Forty years ago today, on October 20, 1975, a forty-five year old Iowa priest was martyred in Morochata, Bolivia.
A farm boy from Independence, Iowa, he got a bachelor’s degree in farm management from Iowa State University in Ames.
He became a priest of the archdiocese of Dubuque and served for a few years there before serving in Bolivia for several years as a Maryknoll associate. After this he served in a parish in Cochabamba, Bolivia, which was served for many years by priests of the Dubuque archdiocese. There he helped found a school for the poor.
After several years there he went to the town of Morochata, with its fifty scattered missions, where most of the people spoke Quechua. He visited the villages about once a year and also formed a network of seventy of more indigenous catechists.
On October 20, 1975, he dedicated a ten-bed hospital in Morochata which he had helped found. That night he was strangled and shot in his bed in the rectory.
It is not clear why he was killed. He was fairly apolitical, but in those days, when a US-supported dictator ruled in Bolivia, anyone who worked with the poor might be considered suspect.
He was buried back in Iowa. A priest friend, Father Leon Connolly, brought back all his possessions, except for books and clothing, which would fit into a cigar box. Father Ray was an inveterate cigar smoker.
What simplicity! What real poverty! What giving of himself for the poor!
But for him, it was sheer joy. As he once told a visitor,
“I have wanted to give everything to our Lord, and only since I have come to Morochata do I feel that I am really happy, and to some degree at least, successful in giving all to Christ,”
Would that we could imitate his entrega – how giving himself for God and the poor.