Darlene Nicgorski papers on the Sanctuary Movement
Scope and Contents
The collection comprises writings, correspondence, newspaper and periodical clippings, legal papers, flyers, programs, photographs, audiotapes and videotapes, graphic materials, and realia relating to the life and career of Darlene Nicgorski, a leader in the Sanctuary movement for Central American refugees in the United States in the early 1980s, and a defendant in the Arizona Sanctuary Trial of 1985-1986. The materials focus in particular on three areas: (1) The trial in Federal District Court in Tucson, Arizona (the “Arizona Sanctuary Trial”), of Nicgorski and others for conspiracy and encouraging illegal aliens to enter the United States, their conviction and sentencing, and their unsuccessful appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, 1985-1989; (2) Nicgorski’s involvement in the Sanctuary movement, 1981-1987; and (3) her relations with the order of School Sisters of St. Francis (SSSF), to which she belonged until the end of 1987.
The materials documenting the trial include relatively few court documents, or documents relating to the defendants as a group, but focus on Nicgorski and her defense, prepared and undertaken by Michael Altman. Especially noteworthy are the original microcassettes and transcripts of Nicgorski’s daily reflections on the course of the trial; her statements to attorneys and the other defendants, and her public statements during the trial; and interviews of Nicgorski and several witnesses by defense counsel Michael Altman. Other significant materials include post-conviction letters concerning Nicgorski addressed to Judge Carroll for his consideration when determining her sentence; a large number of letters of support addressed to Nicgorski; and two extensive collections of clippings from newspapers and periodicals, one prepared by Nicgorski herself, the other by the Sanctuary Defense Fund’s media office.
Materials documenting the Sanctuary movement include studies, flyers, pamphlets, and special issues of periodical publications, that investigate and report on the issues confronting refugees from Central America, their attempts to escape repression in their homeland, the movement in the United States to provide asylum and sanctuary for these refugees, United States government policy on Central America, and the actions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Materials of particular significance include audiotaped interviews in the early 1980s with refugees; photographs documenting Nicgorski’s work in Central America and with Central American refugees in Arizona; and extensive records--including some audiotapes and videotapes--of Nicgorski’s speaking engagements, in particular for the years 1985-1987. Other significant materials include publicity, programs, and liturgies for prayer and worship services for the movement; the Freedom Train Sanctuary caravan from Phoenix to Northampton, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1987; posters, newspaper political cartoons, and other graphics concerning the movement; and writings by, and correspondence with, others working with Central American refugees, including Jim Corbett and Mary Malherek, MM.
Materials documenting Nicgorski's relationship with the order of School Sisters of St. Francis (SSSF) include a substantial number of records relating to the order’s support for the Sanctuary movement and for Nicgorski during her trial. Among these records are official letters of support from the order, private letters from individual members of the order, and a detailed media packet that carefully summarizes Nicgorski’s life, the circumstances that led Central Americans to seek refuge in the United States, the Sanctuary movement, and the Roman Catholic Church’s support for the movement. Materials documenting Nicgorski's personal relationship to the order include her 1970 and 1974 professions, personal papers, and materials relating to her 1987 separation from the order.
- circa 1968-2011.
- Majority of material found within 1980 - 1987
- Nicgorksi, Darlene (Creator, Person)
Language of materials
English and Spanish.
This collection is open for research.
All requests for permission to reproduce or to publish must be submitted in writing to Special Collections.
Darlene Nicgorski was born in Wisconsin on 19 November 1943. In 1962 she entered Mt. Saint Mary College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She left the following year to enter the Maryknoll Missionary Sisters, but returned home in 1964 at the suggestion of the order because of severe allergies and asthma. She graduated from Alverno College, Milwaukee, and entered the School Sisters of St. Francis (SSSF) in 1966. She made her profession in 1970, and her final profession in 1974. Sister Darlene taught children from kindergarten through fourth grade for several years, and earned an MS in Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1973. After serving as Director of CADET Child Care Center, Holly Springs, Mississippi, from 1974 to 1979, in 1980 she became a social worker at St. Joseph's Manor low income housing project in Omaha, Nebraska.
Sister Darlene's involvement with the people of Central America began in 1980, when she answered the call to help members of her congregation in Guatemala to set up a preschool program in Los Amates, Guatemala. On 1 July 1981, less than six months after she arrived in Guatemala, her mentor, Father Tulio Maruzzo (Padre Tulio), was assassinated, and the Franciscan community threatened. Sister Darlene and the other members of the SSSF community fled, settling in Chiapas, Mexico, where Bishop Ruiz opened the seminar at San Cristobal de las Casas to them. During her nine months there, Sister Darlene visited the Guatemalan refugee camps on the border and assisted the Diocesan Refugee Committee. In 1982, she returned to Guatemala City intending to work at the El Tesoro camp for Guatemalan refugees being set up with the assistance of her congregation in Santa Rosa, Copan, Honduras. However, after the kidnap and torture of Sister Albertina Paz by the Guatemalan military, Sister Darlene, in consultation with the order, decided the time was not right for her to proceed to El Tesoro, and she returned to the United States. While visiting her family in Phoenix, Arizona, Sister Darlene became ill, and during her recuperation she became involved with the local ecumenical task force, the Valley Religious Task Force on Central America, which assisted refugees fleeing political unrest and persecution in Central America to find sanctuary in the United States. The Sanctuary movement had begun in 1980, when Jim Corbett, Jim Dudley, the Rev. John Fife, and a handful of other residents of Tucson, Arizona, began--in violation of United States law--providing legal, financial, and material aid to Central American refugees; on 24 March 1982, the second anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero's assassination, Fife declared his congregation, the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, the first public sanctuary in the United States. At its height, in 1985, the Sanctuary movement had approximately 500 member sites across the United States. In 1983, Sister Darlene was asked by the Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America to coordinate the movement of refugees to Sanctuary congregations throughout the country. The Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS) decided to crack down on the Sanctuary movement, and in 1985 initiated two separate criminal prosecutions, one against two activists in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, the other, considerably larger, case against activists in Arizona. On 14 January 1985, Sister Darlene's home was searched, and she and 15 others, including Jim Corbett, the Rev. John Fife, and Father Ramon Dagoberto Quiñones, were arrested and charged with 71 counts of conspiracy and encouraging and aiding illegal aliens to enter the United States "by shielding, harboring and transporting them". The trial, which attracted considerable national attention, began in Tucson on 22 October 1985, and the verdict was rendered on 1 May 1986. Sister Darlene was convicted of conspiracy to violate immigration law and two counts each of transporting and aiding and abetting the harboring of illegal aliens, and faced a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. On 1 July 1986, she was given a suspended sentence and five years' probation.
Much in demand as a speaker on the Sanctuary movement since her arrest, between 1985 and 1988 Sister Darlene had over 200 speaking engagements. She also received many awards, including Ms magazine's 1986 Woman of the Year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California's Early Warren Civil Liberties Award for 1986, the Women's Ordination Conference Prophetic Figure Award for 1987, the American Civil Liberties Union, Wisconsin Chapter, William Gorham Rice Civil Libertarian of the Year Award in 1987. She was the first Roman Catholic to receive Union Theological Seminary's Union Medal.
In November 1986, Sister Darlene relocated to WomanCenter in Plainville, Massachusetts, where she continued to write about her experiences from a feminist faith perspective. After increasingly questioning the Roman Catholic Church's attitudes regarding sexuality and women, in 1987, she received papal dispensation to leave the SSSF.
After leaving the SSSF, Darlene held several part-time positions teaching ESL (English as a second language) at Roxbury Community College, and Northeastern, Tufts, and Harvard Universities. From 1989 to 2000, she was employed by Ames Safety Envelope Company, in Somerville, Massachusetts, initially as Educational Consultant and finally as Director of Human Resources. In 2001, she and her life partner, Chris, relocated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to assist in the care of the latter's elderly mother. In addition to continuing to teach ESL part time, in 2002 Darlene joined the staff of Piedmont Health Services, from which she retired in 2011 as Vice President of Human Resources. She and her partner now reside in Claremont, California.
11.5 Linear Feet ((8 boxes + 1/2 document case + 6 flat boxes + 1 shoebox + 1 map case drawer).)
Writings, correspondence, newspaper and periodical clippings, legal papers, audio- and videotapes, and graphic materials relating to the life and career of Darlene Nicgorski, a leader in the Sanctuary movement for Central American refugees in the United States in the early 1980s, and a defendant in the Arizona Sanctuary Trial of 1985-1986. The materials focus in particular on her involvement in the Sanctuary Movement, 1981-1987, her defense in the Sanctuary Trial, and her relations with the order of School Sisters of St. Francis (SSSF), to which she belonged until the end of 1987.
The collection is arranged into the following 12 series:
Please consult repository.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Darlene Nicgorski, 13 November 2011.
Collection processed by Michael P. Palmer, May 2012.
- Asylum, Right of -- United States
- Christianity and politics
- Church and social problems -- United States
- Church and state -- United States
- Church work with refugees -- Arizona
- Church work with refugees -- United States
- Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.)
- Nicgorksi, Darlene (Creator)
- Political refugees -- Central America
- Sanctuary movement
- School Sisters of St. Francis (Milwaukee, Wis.) (Creator)
- Sound recordings
- Video recordings
- Women in church work -- United States
- Guide to the Darlene Nicgorski papers on the Sanctuary Movement
- Michael P. Palmer
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note