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Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN

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Key Dates

  • Born June 7, 1931, in Dayton, OH – one of nine children in a German/Irish farming family
  • Attended Julienne High School in Dayton
  • Joined the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1948
  • Taught 3rd grade at St. Victor School in Calumet City IL (1951), Grades 4 and 5 at St. Alexander School in Villa Park IL (1951-53) and all grades at Most Holy Trinity School in Phoenix (1953-66)
  • Began ministry in Brazil in 1966 in Coroata, in the state of Maranhão; moved to Arraia-Jacundo in Pará in 1974 and then to Anapu in 1982
  • Shot six times and killed by hired gunmen in Pará, Brazil, on February 12, 2005

Her Dream

  • That poor farmers would be able to safely live and work on the land given to them
  • Where the farmers could grow crops to sustain their families and community, but not harm or deplete the natural resources of the rainforest
  • Where families could care for one another and live in peace — with dignity

Her Work

  • In the 70s, the Brazilian government offered land to farmers who would develop it in a sustainable way. Sister Dorothy taught them how to farm the land without depleting natural resources.
  • She also worked with the families to build strong Base Christian Communities — a Gospel model based on the premise that, by knowing God and working cooperatively, each community has the power to become self-supporting. Education was at the core.
  • During her nearly 40 years as a missionary in Brazil, she successfully implemented programs that created self-sufficient communities of people committed to their own independence and to protecting the Amazon rainforest.
  • Her work was in direct opposition to powerful ranchers and loggers who wanted the land for their own use.
  • At the time of her death, she and her Sisters in Brazil had started:
  • 35 Base Christian Communities, all committed to sustainable farming
  • 39 schools, several with a sustainable agricultural curriculum
  • a women’s center where classes were held on health care, prenatal care, child development and basic first aid
  • a team of agricultural technicians and experts to help farmers in the area
  • a factory to make and sell banana flour
  • a pastoral program to reduce infant mortality rates
  • faith formation classes for children and adults and parish leadership teams
    adult literacy classes

The Status Today:

  • The struggle to preserve the rainforest from illegal destruction continues. Priceless and protected trees are being cut and sold daily.
  • Threats toward those who denounce this practice, and even assassinations, are a daily reality in Anapu.
  • Indigenous people have also lost their forests to the violent invasion of ranchers, who cut down the trees and plant grass for their cattle. Their occupation of the land is illegal, but the laws are not enforced.
  • Sisters operate a nursery in Sao Raphael, the area where Sister Dorothy is buried. The seedlings of forest species such as cacao and açaí are donated for planting across the land to replenish the forest.
  • The nursery and the settlements are maintained with help from two technical assistants. These are former students of Dorothy’s who went to high school and earned a diploma and certification as Agricultural Technicians.
  • More than 1,000 families live in rural communities on land they have fought to defend and secure. The communities in Anapu occupy and manage three major settlements for family agriculture – 24,000 hectares of public land set aside for agrarian reform.
  • The grass hut school at Assentamento Dorothy Stang (“Settlement Dorothy Stang”) has been burned to the ground twice by gunmen. Families built a wooden schoolhouse and have plans to replace it with a brick structure. They petitioned the government for electricity and security cameras which have recently been installed to deter further destruction and intimidation by the loggers.

Her Words

  • Pray for all of us and for a world where all can live — plants, animals and humans — in peace and harmony.
  • I have learned three things are difficult: As a woman to be taken seriously in the struggle for land reform; to stay faithful to believing that small groups of poor farmers will prevail; and to have the courage to give your life in the struggle for change. My faith sustains me.
  • We can’t talk about the poor. We must be poor with the poor and then there is no doubt how to act.
  • Together we can make a difference bringing peace, joy, caring, and love to a world that is losing sight of our guiding star — the goodness of the real God.

For more information about Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN:


About the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur:

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are an international congregation founded in France in 1804. Sisters serve across the US and in 13 other countries. After arriving in Cincinnati in 1840, we have spent almost 185 years helping to shape the Catholic education system in the United States.

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