Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Dorothy Stang

I've been reading about Sister Dorothy Stang, a Catholic nun from Ohio who was shot three times in the face over the weekend in Brazil.

A naturalized Brazilian citizen, Stang lived and labored in the Amazon for 22 years. She helped rural Amazonian farmers protect themselves from the illegal expropriation of their land by mercenary logging companies, who rule the region with the help of hired gunmen and corrupt local officials. She lived on the conviction that right now saving the rainforest is about more than saving trees. It is about saving lives and communities from forces that operate outside the boundaries of law and order.

For these efforts Stang was apparently accustomed to receiving death threats. But it was to report death threats against other people that Stang met recently with Brazil's human rights officials, claiming that loggers and landowners had been threatening rural farmers near her home. About a week after this meeting, she was murdered. According to an NPR interview I heard this afternoon, Brazilian mourners walked and rode bikes through as many as 20 miles of mud to attend her funeral today.

Stang was 73 years old.

The details of Stang's death are still trickling into the news, and I am skeptical enough about the media to realize that stories like hers will be assembled and told in a particular way. I also confess that I never knew of Stang while she was alive, nor do I know much about the countless others like her who work in obscurity until my part of the world turns its flickering and restless spotlight in their direction. None of this, however, mitigates the fact that Stang's death has meanings that many deaths do not. And it seems to me that any way you look at this, and regardless of how the storyline shapes up, Stang was killed because of particular practices in which she was involved, and she was involved in those particular practices because of specifically Christian convictions.

If you asked me what I think Christian convictions entail, I would point you not to more propositions, but to people like Stang. Here's a Christian, I would say: A 73-year-old woman considered so dangerous that her death is required in order for the powers-that-be to continue business as usual. I'm aware that such an answer would immediately entitle you to doubt whether I am a Christian. But if Stang raises doubts about any claims I might make to be a Christian, that's precisely as it should be.

A Christian does not exist apart from the practices that, over time, make a person more like people like Stang. To the extent that the practices in which I engage point me in any other direction, I'm not a Christian. To the extent that I engage in practices that do tend towards the possibility of a death like hers, I am. That doesn't mean that every Christian has to be shot in the Amazon to be a Christian, of course. But I think it means something terrifyingly close to that. For this is laying one's life down for friends -- not, as is usually thought, death suffered in the act of taking other lives, but the open-handed giving of one's own life.

A person like Stang should at least act as a standing indictment against any of us who thinks that facing professional opprobrium or public ridicule for one's faith is anything like carrying a cross. A person like Stang should also be a standing indictment to American Christians who believe they are being persecuted by animated sponges, or Kwanza. Sometimes contemplating the number of things that democratic prosperity allows Christians to think of as crucifixion strikes me as an exercise in turning towards the absurd.

Collective Improvisation:
Caleb, nice reflections. I grew up in Brazil and my parents were missionaries there for 32 years.

We were never in danger or even close to getting in trouble because we practiced a spiritualized form of Christianity that did not challenge the economic or political powers.

I wonder how things would had been different if we belonged more to the Dorothy Stang school of missions. 

Posted by Carlos

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/16/2005 05:36:00 PM : Permalink  

Thanks for your comment, Carlos. Ideally, Christians shouldn't have to make a choice between spirituality and the kind of life that challenges "the way things are." They ought to be seamlessly integrated, but I know from personal experience with myself that they usually are not. 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/17/2005 07:29:00 AM : Permalink  


My name is Henry Richardson and Sister Dorothy was my Aunt. She was my mother's sister. Despite her many years in Brazil I got to know her quite well over my 34 years. She constantly wrote letters to us and visited a lot more often than you would think. She was the most special person I think I will ever meet. I think to say that she is the closest link to heaven on earth. Words like saint and martyr are often over used, but not in this case. She defines both words. Probably as much because she would never hear of it while amongst us. She will be missed so much by so many. None more than her family. She has 8 living brothers and sisters and nieces/nephews etc... that niumber in the hundreds all over the country. If youwant to read more about her family check out the news papaers from the last few days in Dayton, OH; Los Angeles, CA; and Denever, CO for a start. She was such a beautiful person, we hope to keep her cause alive forever.

Thank you for your kind words and your reflections. I have heard from friends and acquaintances that have begun to rethink their lives as a result of this. People who likely would have brushed this off as liberal, tree-hugging or too "spiritual". What an impact one littel old lady can have!!! If more of uspracticed "Christianity" as you define it, even on some small scale, sacrifices like Dorothy's would be uneccesary.

Thank you again. feel free to post my name and e-mail for any who wish to contact me. 

Posted by Henry Richardson

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/18/2005 10:55:00 AM : Permalink  

I love Sis. Stang's passion for standing up for Christ, and interceded for her killers, she gained life where her real home is now! You should'nt weep for Sis. Stang, you should weep for yourselves, after a while her death will be a memory, and you will go on doing the things of the world, ex. defiling, and cohabiting yourselves with women, cursing others, speaking badly about others, having hatred and bitterness towards others, etc. A persons death is like a drug you get sad and depressed until sickness and later you find so-called joy in the things of the world, which will lead you to be perished. Get use to leaders being persecuted, and killed, for their purpose is to serve God, there will be more to come!!!!!! 

Posted by Kyris Carter

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/21/2005 11:45:00 AM : Permalink  

Kyris, thanks for your comment. I'm not sure I understand all of it, but I think I disagree with some of what you're saying. I've written another, much longer post  about why. 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/22/2005 10:24:00 PM : Permalink  


Thank you for your perceptive thoughts on Dorothy Stang. And Henry, how wonderful to see your comments also.

Such a cowardly act, to take the life of a little 73 year old Irish nun. Can you picture her standing there with her bible open and reading to the men who would kill her?

I knew her as Sr. Mary Joachim, 51 years ago in Phoenix, Arizona. This was long before Vatican II when the sisters took their given names back. She and 3 other nuns started a small Catholic school in North Phoenix. On weekends and holidays, she and the other sisters and sometimes high school students would go and minister to the migrant workers in the area. She was only around 24 years old then.

She was a truly courageous woman who fought for justice. She was also funny and fun-loving and a member of the order of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. I mention this because Sr. Dorothy was and is not alone. We do not hear about nuns too much any more, do we? A shame, because there are thousands like her, courageously working for justice here and around the world. Their numbers are dwindling with the other opportunities women now have, but I know many of them -- and with hearts 'as wide as the world', they all have a passion to right wrongs, stand in solidarity with the poor and make a difference with their ministries -- and with their lives -- And even in the midst of the most dire cicumstances profess that GOD IS GOOD, OH HOW GOOD IS THE GOOD GOD!! It amazes me every day that I am around them.

God bless Sr. Dorothy, her family and all those who fight for justice in today's world.

(Caleb, I would like to have Henry's email--if you could pass it to me, I would be very grateful.)  

Posted by Marilyn Priebe

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/24/2005 01:15:00 AM : Permalink  

I am Henry's sister, Dorothy Stang's niece and I appreciate all the comments on the positive side to my Aunt. I wanted to go help for years, but, being th coward I am I did not go. I chose to send food, clothes and money. I started kicking myself for not going once I had children becuase I knew then that I would not go. I started contacting her more often and sending money whenever I had it.
My aunt was a saint in life, she never said a bad thing or hateful thing in her life, much less, threatened anyone in any way except by threatening their opportunities to exploit and take what didn't belong to them. Those people in Anapu where her people and we are sorry she will no longer be there to help them. Not to mention how sad I am that her beautiful smile does not grace this earth any longer. She loved the Earth , it's people and God fiercely and is definitely Christianity in it's highest form. She lived the life Christ calls us to, and, as Caleb noted, most of us do not.
I know that now I reflect on all of my actions, and thoughts and am ashamed by how often I am angry or irritated by or at such little things, even my own family members! I hope that this reflection helps me to be more like Aunt Dorothy, hence Christ. I hope it helps many people do the same.
Jeanne Erling 

Posted by Jeanne Erling

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/24/2005 10:22:00 AM : Permalink  

Thank you so much for your comments and your recollections. (P.S. If commenters have left an email address, you can see the address by holding your mouse's cursor over the commenter's name.) 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/24/2005 04:09:00 PM : Permalink  

I was surprised to find that J. Howard at MacLiberals  so misunderstood (or misrepresented) this post, but since I can't comment there, I thought I should be perfectly clear over here. Here's an excerpt from the post there:

Dorothy Stang’s death is a profound and unfortunate zeitgeist. Democracy Now! presents this story as yet another example of industry’s fascism over man (or, in the case: elderly woman). Christians, however, might see this as yet another example of religious persecution. [Here, oddly enough, there's a link to my post.] The zeitgeist here is that, as usual, one event can be seen two completely different ways, depending upon if you lean blue or red in your stately manner.

This question of martyrdom will regrettably be the tragedy on top of the tragedy. If the powers that be can’t agree on why Dorothy Stang was murdered, her lifelong work dies with her. Sorry Christians, but Dorothy Stang wasn’t killed for being a Christian. It’s incidental. If she were hugging a tree from a wheelchair, the disabled would get it wasn’t an attack against their community. If she were gay, lesbians get it wasn’t gay bashing.

Maybe if Dorothy spent her life protesting the Muslim faith in the Middle East the religious persecution argument would hold some holy water, but that’s not the case here. Dorothy Stang was killed for getting in the way of industry, not the afterlife. She was killed for being an environmentalist, not a Nun.

So the next time you offer W your vote and a carte blanche on what he does to ‘protect’ you and your economy, understand the message it spreads into the world. Christ isn’t about the ends justifying the means. That’s fascism.

First, let me say explicitly here what many other posts on this blog also say: I have never given President Bush my vote, and I would be sorely grieved to discover if anything in this post suggested otherwise. I also vehemently oppose anyone who thinks that stopping "religious persecution" against Christians is an end to justify the means of war. Indeed, I'm not sure any end justifies that means.

Now that those points are cleared up, let me address the larger point that MacLiberals is making: namely, that Stang was not killed because she was a Christian, but because she was an environmentalist (or, to be more accurate, an environmentalist who understood that saving the rainforest right now is often literally about saving lives). That is certainly true. This was not what we would call a "hate crime," where Stang's religious identity was the cause of her death.

But all the evidence suggests that Stang was doing the work she was doing in the Amazon because she was a Christian, and that was my only point in this post. A person certainly can be motivated to work for justice with acts of self-giving love without being a Christian. And if Stang had not been a Christian, I would still lament her death, express outrage, and call her a heroine. But in Stang's case, being a Christian is what motivated her to live the life she led, and thus being a Christian was related to the death she died. We cannot separate "Stang the environmentalist" or "Stang the labor activist" from "Sister Stang of Notre Dame de Namur." 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/25/2005 10:32:00 PM : Permalink  

I am her niece who posted earlier. I never thought she was killed for being a Christian. She did what she did because she loved all things from God,hence nature and people alike and felt the need to protect those who cannot protect themselves. My aunt and the villagers had been threatened for years, yet when she went to talk to someone about the threats, she only asked for help for them. She was not concerned for her own life. That's not to say she was some superhero who was never afraid. I am sure there was some fear at times, but, having the incredible faith that she had, she knew that God would protect her as long as he had plans for her. She was intent on getting someone to help her people, that's what makes her a Christian and that's what makes her death so outrageous and what makes those of us who love her so angry and sad. She could have retired years ago and refused. Luckily for us we livee close to the Sisters of Notre Dame so we saw her anytime she was in the states. She was suffering from Macular Degeneration and was home a bit the last couple of years, so we saw her a lot those years and I am eternally grateful for that. But I am also sad beyond belief that anyone could be evil enough to kill such a peaceful, loving person. NO, she didn't let people walk all over her people, but she did not ever advocate or condone violence. She was the Martin Luther King Jr. of the people of Anapu and the rainforest, that's why she was killed, by greedy, hateful humans. But through her death, good will come and more recognition to the problems there, and we are incredibly proud of her.

Posted by Jeanne Erling

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/26/2005 09:57:00 PM : Permalink  

well i have 17 years old and i was born in brazil,
i still living there, and almost everyone know who was Dorothy Stang, she was a person who defended the forest and the poor people from the landowner.
Her violent death, will make us think much
She will never be forgotten

In Name of good Brazilian People   

Posted by Rigson

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 3/04/2005 11:28:00 PM : Permalink  

I have known Sr. Dot my entire life and will miss her ever present infectious smile. My grandparents met Sr. Dot when she came to Phoenix to open the school at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Sr. Dot was my mother's teacher for 4 of her 8 years of grade school. I was born after she moved to Brazil but got to know her through her visits to the Phoenix area where she stayed at my grandparents' house. She loved to come to Phoenix to visit but was always anxious to return home to Brazil. While she was a devoted Christian, more importantly she was an amazing human being. Her concern was for the injustice in the Amazon region where she lived and worked. She truly found her place in this world in the jungle, helping those who did not know how to help themselves. She taught these people how to make a living while sustaining the rainforest. For this, she was taken from us. I am truly honored to consider this woman my friend and to have known her during her lifetime. I find it a bit funny when I read descriptions of her as an "elderly nun" because for those of us who were lucky enough to have known her, elderly is probably the last word we would use to describe her. At 74 she was a spitfire of a woman. God Bless you Dot!  

Posted by Michelle

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 3/19/2005 11:24:00 PM : Permalink  

Hi, I am a Journalism student, and I was wondering if I could get some feedback from the relatives of Sister Dorothy Stang so that I could make students at my school more aware of her contributions and the cruelty found in some people around the world.

If you find this not in your interests, I perfectly understand.


Posted by Li z

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 3/20/2005 01:52:00 PM : Permalink  

Hi my name is James Newton, I spent time with Dorothy Stang in 2003 filming her for a documentary. Whilst I am in contact either myself or via a friend to those people close to Dorothy, I feel I should make myself known here in case someone wishes to contact me.

I have made a short film called 'The Student, the Nun and the Amazon' following a UK student as he spends time with Dorothy learning about her work and passion for the people of the Amazon.

If anyone would like to know more about the film or the precious time and experience I had with Dorothy, then please don't hesitate to contact me.

I will never forget this amazing woman.

Posted by James Newton

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 3/22/2005 06:44:00 PM : Permalink  

I am responding to the journalism student. I would love to correspond with you about my Aunt Dorothy, as would many of the others. Please post your email or email me at erlings@sbcglobal.net
Jeannie Erling 

Posted by Jeanne Erling

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 3/31/2005 11:07:00 AM : Permalink  

I forgot to include Michelle, I would love to hear more from you, so if you want to contact any of us nieces and nephews of Dorothy's please contact me at erlings@sbcglobal.net
Jeannie Erling 

Posted by Jeanne Erling

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 3/31/2005 11:13:00 AM : Permalink  

She will not be forgotten by millions.
There are people on this planet who whorship money over God and life!
She only did good foe us all. She must be with Jesus toady!!

Posted by Daniel DeNapoli

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 4/05/2005 08:49:00 PM : Permalink  

Following the posting by James Newton, you may like to see the following:
Warm wishes

Posted by Sam Clements

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 5/03/2005 11:09:00 AM : Permalink  

Hello everyone, I am so happy to find this tribute to Dorothy Stang. I knew her as Sister Mary Joachim; she profoundly influenced my life when she was my teacher at Most Holy Trinity in Phoenix. I wrote an essay about her twenty years ago for a women's studies course and won an award from National Organization for Women. Sister took the time, and was loving and gentle with all of us students, to explain things we didn't understand. She had a sense of humor and could laugh at herself. She was nurturing, and cared about everyone. She introduced me to the migrant workers in the western part of Phoenix, who lived under atrocious conditions, and suffered health problems due to the pesticide spraying. This was in the 1950's, probably about 1956-60 or so. I became an activist then and there, and still am. She has always been my hero, and still is. If anyone would like to read the essay, email me and I can send it as an attachment.

Thank you all for keeping her memory alive. She was truly a wonderful human being. And, thank you Caleb, for starting this site.

My deepest sympathy goes out to the family and all who loved her. But, weren't we blessed to have known her?

Nancy Clingan
Saxtons River, VT 

Posted by Nancy Clingan

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 5/09/2005 04:20:00 PM : Permalink  

Hello all,

Just like to thank Caleb for the post and for everyone elses comments. I eagerly await word on whether the case will be federalized in Brazil so that justice may be served. Keep on smiling. 

Posted by John Richardson

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 5/23/2005 01:23:00 PM : Permalink  

Thank you for writing and expressing your compassionate and great thoughts about my sister Dorothy. Dorothy was a great lover. I feel only great lovers can sustain themselves throughout their lives with such fearlessness. Dorothy loved compassionately all whom she met, who were in need, with great humaness.My sister Maggie and I saw her in December in Belem Brazil where she was being awarded a Human Right's Award by the Brazilian Lawyer's Association.She was full of joy and life like one who is in their thirties. Then, February 11, the day she left for Esperanza where she was murdered she called me and said, "David I am going down the road to show support for these poor families who have just had their houses burnt down and their crops also burned. They have nothing to eat nor anywhere to sleep.I am going there to help them rebuild and to tell the pistoleros to leave as this land belongs to these people. I love you and I am a little nervous, this situation is a tough one. It is very hot today, rainy, and very humid. I am thinking of your cool air in Palmer Lake, Colorado. Thank you she said."
At the end of February I traveled to Anapu Brazil, to visit her gravesite. The physical environment is very difficult, with the rain, humidity and intense heat, the mosquitoes, and the muddy roads. I was touched by the thousands of people wanting to touch the t shirt I had on with Dorothy's picture on the front of it. There were many tears as they knew I was also her brother. I also went to Brazil in April and drove to Esperanza which was not just down the road. It took a group of us in a strong 4x4 with jungle soldiers on the back of our pick up three and a half hours to reach this project. We got stuck at least 10 times and we were lucky to make it there. How did this 73 year old lady make it there? She built 21 projects, with schools, educational centers for women and farmers, and with spiritual centers, all at distances away from Anapu, on very bad roads. This was all done with the Mayor of Anapu and City Government totally against everything she did and the Government of the State of Para against everything she did. Only a great lover can hug evil and try to transform it as she did. The last day I was in Anapu, sitting in the house Dorothy had built, a Brazilian man sat next to me and demanded that I listen to him. He said, "a month before your sister died, she was on the road when she came upon my brother who had just been robbed and badly beaten. She went fearlessly up to his car and helped him out and took him to the hospital where she staid with him for a week, bringing him food and emotional support. Now you need to know he said, and tears flowed heavily and he touched me and he said, "I am now confused. My brothers and sisters are all very rich. We are from another religion. We have been told to hate this woman. I needed to tell you, her brother, what was deep in my soul, "she helped whoever was in need." He gave me a big hug and left the room.
Dorothy loved God and all of God's creation.She too wanted to be a co-creator with God. I too am honored to have been close to her and to have been her brother.
David Stang 

Posted by David Stang

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 5/24/2005 11:29:00 PM : Permalink  

Thanks so much to Mr. Stang and everyone else for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I feel honored that you were here! 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 5/25/2005 06:24:00 PM : Permalink  

Everytime I come to this website or any other re: to Dorothy Stang, AKA Sister Mary Joachim, I end up with tears in my eyes. Sometimes people who join religious orders, missionaries, monks, nuns etc., are seen as "giving up their lives (for God)" I think we should find a way to re-phrase that notion. Certainly, Sister seemed to be living a much fuller and richer life than most who purportedly do not "give up their life" How does one person become so selfless? So brave? So compassionate?

I know I try in my day to day life to be so, but I often fall short. I am tired, selfish, whatever. There's only so much energy. Just the description, here, in an earlier post by her brother David's journey in Brazil (hot, humid, mosquitoes, 10 miles of muddy road) would be enough to discourage most of us!

Yet, her brother (THANK YOU DAVID) describes her as selfless and indefatiguable in her generous and kind and loving work for others, most often, the poor and disenfranchised.

I am honored to have known her as my teacher, and mentor, and role model. I only wish I was half the woman she was.

Nancy Clingan
Saxtons River, VT


Posted by Nancy Clingan

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 6/05/2005 04:14:00 PM : Permalink  

it was great running down this web site and reading all the love stories about my sister. May she conintue to do in death what she did all her life - that is, encourage others to live for others. Thanks for keeping her story alive.
Tom Stang 

Posted by Tom Stang

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 8/27/2005 04:12:00 PM : Permalink  

Hearing all the comments Dora sounds like a great woman. Im doing a project on her in Geo. Wow. I never knew people like her esisted. Its good the world has ppl who are willing to commit their lives into to protecting the world and making a better for all of us and the next genration. =]

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 5/18/2006 09:11:00 AM : Permalink  

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