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Guide to the Darlene Nicgorski papers on the Sanctuary Movement
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Contents
  • Arrangement
  • Related Materials

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Darlene Nicgorski papers on the Sanctuary Movement
    Dates (inclusive): circa 1968-2011
    Dates (bulk): 1980-1987
    Collection number: H.Mss.1011
    Creator: Nicgorksi, Darlene, 1943-
    Extent: 11.5 Linear feet (8 boxes + 1/2 document case + 6 flat boxes + 1 shoebox + 1 map case drawer).
    Respository: Claremont Colleges. Library. Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd Library. Claremont, CA 91711
    Abstract: 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.
    Physical location: Please consult repository.
    Language of materials: English and Spanish.

    Administrative Information


    This collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    All requests for permission to reproduce or to publish must be submitted in writing to Special Collections.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Darlene Nicgorski Papers on the Sanctuary Movement (Collection H.Mss.1011). Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd Library, Claremont University Consortium.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Darlene Nicgorski, 13 November 2011.

    Processing Information

    Collection processed by Michael P. Palmer, May 2012.


    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 spokesman for 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.

    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.


    The collection is arranged into the following 12 series:
    • Series 1. Arizona Sanctuary Trial (US v. Aguilar et al.)
    • Series 2. Sanctuary movement
    • Series 3. Press and periodicals clippings
    • Series 4. Writings, speaking engagements, and interviews
    • Series 5. School Sisters of St. Francis (SSSF)
    • Series 6. Subject files
    • Series 7. Photographs and postcards
    • Series 8. Graphic materials
    • Series 9. Audiotapes and videotapes
    • Series 10. Personal
    • Series 11. Realia
    • Series 12. Awards

    Related Materials

    Sanctuary Movement Trial papers (MS 362). Special Collections, University of Arizona Libraries  , 1982-1988, created by A. Bates Butler (attorney for Phillip Conger), James Brosnahan (attorney for Maria Socorro de Aguilar), Michael Altman (attorney for Darlene Nicgorski), Peg Hutchison, Arizona American Friends Service Committee (Jim Corbett), and the Southside Presbyterian Church (John Fife), consists of attorney files, certified trial transcripts, and materials collected by the American Friends Service Committee and the Southside Presbyterian Church.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Subject Headings

    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
    Nicgorksi, Darlene, 1943-
    Political refugees--Central America
    Sanctuary movement
    School Sisters of St. Francis (Milwaukee, Wis.).
    Women in church work--United States

    Genre and Form of Materials

    Sound recordings
    Video recordings