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In Memoriam: Dorothy Stang, S.N.D.deN.

Sister Dorothy Stang's name was not mentioned (as far as I know) during the Pope's just-completed trip to Brazil, but before the focus moves away from that country it would be right and good to recall the memory of this remarkable martyr for the faith.

Many readers probably know the story of this Ohio-born sister of Notre Dame de Namur who went to work with the poor in Brazil in 1966, became a Brazilian citizen, and dedicated her life to working on behalf of the indigenous poor, especially in the Amazon. She worked with the base communities that have been so strongly opposed by powerful interests in Brazil. But she remained resolute.

In February 2005, after receiving many death threats from landowners, two gunmen apparently hired by powerful ranchers tracked her down. She knew what was about to happen, and opened her Bible and began reading from the Gospel of Matthew. They shot her twice in the head an five more times in the body.

"Dot," as she was known, is to my mind the kind of witness to faith and justice who lived out the message of the Gospel. Despite all the criticism of "secularizing" and "activist" religious orders, perhaps her example is one we could look to for some answers to the challenges for the Church in places like Brazil.

Read more at or the Notre Dame de Namur site at

One of the ranchers accused of hiring her killers (who have been convicted) goes on trial today, as you can read here:

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Dorothy Stang and Oscar Romero (and they are not the only ones) are a piercing rebuke to aristocratic Rome. In an age where Karol W made the canonization of saints almost meaningless, these two martyrs to the faith are not recognized as saints. The real church does, though.For that reason papal visits in general become Palm Sundays without Good Friday and Easter Sunday. They are good pageantry without substance. A church of conquest rather than of martyrs. Etc.,etc., etc,.

David Gibson writes: Despite all the criticism of "secularizing" and "activist" religious orders, perhaps her example is one we could look to for some answers to the challenges for the Church in places like Brazil.Jean says: Really good point. It kind of shames those of us who waste our breath griping about how nuns don't wear recognizeable habits anymore. I guess when you're shot seven times on behalf of the poor, a wimple becomes a moot point.

"In an age where Karol W made the canonization of saints almost meaningless..."My God, how true!!!!!!!It would be interesting to learn if the current pope did, in fact, mention the names of AB Romero and Sister Stang. I AM curious!

I am pretty sure he mentioned Romero, Rome has gotten that message. What is not well known is the US govt was very active in terrorizing any social reformers. There are many outstanding people from religious orders who gave their lives to social reform.

I have to disagree about the comment that JPII "made the canonization of saints almost meaningless." Perhaps he was cleaning up a backlog of cases that had been weighed down by inertia and time, but even if he wasn't, I think he was primarily motivated by the desire to give the world many different role models, from a wide variety of cultures and ethnic groups, for living the Christian faith. Sure, he might have influenced more the causes pending for Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Thoamas Merton, and some others, and he may have canonized some controversial individuals (Josemaria Escriva comes first to mind), but the Pope's message, IMO, was that these were people like us that we can connect with, who had many of the same faults and problems we have, and who rose above those issues to live exemplary lives. It's worthwhile to stop and think of some of the people JPII canonized and beatified:Padre PioEdith SteinMaximilian KolbeThe Vietnames martyrsThe Korean MartyrsSister FaustinaKatherine DrexelKaterina Tekawitha (beatified)Mother Teresa (beatified)For a witty and memorable reminder about the role the saints can play in our daily lives, I recommend Fr. James Martin's "My Life with the Saints."With a pantheon of saints now available to choose from, thanks in part to JPII, there is sure to be at least one that each of us can identify with and emulate.

I have one problem with Bill Collier's comment. The pantheon of saints offer little or no direct heroes/heroines to married couples , other than those who gave up sex.This continues to be a real issue and underscore the notion that somehow sex is dirty or that married couples are less than religious or consecrated lay in their status.This is hardly to deny the admirable quality of Fr. Martin's work.But, for many, the sanctity of many listed above may seem unapproachable. I must say that the heroism of Sr, Stang wil have real resonance amomng those who've worked for the oppressed and had to face danger from the powerful.

That's a fair comment, Bob. There certainly could be more married saints, especially from "contemporary" times, i.e., the last 100 years or so. However, a few of my favorite saints seem to fit your criteria:St. Thomas MoreSt. PeterSt. Monica (mother of St. Augustine)There is also St. Elizabeth Seton, who was a widow, however, when she entered the religious life. And of course there is St. Joseph, though he likely would not have fit one of your criteria.And though he wasn't married and eventually became celibate, St. Augustine relates in his "Confessions" that he had a robust sex life for many years that included the birth of a son. Some modern day Christians can no doubt find connections with at least some aspects of Augustine's life. I'm curious as to whether you have a married person or persons in mind to put forth as candidates worthy of canonization? If so, I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Hello william (and all),I've been in the thick of finishing grading final exams and preparing to visit my ex-university to attend my former students' graduation ceremonies, so I have had but little time to visit the recent discussions. I hope most of you are well, though today I grieve with the Bacevich family.Thank you very much for your thoughts here William. I've grumbled about aspects of John Paul II's papacy before, and while I have not said so before on this web log I had views regarding John Paul II's numerous beatifications and canonizations similar to those expressed here by Joseph and Bill. For one thing, I have wondered if in a time such as ours of easy communication if the formal processes of beatification and canonization still serves much purpose. For example, I've read and agree that the people of God long ago recognized John XXIII as a saint, and in my opinion his beatification went largely unnoticed. I suspect that far more people know of and revere Dorothy Day and Archbishop Romero than the majority of the people beatified and canonized by John Paul II. I also admit that in my opinion some of John Paul II's choices were not very deserving (such as Pius IX and the Austrian Emperor Charles). And while I have been mistaken about cost considerations on this web log before, I have wondered how much might be saved for other charitable work if the church did not spend the labor and other resources on the extensive investigations of cases for beatification and sainthood.I heard a bishop (whose name I have forgotten) explain in a recent interview that the reason John Paul II beatified and canonized so many was to discipline everyone else. I did not know what to make of that at the time. But I much prefer your more charitable views on this. Thanks for giving us all some good food for thought!

A little known fact is that even conservative clergy in the church were astounded by Karol W's landslide of new saints. I heard that from a speaker on the premises of, that bastion of orthodoxy, St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers.

Maybe it's my Hapsburg heritage coming to the fore, but it should be pointed out that Kaiser Karl I was very married, very seriously, and in a very Catholic spirit.Anti-monarchist sentiment aside (and I once heard Ronald Syme, neither a conservative nor a Catholic apologist, vigorously praise the tolerance and openness of the Hapsburg empire), Karl I at least deserves credit for attempting to put an end to first world war in accordance with the earlier pope Benedict's wishes. And can anyone looking back over the last ninety years really maintain that the bigot Woodrow Wilson's fantasies for the Balkans were an improvement on what existed previously?

Los Angeles Times, May 16, 2007Brazilian rancher guilty in nun's slayingBy Patrick J. McDonnellTimes Staff WriterBELEM, BRAZIL A jury convicted a rancher Tuesday of ordering the slaying of Sister Dorothy Stang, a U.S. missionary who championed the cause of the Amazon's landless peasants.The verdict was met here with celebratory music, tearful embraces and thunderous applause among farmers gathered in a public square. Human rights experts hailed the decision as a long-awaited break after years of impunity afforded to large landowners in the rain forest region."Maybe this is the beginning of justice," said Romeiro Batista Medeiros, a councilman for the Amazonian town of Anapu, where Stang had lived for more than two decades and had become legendary as a defender of the poor and landless.Medeiros was among the hundreds who had put up a tent city, dubbed "Camp Dorothy Lives," in the plaza across from the courthouse where jurors heard the case against Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, the rancher accused of being one of the masterminds of the 73-year-old nun's slaying in February 2005."Impunity's reign ends with this conviction," declared Marselha Goncalves Margerin, who monitored the case here for the Washington-based Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.Two of Stang's brothers, both ex-priests, came from the United States to witness the trial.... The Stangs and several nuns of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the slain nun's order, were mobbed by the Amazonian farmers as they descended the stairs of the courthouse and crossed the street into the plaza. An electric guitar played Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba" as a celebration erupted in the square, provisionally named after Stang and filled with posters bearing her likeness. A tropical downpour didn't douse the exhilaration."Maybe all these people will finally have some peace," said Sister Jane Dwyer, 66, who lived with Stang in Anapu for almost a decade.The entire story is at,1,2729339.story

Thanks for posting that story, Gene. The reactions are a true testimony. David

May Sister's soul and the souls of all the faitfful departed rest in peace.David Gibson wrote: "Despite all the criticism of "secularizing" and "activist" religious orders, perhaps her example is one we could look to for some answers to the challenges for the Church in places like Brazil."Maid: The question then becomes was her service and her example there despite of or because of any possible secularizing trends in her religious community? Do we know?Jean added: "It kind of shames those of us who waste our breath griping about how nuns don't wear recognizeable habits anymore. I guess when you're shot seven times on behalf of the poor, a wimple becomes a moot point."Maid: We should not over generalize: many, perhaps even most world-wide, religious do wear a recognizable habit. The question becomes again - was Sr. Dororthy's apostolic work impressive despite of or because of her community's decision to drop the religious habit? And realize that not wearing a religious habit does not necessarily mean a consecrated woman is theologically left of center or supportive of secularization. The consecrated women in Opus Dei and Regnum Christi do not wear a traditional habit. The Maid

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