By Stephen McKinley
A member of the Sisters of Charity of New York, Sister Barbara Ann Ford, was shot and killed in an apparent robbery attempt in Guatemala on Saturday, May 5.
Sister Ford, 63, was a Bronx native and first-generation Irish American, whose father came from Ireland. She had left her home in the village of Lemoa to buy a hot water heater in Guatemala City when she was attacked and shot to death on a street.
Some reports suggest that the incident had been an attempted carjacking. Police in Guatemala have said that Sister Ford was shot several times in the head.
Hundreds of locals turned out on Monday for a memorial mass in Santa Cruz for the slain sister, whose remains will be brought back to the Bronx this week. A special memorial Mass will be held at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Mount St. Vincent in Riverdale, the Bronx, on Thursday at 10 a.m.
For Sister Ford’s order, Sister Doris Smith, said that Ford had "loved the people of Guatemala." This was her second time of duty in Guatemala, a notoriously violent part of Central America, where six U.S. citizens have been murdered in the last 18 months. Her first time in Guatemala was from 1978-86, after which she spent three years back at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, working as a clinical instructor.
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She returned to Guatemala in 1989, where she had been ever since as Health Coordinator in the Diocese of Quiche. Sister Ford journeyed back to Riverdale at least once a year, Smith said.
"She came up regularly once a year. Her mother is still living in the area," Smith said. She is also survived by a brother and a sister.
Sister Ford’s first time in Guatemala, beginning in 1978, was prompted by her desire to help victims of earthquakes and then the raging civil war that left perhaps 200,000 people dead before a peace process was achieved in 1996.
That process has not made Guatemala any more stable. A colleague of Ford’s, Bishop Juan Gerardi, was murdered in April 1998, after he had published a report on human rights abuses. Ford had assisted Bishop Gerardi compile the report, even going as far as helping to excavate mass graves outside of Guatemala City.
A graduate of St. Barnabas High School and the College of Mount St. Vincent, Ford taught at St. Augustine School in the Bronx, St. Paul School in Manhattan, and St. Benedict School in the Bahamas, where she was head teacher. In 1973, she became a registered nurse, as she wanted to use medical skills in her missionary work.
Her interests and skills evolved over time. Initially in Guatemala, in 1978, she helped with devastation and poverty caused by the earthquakes and then later by the civil war, but after her experiences of many people’s psychological trauma, she turned to treating mental illnesses. She encouraged patients to draw or write about their trauma, then burn the work as a means of overcoming the pain. She also wrote two books on mental health, and the current Mental Health Program of Quiche was largely her work.
"I’m sure her funeral Mass is going to be a celebration of Barbie’s life," Sister Smith said. "She had a full life."