Jonathan Daniels v. Rutilio Grande

Welcome back for another full week of Lent Madness action! We kick things off with the long-anticipated matchup between Jonathan Daniels and Rutilio Grande. Two martyrs who embraced the prophetic call as followers of Jesus amid turbulent times in the United States and El Salvador.

On Friday, Brendan of Clonfert advanced to the Saintly Sixteen by defeating David of Wales 58% to 42%

Vote now!

Jonathan Daniels

On the evening of March 7, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. began sending telegrams and issuing public statements “calling on religious leaders from all over the nation to join us on Tuesday in our peaceful, nonviolent march for freedom.” Empty tear gas canisters still littered the road before the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. More marchers, more voices were needed in the struggle against segregation and disenfranchisement of Black Americans.

The next day, a second-year seminarian at Episcopal Theological School named Jonathan Myrick Daniels pondered King’s call. It was impractical to leave school in the middle of a term, but the images of Black people beaten by nightsticks and chased by dogs would not leave him. In the midst of singing the Magnificat at Evening Prayer, Jonathan felt “Mary’s glad song” resound with the Holy Spirit’s fire. “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek.” Jonathan knew he had to go to Selma.

Jonathan initially planned to stay in Alabama only a few days but quickly received permission from ETS to stay longer, with a plan to return in May for final exams. Working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Jonathan registered voters, enrolled poor families in benefit programs, tutored children, and protested. With a small, interracial group of friends, Jonathan attempted to integrate the all-white St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It took weeks to gain entrance to Morning Prayer, and when the group arrived for the Palm Sunday service, ushers called the police. The group was ultimately permitted to worship at St. Paul’s on Palm Sunday and Easter, provided they sat separately from the rest of the congregation and took communion last.

On August 14, 1965, Jonathan was jailed in Haynesville, Alabama, along with 28 others for picketing whites-only stores. Released after six days, Jonathan and a few others walked to a nearby store for a cold drink. A white man named Tom Coleman was waiting with his gun, angered by the news of their release and spoiling for a fight. He aimed his gun at 17-year-old Ruby Sales, a young Black activist. Jonathan immediately pushed Ruby aside; he absorbed the full force of the shotgun blast and died instantly. He was 26 years old.

Upon hearing of Jonathan’s murder, Dr. King said, “one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels.” Had he survived Coleman’s gunfire, Jonathan Daniels might still be with us today. March 20, 2023, would be his 84th birthday.

Collect for Jonathan Daniels
O God of justice and compassion, who puts down the proud and mighty from their place, and lifts up the poor and the afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

— Eva Suarez

Rutilio Grande

Rutilio Grande was a Jesuit priest who made his ministry among the poor of El Salvador in the 1960s and 70s. Born in 1928, he studied abroad in Venezuela, Belgium, and Spain before returning home. He became a quiet but powerful prophet standing against an archdiocese that upheld the status quo of rich oligarchs and opposed the reforms of Vatican II.

Grande was a dear friend of the famous archbishop, Óscar Romero (canonized in 2018). When Romero was made a bishop, he had no time or money to plan his consecration, so his friend Rutilio took over. Rutilio planned the liturgy, found vestments to borrow, and recruited colleagues to participate. The two friends were a sort of Ruth Bader Ginsburg/Antonin Scalia pair, enjoying each other’s company enormously but disagreeing mightily about whether the church should take an active role advocating for the nation’s poor. Unlike the carefree character sharing his name in the movie Romero (1989), Grande was a shy and introverted person who struggled with depression and panic attacks. Still, he was a devoted priest whose serious demeanor was transformed when he was out among his parishioners or preaching. “Father Tilo” was a collaborative leader, unheard of in the Salvadoran Roman Catholic Church: training lay people to teach and pastor alongside him and encouraging parishioners to read the Bible together and talk about their lives. He was a fearless preacher, denouncing the conditions of the working poor and the total control of the oligarchy over land, agriculture, and the national economy.

His quiet life began to attract a lot of attention. On March 12, 1977, after a particularly prophetic sermon Rutilio gave in response to the torture and deportation of a fellow priest, he and two of his parishioners were assassinated by anonymous gunmen. And then, Rutilio’s quiet but prophetic life changed his whole country. Not only did Archbishop Romero fully awaken to his life’s work of speaking out for the poor but also other clergy, religious, and lay leaders throughout the Salvadoran church rose up. Tragically, before long, they too, were murdered, tortured, and disappeared by the thousands.

Romero himself was assassinated in 1980. El Salvador remains one of the most violent countries in the world, besieged by gang violence, but Rutilio and Óscar are icons of hope, appearing often together in devotional art. Rutilio Grande was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church on January 22, 2022.

Collect for Rutilio Grande
Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Rutilio triumphed over suffering and was faithful even to death: Grant us, who now remember him in thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with him the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

— Heidi Haverkamp


Jonathan Daniels: MrCharco, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Rutilio Grande: Hchc2009, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


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123 comments on “Jonathan Daniels v. Rutilio Grande”

  1. This one was not fair. I cried as I voted over the lives of both of them. They should both be remembered in the saintly 16. Thank you for including their stories. I knew Jonathan but not Rutilio.

  2. A champion of civil rights and against social injustice,murdered to protect another and my 'birthday buddy'...
    Jonathan Daniels

  3. Tough to pick between the two, but I'm going with Jonathan Daniels.

    Facing terrorist attacks not just in Alabama USA but all over the South during the 1960's, Comparable to the state-sponsored terrorism a decade later in El Salvador. How many of us would ever have the courage to confront such violent depravity and evil, with certain death being the most likely outcome?

  4. A few years ago, I stood in the place where Jonathan was killed, during a civil rights pilgrimage organized by my parish. This week, another group of pilgrims is on the same journey. How can I not vote for Jonathan?

    1. I'm doing a Civil Rights Tour/Pilgrimage in October: Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery. Long overdue for me.

  5. An impossible choice. Thinking most votes influe
    Need by Mr Daniels proximity to our culture/race/class. Even if vote was 100% Daniels, I’d still look at the sacrifice the same: each stood up for that last full measure against the power of domination and for God’s grace and justice.

  6. Both Jonathan Myrick Daniels and Rutilio Grande accepted martyrdom willingly. Rutilio Grande’s life as a priest, in addition, had a wonderful effect on the church. His death inspired a multitude to take up the cross.

    With every sermon he preached, Rutilio Grande knowingly risked death at the hands of a homicidal regime. He also transformed the life of his parish by making lay people central to worship. His assassination sparked a movement.

  7. An unfortunate pairing. Both men deserve to proceed to the Golden Halo and I am annoyed one of them has to be disqualified so early. I would have enjoyed reading more about them both in coming weeks.

    1. I was thinking the same. What an unfortunate pairing. They are so similar in their martyrdom.

  8. In the tradition of uplifting local saints ("local" in this case meaning our nation; I've never lived south of the Potomac) I will vote for Jonathan Daniels and leave it to those with a more direct connection to the struggles of Latin America to vote for Grande.

    As many others have remarked, both are AXIOS -- worthy. Praise God for the sacrifice of the holy martyrs.

  9. Ugh. This 1st round matchup is almost as bad as Mary and Martha a couple of years ago. If Rutilio Grande had been put against anyone else (well, maybe not Florence), he'd be a shoe-in to the saintly sixteen. Alas, here he is against someone who could win the whole thing...


  10. Either one of these two could have easily beaten many of the earlier contestants, and it was very hard to choose between the two. Both are examples of the full faith, even unto death, that we are called to.

  11. Two compelling stories; two worthy martyrs. Much more moving, to me, than the stories of early church martyrs, which go and and on about their horrible deaths but say little about the victims except that they professed their faith. Jonathan and Rutilio professed their faith in Christ in both word and deed, loving their neighbors to the end by risking and offering up their own lives. A difficult choice, but I went with Jonathan Daniels, struck by the image of his love of neighbor in his reflexive, immediate regard for young Ruby Sales.

    When I moved cross-country to the east coast for seminary, a few years older than Jonathan but still a young seminarian, I had heard of "Black churches" and "white churches" but was shocked to hear Episcopal churches being described in those terms. I guess since I'd never seen that while growing up in Hawaii, I never pictured it. I'm still learning.

    We still have so far to go in our fight for truth and justice against the sins of racism and of all the ways we fall short of loving our neighbors as ourselves. While I've only suffered in very small and insignificant ways for making "good trouble" over the years, I intend to keep on speaking up and standing up, in both word and action, for all who still suffer from oppression, injustice, disregard and hate: for the Black parents giving the heartbreaking "talk" to their young sons. For the trans teens hungering for love, acceptance, and safety as they struggle to unlock the puzzles and challenges of the lives God has given to them. For the asylum seekers at our borders -- including many from El Salvador.

    God grant us wisdom; grant us courage.

  12. As many others have said, I wanted to vote for both of these men. And the struggles against injustice are still very real in both the U.S. and El Salvador. As someone with more experience in Central America than probably the majority of LM participants, I had to cast my vote for Rutilio. But whoever advances is surely worthy to do so.

  13. Another upsetting forced choice. (Which is part of this, I understand). I wonder if my feelings are based somewhat on recency being more relevant to me—that I’ve lived through both of the times today’s vote covers—showing that standing up for the oppressed is not just something important from the 5th century. I felt it was impossible to chose one as a “winner”.

  14. Both men should be honored as national heroes in their countries but no one knows of their ultimate sacrifice! These men lived their faith in the face of danger. Episcopalian Johnathan gets my vote for following his convictions & the
    loss of a potentially great priest. He answered King’s call by himself when those older & around him should’ve gone with him & gave his life for others. His story should be in history boks too!

  15. Voted for Jonathan Daniels because he was such a wonderful young man and lost his life to hatred while trying to do the right thing. Hard to remember what happened in Alabama that summer. And yet...we have not come far enough even all these years later.

  16. In honor of my brother in law who served in the Peace Corps in El Salvador, I will vote for Father Tilo. Perhaps Father Tilo can help us pray for and work in solidarity with those who continue to suffer in El Salvador or who have struggled to rebuild lives elsewhere, even while we also honor all those who continue to fight for racial justice here in the USA as well.

  17. I voted for Daniels although his time of holy service was short, I can relate to being about my own business, then receiving a call. I can live ready to respond to a call at any time.

  18. Thank you for this day's lesson of Jonathan Daniels and Rutilio Grande that begins our "Spring Break" week. Both men are so worthy to win. As we travel this week I am reminded that the love of God has no bounds. No matter who we are and where we are, "God is with us."

  19. I had the privilege of being part of the 50th anniversary pilgrimage to commemorate Jonathan Daniels - a very moving experience.Both men gave their lives for others. I wonder what I would have one in their places?

  20. This was a tremendously difficult choice! I’m so sorry these two saints had to “compete” against each other. Both are powerful witnesses and faithful servants of Jesus Christ. Both richly deserve The Golden Halo.

  21. Prior to entering seminary, Jonathan Myrick Daniels graduated from Virginia Military Institute, class of 1961, and is memorialized at VMI. He was murdered the same week that I matriculated as a new cadet. This was a difficult choice as both are certainly worthy, but my vote had to be for my fellow alumnus...

  22. One of the hardest ever for me. Both men have been an inspiration to me for quite awhile, but Jonathan Daniels is a local hero (Keene, NH). The grade school is named for him, and our youth learn of his story every year. He has kept the Civil Rights movement alive in our area for many years now.

  23. Both write-ups were excellent. Both events happened in my lifetime and are remembered. All commenters are correct in saying that both saints should go forward. God's peace to both!

    One fact that impacted my vote (and not presented) was that SNCC (via Stokely Carmichael) advised Jon not to return a second time to Lowndes County, Alabama, as he would surely be targeted and killed. Jon would have no part of it, as the battle was not done. I cannot imagine wearing "the collar" for 2 more months of my life, in one of the most violent places in the US.

  24. As someone who grew up in the next county over from Hayneville, I had to vote for Jonathan Myrick Daniels. His bust is in the National Cathedral now.

  25. Second time I have had to put both names in a basket and draw for the "winner." My hope is the voting goes 50% 50%.