Sister Dorothy Mae Stang, S.N.D.: Holy Courage

Country: United States/Brazil
Born: July 7, 1931
Died: February 12, 2005
Religion: Catholic, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
Sr. Dorothy Stang worked tirelessly for poor farmers’ rights and preservation of the Brazilian rainforest. Confronted by assassins on a deserted road, she opened her Bible and read the Beatitudes to them. She was shot six times.

Courage is not always a grand thing. Courage is not always a knight with sword drawn charging into battle or a firefighter running into a burning building. Sometimes courage is a bespectacled, gray-haired nun alone on a dusty road reading words about justice to her soon-to-be assassins. Sometimes courage looks a lot like Sr. Dorothy Stang.

It is hard to imagine that Sister Dorothy would be the target of hired gunmen. She was a 74-year-old nun who dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of the poor and the protection of the rainforest in Brazil. But, in an interview with The New York Times, her brother David remarked that she had become a nun not to retreat from the world, but to give her whole self in service to its poor and marginalized. “None of this ooey-gooey little nun bit,” he said. “She was like a Mack truck.”

Sister Dorothy was a ceaseless and tenacious servant of the poor in her activism against those who sought to intimidate and marginalize families farming small plots on the edge of the forest. She participated in education regarding how the treasures of the Amazon could be harvested responsibly. She fought against corrupt logging operations and ranchers who committed acts of violence against the people and the forest she loved so fiercely. She was a force for justice that demanded reckoning. She made many enemies. She never allowed fear for her own safety to stifle her cries for justice. She was a living, breathing, praying, working, fighting image of Holy Courage.

Not all of us are called to do what Sr. Dorothy Stang did. We are not all meant to serve in faraway lands and in remote villages. We are, I believe, meant to bear love and justice into whichever part of the world we happen to find ourselves. As Sister Dorothy’s life and death demonstrate, this is not easy. It requires guts. Not skydiving or bungee jumping or snake handling guts (though tremendous and impressive and not something I pretend to possess — at all), but the kind of guts that make it possible to break terrible silence and cause trouble for the sake of Love. This, I believe, is Holy Courage. This is something that Sister Dorothy lived to perfection. And we — you and I and all of us — are called to do the same.