Profile - Liz Cunningham - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Liz Cunningham

Year Joined MKLM:

Country: El Salvador

Town: El Zaite, Zaragoza

Ministry: Patronato Lidia Coggiola community center

Ministry Area: Education and Leadership Training

Goal of Ministry: To accompany and support the education and empowerment of the people in the El Zaite community, particularly children, adolescents and women.

Nonviolence Focus:


Our work is oriented toward building relationships, helping people access education and leadership development in their own community, and setting a foundation that supports peace.


​Ministry Context:

Settled by refugees after the country’s civil war, the El Zaite community has limited access to essential resources for living – food, water, and electricity. The area is gang-controlled, and the people live under the constant threat of violence. Nationwide statistics illustrate the educational and employment needs and challenges: roughly 34% of children do not attend the elementary grade levels; more than 60% of children do not finish high school; and approximately 20% of the population above the age of 10 are illiterate. Available jobs traditionally do not pay a living wage, have unsafe conditions and require long hours. Child labor is prevalent within poorer communities, with 1.8 million children currently employed (see Borgen Project).


Current Ministry:

Bob and I are assisting with the many programs that El Patronato offers the community, including the Women’s Collective, the After-School Reinforcement (Refuerzo) program, and the Tú Decides (You Decide) teen group.

We are exploring the possibility of creating a new program for ancianos/as (the elderly) in the coming year. The government does not have programs for the elderly, and NGOs tend to focus on other populations.

The government “state of exception” has kept us from entering Mariona Prison recently, but we are hoping that will change and we can return soon. I have started working a few days a week at the Kinder (kindergarten) program at El Patronato.


Personal Data:

Liz grew up on Long Island as part of a large Catholic family. After graduating from St. John’s University with a degree in business management, her work experience has included commercial banking in New York City, fundraising for the Jesuit province and working as a major gift officer for the Inspiring Hope Campaign at the Boston Archdiocese. Her best job has been being mom to her three children, Andrew, Grace and Mary with her husband and fellow missioner, Bob.

Liz spent many years as a volunteer at her parish, St. Catherine’s in Westford, Massachusetts, was involved with Cursillo and learned about Ignatian spirituality in the 10 years she worked for the Jesuits. She credits this and more importantly the influence of her parents, husband and children, with leading her to Maryknoll. She remembers the Maryknoll magazine coming to her house as a child and daydreaming about serving. She was thrilled to learn years later that Maryknoll had lay missioners that serve around the world and that she and Bob could participate together.