accompaniment, for using his gifts in service for the world, he was honored by Creighton (suggested by Lori Spanbauer). He was truly surprised by the request to name a community after him, and to come to bless the floor before the 1st community moved in, the summer of 2003. He didn’t know what of his life he wanted to share or pass on. He decided on a simple cross from his home, carved in La Palma, El Salvador. After the war, his commitment when I met him was to be with the community of Guarjila for Mass, community celebrations and to continue to be an advocate. He refused to rebuild a church for Guarjila while the community did not have adequate housing. Instead, we had Mass in a simple chapel which had a tin roof, and with the Salvadoran heat was a great blessing. Fr. Cortina died doing the work of reuniting war orphans and bringing forth the devastating truth of the Salvadoran Civil War. There is a book that was published after his death, “Con Jon Cortina, Dios Pasó por Guarjila” (In Jon Cortina, God Passed Through Guarjila). I think that Jon would say that God was always and will continue to be present there.
Kelly Orbik, Assistant Director of the Creighton Center for Service and Justice