Photo credit: Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur

By Sister Judi Clemens
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur

It had been 15 years since Dorothy Stang, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur from Ohio, was killed by the hired gunman of greedy ranchers in Anapu, Pará, Brazil.

Who in the world would have imagined that the discovery of a new species of screech owl in the Amazon, between the Tapajos and Xingu rivers, would receive the scientific name of Megascops stangiae after her?

Sr. Judi Clemens

I like to think Dorothy would find this absolutely fascinating and such a joy! For me it is so fitting. 

It is symbolic of her life, her insistence on struggling against deforestation and the effects on both animals and people, especially those made poor. She often wept when she heard a monkey crying because there was no canopy left in a forest that had been home to them for centuries.

Nature was home to Dorothy, and I remember, when visiting her, we would sit outside at night to contemplate the sights and sounds, the music of the forest.

For me, this nocturnal creature is symbolic of Dorothy’s life. Its piercing call, its depth perception, and the fact that it faces extinction, due to deforestation, all reflect why Dorothy was so passionate about protecting the rainforest.

Read more: How to protect creation during the Season of Creation

Dorothy would be so energized knowing that scientists, who work with biodiversity and discover new species, sought to remember her in the naming of this precious owl.

Long before we began to hear about the interconnectedness of all of creation, Dorothy was immersed in that belief. Her world was always interconnected.

Even though Dorothy and I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, I first met Dorothy in the early ‘60s in Arizona where she was living. She asked for two Spanish-speaking sisters to spend the summer teaching catechism to youth in Puerto Peñasco. In those days, it was a poor fishing village, located on the Gulf of California.

My first remembrance of who Dorothy was came when we returned to Arizona and she insisted on taking us to visit the Grand Canyon. I remember how deeply she engaged with that landscape!

LISTEN: Sr. Judi Clemens shares her powerful story on the Laudato Si’ Movement podcast

A few years later we met again and lived together in Coroatá, Maranhão, Brazil. From her first days in Brazil, Dorothy always cultivated a garden, planted flowers, and harvested fruit trees. Wherever she lived, she left a legacy of God’s abundance.

Dorothy was missioned to migrate with families from Maranhão, and she followed them west, to the State of Pará. I continued to work in Maranhão and visited Dorothy and her people over the years.

I last saw Dorothy in 1990 when I returned to Pará to say goodbye. On the occasion, Dorothy insisted that I plant a lemon tree in Centro Nazaré where she lived prior to relocating to Anapú.

When I returned after Dorothy was martyred, I made a pilgrimage stop in Centro Nazaré,  and, sure enough, I found the lemon tree laden with beautiful fruit.

From childhood, land was sacred to Dorothy where, in a family of nine, a garden was a means of sustenance and sharing. Dorothy had large, strong hands, and she always said it was from weeding gardens in early childhood.

Dorothy saw land and its bounty as a sacred gift to be tended in a “leasing” agreement with our God. In her deep spirituality, Dorothy gave herself totally to working alongside farm families as they discerned God’s plan for them.

They grew in awareness of their rights and how to use land in sustainable ways. Just as she wept when she heard the monkeys cry, she was profoundly troubled in the face of injustice and land-grab-greed, experienced by her people. She was a migrant with them and an ardent advocate for human rights.

Dorothy would have experienced deep solidarity with Pope Francis. His encyclical Laudato Si’ addresses integral ecology and the interconnectedness of all of creation.

As members of the global community, Dorothy’s legacy endures in us today, and we adopt the Vatican’s invitation to participate in the seven-year Laudato Si’ Action Platform.

We may not be called to give our lives as Dorothy was, but we are all called to act, in Creator God’s name. Only systemic change will bring our planet back to its original blessing.

WATCH: Sr. Judi Clemens shares her powerful story

Read more:

Sister Judi Clemens, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of Notre Dame Mission Volunteers.