WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
16 Dec 2021 | WOLA Statement

Tom Quigley: In Memoriam

“ … peace, like justice, is a process that must be constantly cultivated and protected.”

                                                                                          ~Tom Quigley

One of the members of WOLA’s founding generation and a towering figure in the Latin American human rights movement, Tom Quigley, passed away on December 11, 2021 at the age of 91. He lived a life dedicated to peace and justice. He had a wry sense of humor, an unsparing intellect, and a profound faith. He was known for his determination to lift up the voices of the poor and oppressed and his courage to demand that those in power listen. 

He served for decades as the policy advisor for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and had a pivotal impact during the years when countries of the Southern Cone and Central America suffered enormous human rights abuses under brutal military regimes. Early in this period, Quigley was among the first to expose the extent of the abuses and the complicity of U.S. policy by gathering extensive testimonies from missionaries and lay people of all faiths with close experience living among people under siege in communities throughout Latin America.

WOLA would likely not exist without Tom Quigley. He advocated for its founding and remained a close ally and supporter over the years. In a piece reflecting on the roots of the Latin American human rights movement published in the journal, America, he described WOLA’s beginnings:   


“The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), today’s pre-eminent U.S. policy advocacy group on Latin America, was the creation of an ecumenical coalition of North American church agencies concerned with that region – LASC, the Latin America Strategy Committee. It was in the wake of the coup in Chile that LASC resolved to set up an office in Washington to connect the information being received from church groups in the south with the staff of the U.S. Congress. LASC gathered in Washington for a prescheduled meeting on Sept. 13, 1973, initially to discuss the production of a publication on the military takeover in Uruguay that spring, but the Chilean golpe of the once de septiembre changed everything. WOLA was born of the Pinochet coup.”

In the early 1980s, Quigley was part of a small delegation of ecumenical church leaders who traveled to El Salvador in support of Msgr. Romero. From the sanctuary, Quigley observed Romero’s last mass at the cathedral on Sunday March 23, 1980. In a famous homily from that service, Romero spoke directly to the government, the military, and the security forces, calling to them to ”in the name of God, stop the repression.” Msgr. Romero was assassinated the next day. Tom Quigley would remain a key figure in the human rights movement that, over the next decade and more, worked fearlessly to bring an end to the wars in Central America.

Tom Quigley continued his work with the U.S. Catholic Conference until the late 1990s, providing policy advice rooted in the witness of people working for justice in Latin America and throughout the world. Always striving to place human rights at the center of U.S. and international policies, he was firm in pointing out how our contemporary understanding of human rights had significant origins in movements in Latin America. His insights and his steadfast commitment have guided generations in grounding our own work in the lived experience of people who struggle for justice and human rights.

Tom Quigley (left) in El Salvador in 2015 with Msgr. Ricardo Urioste and Roberto Cuéllar, who carried on the work of Msgr. Oscar Romero. (Courtesy of Heather Foote).

“Tom had an immense impact on my life as he had an immense impact on the founding and direction of WOLA. I would not be who I am nor would WOLA be what it is without the influence of Tom’s wisdom and guidance. His broad shoulders helped us all endure the tragedy of so much suffering in Latin America and find the hope that sustains our solidarity and inspires our renewed vision for a better and more just future.”   Joe Eldridge, former Executive Director of WOLA

“We honor the legacy of Tom Quigley with our hearts and our work today. We send our deepest gratitude to his family for the gift of his inspiration in our lives. As WOLA approaches our 50th anniversary with new energies and challenges, we carry on knowing that, because of Tom Quigley, our foundation will always be strong.” Carolina Jiménez Sandoval, President of WOLA