Inspired by Pope John XXIII’s appeal in the 1960s, five young, excited Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur volunteered to serve in Brazil. The year was 1962. With a certain naiveté about life in Brazil, they plunged into language study and coped with primitive living conditions and the sultry climate (necessitating a change from heavy black wool habits to gray!). Joyously they learned about the deeply religious culture and people of Rosario, Maranhão, Brazil.
A few years later five more North American Sisters joined the founding group in this poor rural area of Brazil. Sister Dorothy Stang was in this group. At their first assignment in Coroatá, Maranhão, the Sisters taught Bible stories to adults and youth. They reached out to prostitutes in the area teaching them to read and write. Some Sisters took midwifery classes to help reduce the infant mortality rate.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least
of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
– Matthew 25:40
Sadly, it didn’t take long for the Sisters to see that the relationship between the wealthy landowners in the area and the workers left many peasant families enslaved and near starvation. This injustice would soon come front and center for the Sisters as they worked with the poor. Their concern and actions did not endear them to the wealthy.
“Our Gospel response calls us to take risks among people.”
– Sr. Dorothy
This did not deter the Sisters from continuing to help the people and having hope that things could change.
God, we thank you for the Sisters’ example of courage, tenacity and hope. May we find ways to stand with the poor.
Written by Karen Bil Ratzlaff, Staff Writer. Karen counts it a privilege to have worked for the Sisters in California since 2007.