Sr. Dorothy Stang, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur and a graduate of our university, was killed on February 12, 2005. She was holding a Bible and was reading from it as her assassins approached. It was well known that her favorite scripture was the Beatitudes, which are understood by scripture scholars and believers as a challenging yet comforting combination of paradox and promise. They all start with the phrase: “Blessed are….” Which Beatitude was Sr. Dorothy reading when she was killed?
At the Sr. Dorothy Stang Center for Social Justice and Community Engagement, we seek to pick up where Sr. Dorothy left off, along the path that she showed us.
- Sr. Dorothy chose a place, the Amazon Basin of Para State in Brazil, and she walked with the people there for almost four decades, seeking to be a companion in their struggles to “arrive.” We choose the place we find ourselves, San Mateo County in the San Francisco Bay Area. We desire to accompany the people here who are still trying to find homes, acceptance, dignified work.
- Sr. Dorothy did what was needed to be in solidarity with both the natives and the settlers who had migrated from Brazil’s teeming cities. She learned about the laws governing the land and fought against the abrogation of those laws by landed interests. We seek to journey in solidarity with the residents and immigrants into San Mateo County, especially those in neighborhoods most at risk/at promise, standing with them in their fight against crime and for housing, healthcare and a safe environment.
- Sr. Dorothy kept moving her ministry further into rural Brazil, as the people moved further into the rainforest. We are aware also that we are a rural as well as urban county, with enduring farmland on our Coast, and a migrant people seeking to settle with justice to work that land. We seek to be a present to the farm labor and low-wage service workers of the San Mateo Coast as they seek to keep their families together and healthy.
- When the people needed help with schools, Sr. Dorothy provided them, in local communities around the vast area, in the places where the people lived. We seek a special bond with the schools of our county, especially those labeled “under-performing.” We view education as the most radical promise of change and hope.
- When the urban migrants in Brazil needed to learn sustainable farming techniques in the rainforest, Sr. Dorothy learned those skills and then taught them. We seek to promote environmental justice in our county, in a culture where the pursuit of wealth frequently eclipses a progress that is safe and healthy for people and planet.
- When the people needed an advocate for the land rights that were actually guaranteed them by the Brazilian Constitution, Sr. Dorothy ventured to government centers and courtrooms to fight for those rights. We seek to promote and defend laws and funding for programs that have been designed to promote equality of access and opportunity even in a political culture that often sees those programs as dispensable.
Which Beatitude was Sr. Dorothy Stang reading when she was killed? Each of us get to choose one. Here at the Sr. Dorothy Stang Center, we choose: “Blessed are those who have nothing, for they shall inherit the land.” Now let’s get to work!
By 2013, the Sr. Dorothy Stang Center for Social Justice and Community Engagement will be nationally recognized for its leadership in fostering community engagement programs, and events that inspire social and environmental justice. Housed in a facility that is organized to encourage open communication, dialogue, and activism – including community art exhibits and performances, seminars, public speaking events, and community action gatherings – the Center will become a dynamic hub that encourages efforts and fosters enthusiasm and creativity for education for the common good. The Center will bring together prominent community leaders from the worlds of the arts, community service, government, education, religion, and business to work with our students, staff, administration, faculty, trustees, and alums, and community members from other institutions and associations of higher learning, to explore new knowledge, insights, and opportunities that help make the world a better place for all.