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Martin Sheen to Speak at Fundraiser for Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN, "Martyr of the Amazon"

Belmont, CA, November 11, 2008 — Martin Sheen, award-winning actor and political activist, will speak at a fundraiser Nov. 20 at NDNU to celebrate the life of Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN, who was murdered working as a missionary to preserve the land of the poor in the Amazon rainforest.

Sheen recently narrated “They Killed Sister Dorothy,” an award-winning documentary by director Daniel Junge featuring the courtroom drama that ensued during the trial of Sr. Dorothy’s murderers and examines her life’s work in the rainforests of Brazil. The luncheon, a fundraiser for the University’s Dorothy Stang Center for Social Justice and Community Engagement, will be held at 11:30 a.m., Nov. 20 in the Ralston Hall Mansion Ballroom located on the University campus at 1500 Ralston Avenue in Belmont.

The Sister of Notre Dame de Namur and NDNU alumna ‘64, was murdered in February 2005 by hired gunmen in the Amazon state of Para, Brazil, where she spent 39 years working as a missionary to bring about social and ecological change. Originally from Dayton, OH, the 73-year-old nun was a passionate defender of the poor, committed to promoting social justice in an area marked by violence and the murder of poor people who had been given land by the government.

Sr. Dorothy’s spirit and passion to obtain justice and peace for those who sought to live with freedom and dignity lives on as NDNU recently established the Dorothy Stang Center for Social Justice and Community Engagement, dedicated to increasing awareness, dialogue, and activism around the issues of social and environmental justice. Through collaboration and partnership, the Center provides leadership and opportunities for NDNU and the larger community to develop an enhanced understanding of critical social issues, a deepened sense of civic commitment and positive social change.

“We are honored that Martin Sheen is taking time out of his extremely demanding schedule to break bread with us and celebrate the life of Sister Dorothy Stang,” said Dr. Don Stannard-Friel, Director of the Dorothy Stang Center for Social Justice and Community Engagement. “We are moved by all that he has done to recognize and remember her, since her assassination in 2005.”

Indeed, Sheen supports a myriad of charitable causes and social justice projects, as well as being an outspoken advocate for the homeless. “You all know what I do for a living, this is what I do to live,” said Sheen, referring to his political activism which focuses on social and ecological change, similar to Sr. Dorothy’s life passion.

This passion was realized when Sr. Dorothy joined the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1948, taking her vows in 1956. As a conventional nun in the pre-Vatican era, she developed a keen social conscience and a deep, mystical commitment to the integrity of creation. Shortly after graduating from NDNU with a liberal studies degree, she was sent to work as a missionary in Brazil helping peasants make a living by farming small plots and extracting forest products without deforestation. Sr. Dorothy became a naturalized Brazilian citizen and staunchly continued her work to oppose illegal loggers who used intimidation to run poor farmers off their land. She received numerous death threats over the years from loggers and land owners.

The gunmen who were hired to murder Sr. Dorothy asked her if she was carrying a weapon before they shot her at point-blank range, and then shot her body another five times. According to a witness, she read from the Bible, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God.”

Sr. Dorothy’s death was broadcast all over the world. Thousands of memorials took place to remember the 73-year-old nun who was a passionate defender of the poor. The President of Brazil sent two thousand troops into the area to quell any violence that was threatened against the poor. They stayed in the area for nearly five months, as the killing did not end with her death.

Prior to her murder, Sr. Dorothy was honored by the state of Para for work in the Amazon region.  She also received an award from the Brazilian Bar Association for her work ministering to the poor as she helped encourage sustainable agriculture. NDNU and three other universities posthumously awarded Sister Dorothy with Honorary Doctorate Degrees of Humane Letters. In 2006, Sr. Dorothy was inducted into the National Freedom Railroad in Cincinnati which honors leaders who have fought against slavery. She was also honored by the United Nations and the U.S. Congress for her work with the poor and oppressed.

Sister Roseanne Murphy, NDNU’s Executive Director of Planned Giving and Professor Emerita, was approached by fellow Sisters from Stang’s order in Ohio to write her biography “The Martyr of the Amazon,” shortly after her death. Sr. Roseanne spent time researching, writing, and traveling to Brazil in the summer of 2006 to talk with the farmers Sr. Dorothy gave her life for.

“Dorothy embodies the qualities of the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and models the hallmarks of NDNU,” said Sr. Roseanne. “Her spirit lives on in the hearts of the people who have found their rights and are determined to continue her work for justice and peace in that troubled area.”

Tickets for the luncheon cost $100 each and benefit NDNU’s Dorothy Stang Center for Social Justice and Community Engagement. For more information regarding the University’s luncheon with Martin Sheen, contact Dr. Don Stannard-Friel at (650) 508-4120 or dsc@ndnu.edu.