Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

The Mother Lode Martin Luther King Jr. Committee will feature Roy Bourgeois, a former Maryknoll Missionary priest active in social justice issues in Latin America, at its MLK birthday celebration on Sunday.

Bourgeois, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, will be the keynote speaker at the 18th annual event beginning at 2 p.m. in the Sonora High School auditorium.

Bourgeois founded the School of the Americas Watch to expose the atrocities committed by the U.S.-trained School of the Americas graduates in Latin America. He has continued this work for 22 years, despite being jailed many times for non-violent acts of civil disobedience.

The celebration will also feature the music of Dennis Brown and Michelle Allison.

The winners of the MLK essay-art contest will be announced during the program.

The event is free, and a reception with refreshments will follow in the school library.

For more information, call 840-4777.

Bourgeois, known popularly as Father Roy, was born in Lutcher, La., in 1938. He graduated from the University of Southwestern Louisiana with a bachelor of science degree in geology.

After college, Bourgeois served as a naval officer for four years - two years at sea, one year at a NATO station in Europe, and one year of shore duty in Vietnam, where he received the Purple Heart.

After military service, Bourgeois entered the seminary of the Maryknoll Missionary Order. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1972, and he went on to work with the poor of Bolivia for five years before being arrested and forced to leave the country, then under the repressive rule of dictator and School of the Americas graduate General Hugo Banzer.

In 1980, Bourgeois became involved in issues surrounding U.S. policy in El Salvador after four U.S. churchwomen - two of them his friends - were raped and killed by Salvadoran soldiers.

Bourgeois became an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. Since then, he has spent over four years in U.S. federal prisons for nonviolent protests against the training of Latin American soldiers at Fort Benning, Ga.

In 1990, Bourgeois founded the School of Americas Watch, an office that does research on the U.S. Army School of the Americas, now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Each year the school trains hundreds of soldiers from Latin America in combat skills - all paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

The School of the Americas Watch, located just outside the main entrance of Fort Benning and in Washington, D.C., informs the general public, Congress and the media about the implications of this training on the people of Latin America.

Bourgeois has worked on and helped produce several documentary films, including 1983's "Gods of Metal" about the nuclear arms race and 1995's "School of Assassins." Both films received Academy Award nominations.

Bourgeois was the recipient of the 1997 Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Award.

In December 1998, Bourgeois testified in Madrid before Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon seeking the extradition of Chile's ex-dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

In the mid to late-2000s, Bourgeois traveled extensively in Latin America, meeting with presidents, defense ministers and officials of several countries, pushing for the pulling-out of troops from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

These visits led to the termination of four countries - Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela - sending troops to the U.S. school.

However, last October, the Vatican dismissed Bourgeois from the order of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers - which he had served for 45 years - for his support of women's ordination.

The decision by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith removed Bourgeois from his sacred bonds, returning him to the laity, the order said.

"As a priest during 2008, Bourgeois participated in the invalid ordination of a woman and a simulated Mass in Lexington, Ky.," the National Catholic Reporter reported in November. "With patience, the Holy See and the Maryknoll Society have encouraged his reconciliation with the Catholic Church.

"Instead, Mr. Bourgeois chose to campaign against the teachings of the Catholic Church in secular and non-Catholic venues. This was done without the permission of the local U.S. Catholic Bishops and while ignoring the sensitivities of the faithful across the country," the report said. "Disobedience and preaching against the teaching of the Catholic Church about women's ordination led to his excommunication, dismissal and laicization.

"With this parting, the Mary-knoll Society warmly thanks Roy Bourgeois for his service to mission and all members wish him well in his personal life."

Bourgeois continues to travel extensively, giving talks at universities, churches, and other groups around the country.