Father Doug Koesel is a Catholic Priest serving at Blessed Trinity Church in Cleveland, Ohio. He was part of the Cleveland Latin American Mission team in El Salvador from 1981 to 1986. In this interview, he discusses his experience in El Salvador, working with the people, and trying to educate Americans on the situation in El Salvador. He also discusses the two trials connected to the murder of Sisters Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, and Jean Donovan. Fr. Koesel reflects on how the lessons he learned from the people of El Salvador have colored his own ministry. and his commitment to social justice issues. His parish at Blessed Trinity has sent missionaries to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake that occurred in 2010.


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Koesel, Douglas (interviewee)


Randt, Naomi A. (interviewer)


Protest Voices



Document Type

Oral History


56 minutes


Naomi A. Randt [00:00:02] I am [Naomi A. Randt]. It is the 18th of July 2016. I’m here with Father Doug Koesel at Blessed Trinity Church. Could you state your name for the record, please?

Father Doug Koesel [00:00:12] Sure. Doug Kousel.

Naomi A. Randt [00:00:14] And could you spell your last name?

Father Doug Koesel [00:00:15] K-O-E-S-E-L.

Naomi A. Randt [00:00:18] Thank you. And we’ll start with some biographical information. Where were you born?

Father Doug Koesel [00:00:26] Born at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

Naomi A. Randt [00:00:31] And when was that?

Father Doug Koesel [00:00:33] April 15, 1952.

Naomi A. Randt [00:00:38] What was it like growing up in Cleveland for you?

Father Doug Koesel [00:00:41] I grew up actually in Chesterland, Ohio. It was country at the time. It was a dirt road. It was quiet out in the country, but Cleveland was our main source of shopping and entertainment, so it was an excursion to come down to Cleveland when I was a kid.

Naomi A. Randt [00:01:01] Did you have any siblings?

Father Doug Koesel [00:01:02] I have two older sisters and an older brother.

Naomi A. Randt [00:01:09] What was your childhood like?

Father Doug Koesel [00:01:11] Childhood was great. Normal childhood. I went to public school, so there was only one other Catholic girl in my class. Chesterland was kind of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, as they say, although we had some Jewish kids in my class, too, I remember. So I grew up with a rather broad perspective of the world just from my upbringing because I was familiar with Charlie Rose and Cindy Weinstein would be missing from class now and then because they were at Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur or whatever. Kids that went to Catholic school never had those experiences. So it was nice. It was very diverse. Went to Chester Elementary. It was a great school.

Naomi A. Randt [00:01:57] What were your parents like? What did they do for a living?

Father Doug Koesel [00:01:59] My dad was an auto body man and had his own business, his own shop in Burton, Ohio. My mom was a stay-at-home mom until I went back to first grade. Then she got her degree and was a first-grade teacher at St. Mary’s Church in Chardon, Ohio.

Naomi A. Randt [00:02:26] Was it, did you grow up in a religious family?

Father Doug Koesel [00:02:31] Yeah, I would say so. My, we went to church weekly. We said the rosary along with the radio. We weren’t overtly religious. I mean, we didn’t go on pilgrimages or visit shrines or stuff, but we were, we practiced our faith, you know.

Naomi A. Randt [00:02:54] What got you interested in going to the seminary?

Father Doug Koesel [00:02:59] Gee, my oldest sister is a Notre Dame nun, and she always got- Mom always baked our favorite cookies and said, you can’t have them. They’re for your sister. So I think as a seven year old hearing that, it’s like, oh, if I go to the seminary, I can get cookies. Obviously, my motivation changed over the years, but I think that was the start of it. And then I just wanted to serve people through the church. The church was doing good things.

Naomi A. Randt [00:03:28] What were some of those things you saw the church doing?

Father Doug Koesel [00:03:31] Oh, we would, you know, the church was, oh, back in the fifties, early sixties. The church was, you know, well, in those days we were buying pagan babies, but it was still a good thing, at least outrightly. There was a world awareness. The church was helping the poor, like through the St. Vincent de Paul and Holy Name society. And women were helping in the church, you know, cleaning and stuff. But the priests impressed me as people who were sincere and cared about making people’s lives better. And I think that touched me, and I think that’s what made me want to want to do that. Well, then also I would go to CYO camp in the summer, and the seminarians were camp counselors, and they were all studying to be priests. I think that touched me, too. It’s like, oh, I want to be like that someday.

Naomi A. Randt [00:04:30] Did you enter the seminary right after high school?

Father Doug Koesel [00:04:32] I entered in high school, 9th grade. We went to Borromeo Seminary High School. Yeah. The sooner I could get those cookies, the better.

Naomi A. Randt [00:04:44] What was your favorite kind of cookie?

Father Doug Koesel [00:04:46] Hoosier peanut bar. It was a Betty Crocker Award winner.

Naomi A. Randt [00:04:53] And what year was that that you went to Borromeo?

Father Doug Koesel [00:04:55] It was in the fall of 1966, right after Vatican II.

Naomi A. Randt [00:05:02] Did that have a big effect on it?

Father Doug Koesel [00:05:03] No effect at all. We didn’t even know what Vatican II was. I was 14. I couldn’t care less about Vatican II. It hadn’t taken effect yet, you know, but so I grew up, you know, with Latin mass and traditional Catholic upbringing and Baltimore catechism, all that kind of stuff. But as I went through my seminary years, the impact of Vatican II was felt, and the new approach to life and the church’s involvement in the world, liturgy, of course, in English, and that kind of stuff happened.

Naomi A. Randt [00:05:34] What was your impression of those changes as you saw them coming?

Father Doug Koesel [00:05:37] Oh, they were exciting. I thought they were great. You know, the church is gonna be even more involved than it was before, so it was an exciting time.

Naomi A. Randt [00:05:50] What was the experience like going to Borromeo overall?

Father Doug Koesel [00:05:53] Overall, it was really good. We had a lot of fun. We learned a lot. Gee, I don’t know, just a positive experience. Pretty normal high school thing, other than we’d have prayer times and meditation time, rosary time. Other than that, there was high school. We still have get togethers from high school whether you became a priest or not.

Naomi A. Randt [00:06:20] Do you remember how big your class was?

Father Doug Koesel [00:06:23] We started with 72 when we were freshmen, and when we graduated, there were 36 of us left.

Naomi A. Randt [00:06:39] Was there other schooling you had to do after high school?

Father Doug Koesel [00:06:42] Oh, yeah. Four years of college and then four years of graduate school after that.

Naomi A. Randt [00:06:47] Where did you go to college?

Father Doug Koesel [00:06:48] College was at Borromeo College. It was its own independent college at the time. And then graduate school of St. Mary’s Seminary, which at the time was on Ansel Road in Cleveland, 1227 Ansel Road.

Naomi A. Randt [00:07:05] What were those years like for you?

Father Doug Koesel [00:07:07] Those years were good, too. Yeah, just college. College. Vatican II had started having its effect on seminary. So before I was in college, it was very closed. People didn’t leave the property except on Tuesday afternoon from two to four. I’m not making this up. This is really how it was. By the time I was in college, which was ’70 to ’74, you know, we were encouraged to be involved in what was going on in the world. So Cesar Chavez and grape pickers and the union and the Vietnam War and all that kind of involvement in social justice issues became part of our training, being in touch with people’s lives. Pope Francis today would call it, you know, smelling like the sheep, you know, being in the grassroots level. But it started long before Pope Francis became the Pope. It started with Jesus, of course, but, you know. So it was a great time to be in the seminary. There were experimental things going on, and not all of them were successful, but it was fun to be a part of the changes and what the church was looking at.

Naomi A. Randt [00:08:23] Were you involved in any sort of anti-Vietnam activities at all?

Father Doug Koesel [00:08:29] Yeah, I mean, nothing that anybody else wasn’t. Marches and, you know, just involvement and groups of us getting our, making our voices heard, along with lots of other people that were doing the same thing about the truth of the war and that kind of thing.

Naomi A. Randt [00:08:49] Were those Cleveland-based or did you travel for those?

Father Doug Koesel [00:08:52] No, just Cleveland-based. I wasn’t as, whatever the word is, I didn’t travel, but locally based, yeah.

Naomi A. Randt [00:09:07] College was ’70 to ’74, and then grad school was after that?

Father Doug Koesel [00:09:12] Mm hm, ’74, and then I was ordained in ’78.

Naomi A. Randt [00:09:19] Where did you go after that? Like, what was after you were ordained?

Father Doug Koesel [00:09:22] After I was ordained, my first assignment was St. Peter’s in Lorain. I was there for two years, and then after that, I went to El Salvador from ’81, I was in language school before that, but then ’81 to ’86.

Naomi A. Randt [00:09:39] What would St. Peter’s, like, your first assignment?

Father Doug Koesel [00:09:42] Well, it was different. I didn’t know anything about the city of Lorain. It was a largely Italian parish. I didn’t know anything about Italian culture. My pastor was still pre-Vatican II, so there was a certain amount of tension or church theology tension, you might say, but it was a great assignment. You know, friends that I still in touch with 30 years later, 40 years, almost 40 years later now. There were exciting things going on in the church, like Pre-Cana Days and Marriage Encounter, and those were things that I were involved in, in addition to things like El Salvador. I had been El Salvador when I was in the seminary as a major seminary in ’76 was the first time I went there. So that impacted my life tremendously. So I brought that to my ministry, as you know, these are how other people are living. This is what’s going on in the world and other places, and how blessed we are to live in our country, that kind of thing.

Naomi A. Randt [00:10:45] How long were you in El Salvador the first time?

Father Doug Koesel [00:10:49] First time I was there for ten weeks in the summer of ’76.

Naomi A. Randt [00:10:55] Was that as part of the rest of the Cleveland mission that was down there at the time?

Father Doug Koesel [00:10:59] Yes, and it was part of my seminary training. And these were part of the new things, going out and learn what’s going on in the world. So that was part of it. One of the things that changed after Vatican II was instead of being in a closed environment, they started having seminarians be involved in different parishes each year as part of our training. So in addition to being in four other parishes during my training, two other guys and I went down to El Salvador in the summer. We were like the second group. There was a group that went the year before us, five guys went down.

Naomi A. Randt [00:11:38] How would you describe those ten weeks?

Father Doug Koesel [00:11:41] Well, for me, they were life transforming. I didn’t know anything about Central America or poverty. I mean, I’d heard about people are poor and that kind of thing. So it was- Your senses were on overload. The smell, the heat, the language, the color of people’s skin, the tropical fruit. All of it was different. All of it was new. And the poverty was extreme. El Salvador was, and still is, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. And yet it’s the land of smiles. That’s the nickname. And how could it be like that? And why people’s faith was so important, and how much irony and juxtaposition, and it changed me, in how I looked at the world. And after you look at poverty for a while, you start to ask questions like, why are people poor, and what causes them- Is there something that’s causing them to be poor? And if there’s something that can be done to change them from being poor.

Naomi A. Randt [00:12:59] That’S something you brought back to the states with you then?

Father Doug Koesel [00:13:02] Yes. This whole analysis of poverty. I mean, I think there’s a misconception because nuns take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. And so there’s a certain, what’s the word, connotation to the word poverty that was positive. Like, this is a good thing to live like the nuns, to live with a vow of poverty. But poverty is not a positive. Poverty is a result of sin and evil in our world. So that had to be changed. And even now, nuns don’t really talk about the vow of poverty anymore. They talk about simple living. A little bit more accurate description of what they live. And poverty, we now know, is a result of either greed or a bad system or something, whatever the causes may be.

Naomi A. Randt [00:13:57] Did you have any sort of ambition to go back there after those ten weeks?

Father Doug Koesel [00:14:01] I did, and I think that was perhaps part of the seminary or the diocese goal. Maybe we’ll get some recruits if we send guys down there and get them familiar with it. Yeah. No, I fell in love with the place probably the moment I walked off the plane. Really. It was just like I belong here someday. Someday I could see myself working down here with the people.

Naomi A. Randt [00:14:25] Did you continue to follow what was happening down there after you came back?

Father Doug Koesel [00:14:29] I did, yeah.

Naomi A. Randt [00:14:33] What was your impression as you saw the events unfold in the late seventies and then the murder of the four?

Father Doug Koesel [00:14:39] Well, things were getting worse, and because of it, my ten weeks there, I met and made friends with as much as one can make friends not speaking the language too well, but yeah, through the priests and being involved I met other people. So what happened to me is the pastor Paul Schindler had taken in a young street kid, just trying to kind of like an adopted son to him. And then another young man, Armando, was sacristan. And because of Paul’s involvement and building up, you know, reflecting on the causes of poverty and injustice and killings, both Carlos and Armando were murdered kind of as a way of sending a message to Paul. That was in, I think, March of 1979. So, I mean, when I heard about that, I was, I was, of course, upset. And, like, how could anybody just go kill someone to send a message? It’s kind of extreme. And the violence. There’s always violence in El Salvador, because wherever you have poverty, you have violence, you have crime. You know, as we have here in Cleveland, we know what the crime rate corresponds directly to the poverty in our northeastern Ohio. And so that was true in El Salvador. But it was different to know someone. That was the first person I knew that had been a victim of, like, an execution because of their faith. So it touched me a great deal. I thought, I can’t let this happen. And again, and a part of it was like nobody up here cared that two Salvadorans got murdered when Dorothy and Jean were murdered, of course, then everybody cared, or at least so it seemed for a while. But that was not the point. The point was, by then, 10,000 Salvadorans had been killed. And these are just two Americans. It’s not about Americans being killed. It’s about the Salvadoran people. And from that time, and in my years here, they say 70,000 people had died.

Naomi A. Randt [00:16:57] What was your sort of outlook on the U.S.’s involvement, the U.S. government’s involvement in El Salvador?

Father Doug Koesel [00:17:05] Well, Reagan had just been elected, and Reagan looked at things in terms of people are communist or not communists. So, that was his analysis of what was happening in El Salvador. It was not our analysis. In fact, if you asked people what communism was, they would have no idea what communism was. Most of them were uneducated, and if they were, they weren’t well-educated and quite a few were illiterate. So our assessment, or our analysis was, no, this isn’t the influence of communism. This is people living in poverty have come to the end of their ropes. That the 14 families, as they were kind of well-known, there were a little more than 14 by the time I got there, but they controlled 95% of the country’s wealth. And the other 5 million people, you know, were living in poverty. Those who were wealthy were wealthy because they had all the land and they had all the business, and they could exploit the workers because the workers didn’t know how to organize themselves. So what the church did was to empower people to say, you have rights and you can make your life better. Very simple examples. Like, one of the things the church would do would be to teach people, adults, how to read and write, and they’d be so proud of themselves that they could read and write. Well, before they could do that, a guy would pick a sack of coffee and he would know roughly how much it weighed because he’s been doing this all his life. So he knew about how much 100 pounds was, but he’d take it to the hacienda owner and they’d put it on a scale and they would tell him, oh, you have 80 pounds of coffee. So he’d get paid for picking 80 pounds of coffee, even though he knew he had 100 from experience. Well, now he has an idea that’s 100, because he could read the scale. So now that they tell him, you have 80 pounds of coffee, and he would say, no, I don’t. It says right there, I have 100 pounds of coffee. These are the kind of stories that are true about what the church work did. But it shows how the wealthy didn’t like what the church was doing. And, of course, would call us names and say they’re communists or infiltrators or they’re inciting people to riot. It really wasn’t the case.

Naomi A. Randt [00:19:33] Were there a lot of reprisals towards those coffee workers who had become literate because of the church?

Father Doug Koesel [00:19:41] Sure, depending. Some would be verbally threatened. A lot of people left the country. Some were murdered. Some were tortured and released. It depended what part of the country you were in or how vocal people were, how nice the landowners were, for that matter. But, yes, there were always reprisals. I mean, this is when people were flooding the United States in terms of escaping from El Salvador.

Naomi A. Randt [00:20:12] And when you returned in ’81, was there any sort of trepidation going back there with the increase in violence and especially after the attacks on church workers down there?

Father Doug Koesel [00:20:26] Well, sure. I mean, I went to La Libertad, where Dorothy and Jean had been working. I took their place in the parish. Yeah, I’m six-five. I’m a big target. Salvadorans are about five-five, and that would be tall. So, yeah, there was a certain amount of fear and trepidation. But Bishop Pilla met with all of us, either as a group or individually, and said, you don’t have to stay. You can come home or you don’t have to go, as the case may be. But everybody was there, stayed, and those of us who were on our way went. It was just like, this is what we do. I remember writing a letter to him and saying, we sing be not afraid frequently in church. But these can’t be empty words and say, I’m not going. This is part of discipleship. So, yeah, and we all went. There were no even second thoughts about that you would not go.

Naomi A. Randt [00:21:27] How many were in your mission team that went down with you?

Father Doug Koesel [00:21:31] Sister Maria Berlec went with, but she went to Chirilagua. She went to a different city. There was talk of her coming to La Libertad, but for whatever reason, that’s not what happened. And so she went down there. Oh, because somebody else came home from Chiralagua. So it was just Paul Schindler and I in La Libertad for a while.

Naomi A. Randt [00:21:53] Were there any other church people down there, or was it just you and Father Paul?

Father Doug Koesel [00:21:57] From Cleveland? Yeah, there was Father John Loye and Father Dave Fallon. They were in Chirilagua. Father Jim Kenny was in Zaragoza. Sister Maria Berlec was in Chiralagua, too. And Sister Theresa Osborne.

Naomi A. Randt [00:22:20] What was your impression of the country that time as opposed to in 1976?

Father Doug Koesel [00:22:27] It was still poor, but there was a tension in the air that didn’t exist in ’76. There’s a lot more visibility of military, you know, road stops. I forgot what they’re called already. You drive along and then they stop you. They stopped all the cars, you know, just do searches. Those were a lot more prevalent, you know.

Naomi A. Randt [00:22:56] Did you ever feel like you were targeted just for being a missionary?

Father Doug Koesel [00:23:02] Yes. Yeah. There was a time when the country flew airplanes over the country, and they dropped leaflets that said, be a patriot, kill a priest. Twelve other priests were murdered. They were all Salvadoran priests. So, yeah, always felt threatened. Yeah, you just learn to live with it, and you kind of aren’t aware of it until you come home for vacation. Then as the plane takes off, you can feel the stress leave your body, but other than that, you just learn to live with it because the people live with it. That’s you being with the- Being with the people. You’re being with the sheep, as Pope Francis would say, they had to live with it, so we were going to, too.

Naomi A. Randt [00:23:49] What we’re. What was the nature of your work while you were down there?

Father Doug Koesel [00:23:54] Well, it varied. We weren’t able to do too much in terms of development. The week after I got there, there was a 5:00 curfew that lasted a couple months. Then it got moved to seven. But even when it got lifted eventually, which was probably a year later, you just didn’t go out at night. So we ended up putting masses and adults’ education, you know, always in the daytime. And that’s pretty much what we limited ourselves to, you know, sacraments and training catechists who would go out in the towns because we couldn’t. You know, our parish was huge, like 80,000 people, and covered, like, the size of Cuyahoga County, you know. So what we do, we have monthly meetings with leaders and teach them, you know, how to prepare someone for baptism or first communion or how to talk about the Scriptures, that kind of thing. We also had a program through Caritas, which is an international organization, to give people food, you know, cooking oil, sugar, rice, you know, to help them sustain themselves. [long pause follows]

Naomi A. Randt [00:25:35] How did the civilians view you? Like, welcoming?

Father Doug Koesel [00:25:41] Very, very welcoming. Yeah. I remember one lady who eventually became president of the parish council wasn’t a churchgoer, and she saw me actually doing stations of the cross. So it must have been like two months after I got there, because we did those outside, down the main street and she said, Padre Douglas, I remember looking out at you and saying, what’s that American doing here? He doesn’t have to be here. Why is he here? They just killed those people. He’s got a lot of courage being here. How come he’s here and I’m not doing anything? This is my country. This is my church. [laughs] She started coming to church and got involved and eventually became president of parish council. And, yeah, so, I mean, there’s a certain witness value and presence that was very, said a lot in itself. We didn’t have to be there, and we chose to be there, and that was greatly appreciated by the people. Plus, we were their connection to the outside world. I mean, so there were very few Americans in El Salvador. So part of my time was meeting with media people, meeting with congressmen and senators and ambassadors who came. We talked to them about our take on what was going on in the country. And our take on each one of them was interesting, too. Some of them got it right away. I remember Geraldine Ferraro coming down eventually, was vice presidential candidate. She was just so on target with her observation when she walks in the direction, and the first thing she says, oh, my God, there’s children everywhere. And she was right. The average age in El Salvador was 15 at the time, and that was with them killing people. But she just got it right away. Like, we have to do something. Who’s educating these children? And they’re poor and they’re hungry. And we would talk to her about, you know, why they have, people have so many children. And, you know, the answer was, that’s their insurance policy. You know, if you have big families, hopefully one of them will make it big someday, you know, and take care of mom and dad when they’re old because nobody else will be able to. But at the same time, just the way that people talk, we tell Geraldine Ferraro, we tell everybody, this is how people talk. I have eight children, six are living. I have seven children, three are living. I mean, that was just the way of expressing yourself. You named how many births you gave to, how many were alive, and obviously how many had died. It was just for lack of prenatal care or disease or whatever. So that was part of our mission. So back to the people, they knew that we were connected, you know, and that’s a different kind of poverty, not knowing anybody, you know? And that’s another gift that we gave them. Like, you know, somebody who’s connected to people who can make a difference.

Naomi A. Randt [00:28:44] Part of that connectedness, did you try and just educate them or bring in some of the outside world to them or-?

Father Doug Koesel [00:28:54] We would educate them and we would bring the outside world to them. A lot of that came through television and, you know, we would get their input on what’s going on. Why do you think you’re poor? What are you afraid of? And we would ask them and they would say, well, you know, we don’t have any roads. How come the people on TV have roads? You know, we don’t have mail service. How come the people on TV have mail? Or I see on the TV show, they don’t have policemen walking around. I mean, these are the kind of things that people would think about and reflect on. We don’t watch TV that way, but poor people do, like, oh, you know, and so we would help them articulate, you know, what they were observing and how do you think your country could be better at that? You know, things like, you think there’d be more tourism if the country wasn’t at war. So how can we bring about peace? And all kinds of stuff. You know, part of our U.S. government was, of course they were supporting the military government and they were sending money and that was continuing to kill people and oppress people. One of the mantras, of course, was American guns kills American nuns. And that helped to change things eventually up in our country in terms of the attitude of what was really going on down there. But yeah, people both learned from us and we learned from them about life.

Naomi A. Randt [00:30:26] Did you ever find it difficult not to sort of get involved more in their, like to take sides in-?

Father Doug Koesel [00:30:36] No, it wasn’t hard not to take sides because both sides were at fault because part of our Catholic faith is respecting the dignity of every person. And both the military and the leftists were abusing people’s rights and people’s lives and killing people and not always in self-defense, just like for the sake of sending a message through executions. Yeah. So it was, we would always have to denounce violence. We’d also always have to devile [sic] violations of human rights. We’d always denounce murder. You can’t accept it just because someone might think like you do, you know, so always, always did that. And that was hard because sometimes you’re, then both sides are mad at you, you know, they want you to take their side and it’s like, no, this isn’t about sides. This is about people’s lives. You know, even though, yes, there’s oppression, yes, there’s injustice, yes, there’s violence, but there are ways of dealing with that that are within the parameters of what Christianity allows, and murder is not one of those, you know, so we would have to, have to draw the line.

Naomi A. Randt [00:31:53] That was one of those things you were trying to teach them, sort of a life. But what were some of those things that they taught you?

Father Doug Koesel [00:32:00] They taught me at least patience, you know, patience with the situation. They taught me how to put things in perspective. They taught me about their lives and their culture. I mean, they have a sense of celebration about life that we don’t. Well, that’s not part of our culture anyhow. I don’t know how to describe it. You’re just gonna have to have to experience it. But the way they do things, like birthdays, they get up at four in the morning and sing this song at your window. And for the church feasts, they have a novena of masses at five in the morning. I remember saying to Paul, I said, nobody’s gonna come to that at five in the morning. Place is packed. It’s like, this is what they do. It’s just what they do. And so selfless. They’re such selfless people. They didn’t have much to be selfless about in terms of things, but selfless with time and how they treat one another with dignity. And you just don’t walk past anyone like, what’s new? And how are you? And I leave a half hour early for church. It was a block away. Because if you just walked down to church, you’d be rude if you didn’t acknowledge people. That’s just part of the culture. But this is part of the celebrating life and celebrating people that I learned about. You know, today it’s like you got your earplugs in and you don’t talk to anybody. I think that upsets me so much because of my Salvadoran experience. Like, oh, you’re missing out on the beauty of people. You’re missing out on a wonderful conversation or a smile or an exchange of ideas. So that’s some of the things I learned from them.

Naomi A. Randt [00:33:55] And when you mentioned coming home on vacation, did you ever try and teach people here about El Salvador?

Father Doug Koesel [00:34:02] Yeah, it wasn’t much of a vacation when you came home. You’re always, always on the speaking circuit. I was always on the speaking circuit and reporting into the mission office. And Bishop Pilla, he was concerned about our safety, of course, because he didn’t want to have to go through that again, you know, and we say, you know, Bishop, it’s- We’re just one person. There’s thousands of people dying every month. So you remember that. And if something happens, you tell people that, you know. So, yeah, it was a lot of. I probably get a week out of the three or four weeks that was really vacation. And that’s okay. That’s just part of, you know, like, parenting. You know, you don’t get a vacation from being a parent. You always- So that was you. When people are dying, your priorities change. Like, it’s not a sacrifice to say, I gotta go home and tell people what’s really going on. And we would notice, like, every time funding was up for El Salvador, like, there’d be progress in the case against the nuns and Jean. Well, they say the nuns, but we say the nuns and Jean, you know, ’cause she wasn’t a nun. There would be one little step every six months. Like, oh, now they’ve set a date, and now they’ve picked the jury, and six months later, now, now it’s this and now it’s that. So there’s always, always. You could- You could always see that we were making a difference, you know? And of course, that was about Dorothy and Jean. It wasn’t about the Salvadorans as much, but I think in time, people got to see the bigger picture. I mean, part of the trial, remember, was they wouldn’t continue the trial the next day because they were afraid that no one would return. So it went all through the night, and it ended at 5:00 in the morning because they could do that. But when people in the United States learned about that, oh, oh, that’s not right. You’re right. It’s not right. So. But these are how governments are functioning, and this is how we’re making a difference, you know.

Naomi A. Randt [00:36:05] Can you talk a little bit more about that trial? I’ve never actually heard anything about that.

Father Doug Koesel [00:36:09] Oh, well, the guys who were captured who murdered them, they were protecting the powers that be. Like most military organizations. They weren’t going to do anything without being under orders. So it took a while to prove that. And, in fact, that was not proven at the trial, but it was well-known. But these guys were eventually captured. They were charged, they were just held as prisoners without anything happening other than pressure from the United States kept them from being released, and pressure from the United States eventually brought them to trial. And they were given the maximum sentence of 30 years, which is most civilized countries that’s the major punishment. You don’t have a death penalty. So they just got them to admit that they did that. They were kind of like the fall guys for the powers that be. Afterwards, what was significant, I thought, was that the guys who were charged which was Captain Vidas Casanova. He was the head of the military, the Secretary of Defense, I think we would comparable to in our country. He and another guy moved to the United States. And so Eda Ford’s brother, who’s a lawyer, found out about this, and he found a law where you could try someone in our country for war crimes if they were living in the United States. So there was a big trial, and they got- They got arrested and convicted and sent back to El Salvador, or at least they were expelled from our country. So that was kind of like a moral victory. That was like 20 years after Gene and Dorothy and Ida and Maura were killed. But it was still like a victory in the sense that this is justice being done. We’re not going to let you kill Americans and then come and live in our country on top of it. That’s wrong. So that was good. Bill Ford did that.

Naomi A. Randt [00:38:30] And the initial trial in El Salvador, when did that occur?

Father Doug Koesel [00:38:33] Oh, I think it started maybe in ’82. It started in ’82. So it would be like a year after they were killed. And I think it ended maybe in ’84. Might even be ’85. You could check. I’m old now. [laughs] It’s 30 years ago. I remember all the details, but I remember the impact and I remember the changes each six months. When they’d come up for funding, there’d be a little bit of progress, but I don’t remember the exact dates, something like that. You could find that out.

Naomi A. Randt [00:39:11] And you were in El Salvador that time from ’81 to ’86?

Father Doug Koesel [00:39:13] January ’81 to May of ’86. Right.

Naomi A. Randt [00:39:18] And did you see any significant changes in the conflict during that time, or was it just more of the same?

Father Doug Koesel [00:39:24] Not when I was there… I just- It was just more of the same. I mean, there were these, like, political success stories, like the trial, and, you know, you would see that, but you wouldn’t see it trickle down to, you know, okay, changes are coming in the country. The big change was José Napoleon Duarte was elected president, and that was 1982. That was supposed to be the beginning of democracy. But that’s not exactly what happened. It was harder to govern, and they were hoping that an election would bring an end to the war, and it didn’t. And then the rightists got elected. So then that was really harder because their approach was, we’re going to go wipe everybody out. And that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? [laughs] But so that things weren’t better or worse because of that, it was just not just pretty much the same. It finally changed after I left. And that was 1989, when the Jesuits were murdered. That’s when the United States says, enough is enough. We’re not training your military leaders and we’re not sending any more money. That’s- That’s when it changed. But I don’t know if that’s part of your story or not. I wasn’t there. You’ll have to ask somebody else for that part of it.

Naomi A. Randt [00:40:53] And how did you feel about your time in El Salvador?

Father Doug Koesel [00:40:57] Oh, it was great. It was- I’d do it again. It was- I don’t know. It’s all- How do you assess your life as a priest? You don’t get a report card or anything. [laughs] You don’t get a proficiency review. You’re doing business. But it was good. I thought it was meaningful. We touched lives, we saved lives. We made life better for people. We educated people. We took them to the hospital. We gave them money. We helped them build houses. We taught them how to build houses. We taught them how to fish. It was good. It was good ministry. Dennis St. Marie, who was on the team long before I was and left before I got there, always said, if you’re a weak priest, go to El Salvador. Everything you touch turns to gold. Everything is appreciated. You do Bible study, you’ll have 400 people show up. You teach people how to read and write. You’ll get a big crowd. That doesn’t happen up here. He was right in many ways. It was easy to be a priest because people were always verbally expressed how appreciative they were and grateful that you were there for them. It was a good time. Everybody likes to be thanked. [laughs] Yeah, it made it easy.

Naomi A. Randt [00:42:31] Did you move around to different villages and different parishes?

Father Doug Koesel [00:42:35] No, we just stayed in the one parish. La Libertad. Parroquia Immaculate Concepción was the name of it. But the setup was this. That was, like, our main headquarters. And then in our parish, there were about 30 satellite communities. And we visit each one once a month, you know, and that in itself was an experience, like, whatever was going on that day. So you might have, like, three baptisms and a wedding and a funeral. If someone had died that morning and, you know, just all at the same mass, it’s just different. So we do that in different, different communities. The only additional work I got was the pastor in the neighboring parish in Teotepeque got kidnapped. And so the bishop called. This was about ’83, and Bob Reedy had joined our team by then. So the bishop said, doug, there’s two of you and none of them, so see what you can do. So we took out another 60,000 people. You know, Bob and I kind of split up our schedule, so we would go to Teotapeque, the main site, like La Libertad was the main site, twice a month, and then we’d hit, like, four or five of their biggest side communities every month. So that was a new- That was new because learning a new part of the country. We were on the coast, and it was 100 degrees every day, and you just sweated all the time. Teotepeque was up in the mountains, and it was cooler and the trees, and it was refreshing. [laughs] It’s like, oh, this is beautiful. You know, this is paradise. So from that, from the weather standpoint, it was. It was. Was good.

Naomi A. Randt [00:44:20] So could you spell that?

Father Doug Koesel [00:44:22] Teotepeque. T-E-O-T-E-P-E-Q-U-E. Teote, of which we get some English words, theology. Teote means God, and peke means mountain. So the Mountain of God. It was so beautiful. Yeah. La Libertad means freedom or liberty. Yeah, there’s the Indian words, but they still have Spanish or romance language origins. So you make some connections after a while.

Naomi A. Randt [00:45:05] The man who was kidnapped, did you ever find out what happened to him?

Father Doug Koesel [00:45:10] The man who was kidnapped?

Naomi A. Randt [00:45:11] That sent you to- The other guy.

Father Doug Koesel [00:45:13] Oh, the priest? Yeah, he was released. He was released the next day, actually, but he didn’t want to go back. Yeah. Yeah, that’s what happened. We can understand that.

Naomi A. Randt [00:45:26] Was he a native El Salvador?

Father Doug Koesel [00:45:28] I think so, yeah.

Naomi A. Randt [00:45:39] Your experience in El Salvador, seeing these people so thankful for everything that you did, was there any sort of disappointment when you came back to the states in terms of how your parish kind of worked? The difference between-?

Father Doug Koesel [00:45:58] Yeah, well, there’s a disappointment, just maybe in Americans. We’re just not globally aware. We’re interested in the Kardashians. And you kind of say, really, how can this be? So we talk about reverse mission, which is you take your experience and what you’ve learned, and you acknowledge that not everybody’s had this experience. And what you can do is now bring that back to people and get them to at least learn in their head what you know in your heart and what you’ve experienced in your life. So I’ve always invited people to go to El Salvador with me when I go back. I’ve taken, I don’t know how many people back to El Salvador. We started a foundation to send scholarships for kids to go to school. So, yeah, so, you know, we have lots to learn in our country about other people that we don’t know too much about. So it was hard sometimes getting people to care. And then you fall into it yourself. I was like, if I myself, like, really, do I care if the Browns are having another losing season? I do. Why do I care? I know better. They’re both important in different kinds of ways. I mean, the Browns having a winning season is not as important as people’s lives being at risk, but at the same time, it’s part of our culture and our sense of ourselves. So I probably have coped with that better than other people. [laughs]

Naomi A. Randt [00:47:40] Have you continued sort of that outreach on social justice?

Father Doug Koesel [00:47:44] Yes. Yeah. And our parish now is very involved locally with community gardens and helping young people aging out of foster care and mobile pantry and justice things like the Circle of Love yesterday on the bridge. And we have a mission in Haiti because that’s where the people wanted to go. El Salvador is not the only place in the world that’s poor. And there was great need in Haiti after the earthquake, which is kind of when our parish opened up. So that was the outrage, of course. I was all set to, oh, yeah, we got to help the world. So it brought my experience to that, too. But we’ve had, like, 20 people go down to Haiti from our parish, and we’re a poor parish. So, yeah, we’re just globally aware. I mean, it’s just more and more obvious, just as we talk about global markets and the world is shrinking and smaller. It’s the same is true for the church, and the same is true for our faith. It’s like we’re all in this together, and what happens to one of us happens to all of us, and we need to just think about that. I remember when the World Trade Center happened, 9/11 happened, and Americans couldn’t understand, why does everybody hate us? I can answer that question for you. And I could, and anybody who’s been in El Salvador could. It’s like we treat people, we exploit people. We don’t know anything about people. We think they’re all the same. We take advantage of people, and that’s why. It’s kind of like the bully getting punched in the face, you know, that doesn’t. I don’t mean to justify what happened, but I can tell you why people were happy about it around the world, at least some people. So you just bring that experience back. Most people have never had that experience. Most people have never lived in a war. They haven’t lived in poverty. They don’t know what it’s like to live in fear. Well, now we’re learning what it’s like. This is how most of the world lives. This is how we’re starting to live in our country. The new normal is old normal for most of the world, unfortunately. So that’s what we bring to that maybe, teaching people how to live with fear. Teaching people like, this is what happens when you’re unjust. This is- Things get worse. This is what happens when people don’t have a voice. Once they can’t stand it anymore, they lash out, rightly or wrongly, but they’re gonna lash out for sure. Yeah.

Naomi A. Randt [00:50:35] I think that brings me to the end of my questions. Is there’s anything else.

Father Doug Koesel [00:50:38] Oh, I could go on for hours. Bunch of stories. [laughs] So is there anything in particular you’re-?

Naomi A. Randt [00:50:45] I mean, if you have any particular, other stories, maybe about El Salvador that you haven’t shared yet?

Father Doug Koesel [00:50:52] Oh, geez. Yeah, I mean, well, I get the personal story. I remember one time Annamae Meyer, who was part of our team, and I were stopped at one of those checkpoints. And usually they just looked at your documents and said, okay. And basically they’re the same guys are there every day and you’re going down the same roads every day because it’s your neighborhood, so to speak. So nothing, nothing to worry about. Well, this one time, there are new guys made us get out of the Jeep and started having us walk towards the forest. And actually, we were inside the forest so nobody could see us. And we didn’t know what was going on. And he’s looking at my passport upside down, pretending he’s reading it. And I’m thinking like, oh, this is it. This is it. I’ve just, say your act of contrition, and Annamae was scared too. And of course they’d let us go. I wouldn’t be telling you this story, but those kind of stories happen now and then. My first day there, say, in mass in this new village that Paul had taken me to, and we were surrounded by a Jeep pulls up with six soldiers with AK-47s. They get out and surround us, and they didn’t do anything. But after we left, they came and told the people to stay away from the priests because the priests are communists. I hadn’t even been in the country 24 hours yet. But this was, this was the assessment.

Naomi A. Randt [00:52:22] How did that make you feel?

Father Doug Koesel [00:52:24] Well, I kind of knew that was what was going on. It was a little different when it’s like that tangible. Yeah, a little more scary, but, oh, well. But then we went back the following month and all the people were there the following month. When they would- Things like we would say or people would say, you know, it’s unfortunate that it’s a sin to be a young person, because either they were accused of being sympathizers with the left, or they joined the military to escape being attacked. Or if they were involved in church, then they were considered communists. So anytime there was something would happen in the church or with the church, like someone being killed, you know, youth would disappear for a while, and then they’d come back little by little. So our youth worked with, like, the choir and ministry, and they did a lot of good stuff, was, you know, important work, but difficult work, because the kids were involved, were risking their lives. And there was already a precedent that Carlos and Armando had been murdered for being involved in the church. But I’m still in touch with some of the people that were in the youth group, and they were- They were in their teens, and I was. I was 28 years old when I went down. I didn’t know what I was doing. You know, now we’re peers. I’m still friends. They’re still some of my dearest friends, you know? And one of them had, when he, after he got married, is he named his son José Douglas. He’s named after me. So those are great. Those are the great stories. And there’s a lot of great stories, too. Yeah. But, I mean, these people are just edifying. It’s like, well, I’m gonna be involved in my faith, and if I die, well, then I’m gonna die. But I’m. Yeah, you need a guitarist to go with you up to Teotepeque. I’ll go. Because, you know, they’re poor. It was an excursion. Like, I’m getting the back of the truck and we’re going for a ride. [laughs] It’d be, like, comparable to taking your kids to Cedar Point. I mean, it was just- It was an outing, but it was- It was a risky outing. They knew they were risking their lives to be involved with the church, but they did it. They just wanted to do it. So. Yeah, lots of stories. I can’t think of any, of course, but just good people, good stuff.

Naomi A. Randt [00:54:53] Has it been good to go back sort of after the war has died down just to reconnect with those people?

Father Doug Koesel [00:54:59] Yeah, it is. It is. Unless they’ve died when people did die, but, yeah. And you see progress, especially along the coast. There’s a lot more businesses and restaurants because things are more peaceful. The government is smart enough to realize that, yeah, people will come here. It’s a beautiful country. If they feel safe. So it is safe along the coast. A lot of gangs going on right now. Yeah. It’s good to see the progress.

Naomi A. Randt [00:55:34] That’s all I got.

Father Doug Koesel [00:55:36] Okay, me too… Thank you.

Naomi A. Randt [00:55:38] Thank you.

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