On my 2010 trip to El Salvador, I had the honor and privilege to be a member of a group of Americans who spent some time with our fellow American, Fr. Dean Brackley, S.J., then the Rector of the University of Central America (Universidad de Centro America or UCA). I recall being impressed by his warm and engaging manner as he shared his experiences in that country and urged us to tell our friends in the U.S. about our experiences.
He came to UCA in 1990 soon after the murders of his Jesuit brothers in November 1989. Brackley had seen a notice that UCA was looking for replacements for the slain priests. Although he admitted to being scared, the job description seemed to have his name on it. He told a friend, “They wanted a Jesuit. They wanted someone who had a Ph.D. in theology. They wanted someone who spoke Spanish. I started looking around and realized there weren’t that many of us.”
Brackley, therefore, volunteered to leave his teaching at Fordham University in New York City and to go to UCA to help it surmount its many challenges in the aftermath of that brutal crime.
He taught and served on UCA’s staff. He also became pastor to two municipalities and started the Scholarship Program of the Martyrs of the UCA to support poor students at the university. In his 2010 book, Spirituality for solidarity: Ignatian new perspectives, he said, “”The world will change only if human beings are changed, if people are free to love, to resist the lure of wealth and to be in solidarity with the poorest of their brothers and sisters.”
Brackley is remembered especially “for his tireless efforts to build awareness and solidarity between churches and universities in the United States and the poor in Central America. He wrote and lectured extensively on the need for higher education to connect scholarship to service and resources to the social reality of the poor.” Brackley laid out the radical challenge that education and privilege place upon the shoulders of those with resources, often describing what contact with the poor does to us: ‘First, it breaks your heart, then you fall in love, then you’re ruined for life.’”
In the summer of 2011, after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he wrote to friends, “”The faith factor is decisive, as you know. When I ask you and Monseñor Romero to pray, I mean: Let us pool our faith. Mine is weak enough, but with all of us, that is another matter. God wants to give life more than we want life. St. Ignatius wrote to Francisco Borja: ‘I consider myself wholly an obstacle to God’s work in me. In other words, the exercise of faith, our fundamental human challenge, gets us out of the way of God’s work. So, let us pray.’”
After his death of the disease at UCA on October 16, 2011, Congressman James P. McGovern of Massachusetts said that Brackley “was a bridge between two worlds:” the U.S. and El Salvador. He offered “his talents, his passion and his life to . . . [UCA] and to the Salvadoran people. He was our anchor and our conscience, not just for the faith community, but for all of us in American who share his love for the Salvadoran people and who remain engaged in their hopes and struggles. [He] . . . became our bridge of solidarity, our commitment to justice, faith and love. . . . On my many trips to El Salvador, his enthusiasm, humor and passion kept my spirits lifted, my mind focused, and my heart engaged.”
McGovern added that Brackley “joins Monseńor Oscar Romero, my friends the martyred Jesuits, the four American churchwomen, and so many Salvadorans as a beacon of integrity and hope. He will always be ‘presente’ in our lives and work.”
On the third anniversary of Brackley’s death this October, a memorial mass was held for him at UCA. Rocio Fuentes remembered that in the last six months of his life, he was “full of joy and gratitude . . . [for] his family supporting his vocation; [for] the Society of Jesus for their support in the pursuit of justice; [for] Salvadorans, because through them he learned to know the true meaning of solidarity; and for God’s presence.”
 This post is based upon personal recollection, my blog post, Annual Commemorations of Oscar Romero’s Life (Oct. 20, 2011); Marrin, Jesuit who replaced slain Jesuit priests dies, Nat’l Cath. Reporter (Oct. 17, 2011); Vitello, Rev. Dean Brackley, 65, Dies; Served in El Salvador, N. Y. Times (Oct. 29, 2011); Letter, Congressman James P. McGovern to Fr. Jośe Maria Tojeira (Oct. 18, 2011); Rocio Fuentes, Dean, exemplary Christian (Oct. 26, 2014).