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BOOKS-STANG Mar-14-2008 (580 words) With book covers. xxxm
Story of American nun killed in Brazil kept alive by biographers
"The Greatest Gift: The Courageous Life and Martyrdom of Sister Dorothy Stang," by Binka Le Breton. Doubleday (New York, 2008). 233 pp., $21.95.
"Martyr of the Amazon: The Life of Sister Dorothy Stang," by Roseanne Murphy. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, N.Y., 2007). 168 pp., $18.
Reviewed by Regina Linskey
Catholic News Service
In their biographies of Ohio native Sister Dorothy Stang, Sister Roseanne Murphy ("Martyr of the Amazon") and Binka Le Breton ("The Greatest Gift") tell the story of a modern-day missionary who spent most of her life protecting poor farmers and working for justice in the Wild West of Brazil's Amazon, where money and guns often prevailed.
Both authors paid attention to their description of the early days and formation of Sister Dorothy, whom many lovingly called Dot.
One of nine children, Dot was born to devout Catholic parents and grew up on a farm outside Dayton. Her parents were devout not just in the daily Mass, evening rosaries or parish leadership sense of the word. They also opened their home to people who needed a hand getting back on their feet. The children absorbed this active faith of their family as exemplified by their parents.
The example the parents set seemed to work: The younger twins became priests and Sister Dorothy, motivated by a desire to be a missionary in China, entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Cincinnati at age 17 with her best friend, Joan Krimm, a main character in Sister Dorothy's life.
Eventually, after some other assignments, Sister Dorothy was called to Brazil. Here, in this vastly undeveloped South American country so far from home, she saw incredible poverty, injustice and environmental destruction. She taught poor Brazilian migrant families how to see these things, organize and find their voice. She also taught them how to see God in their lives and live the Gospel.
Of course, government officials and wealthy landowners did not like this radical American nun, or her newly aware small faith communities. From this, the land wars began.
Le Breton devotes a chapter to Sister Dorothy's creation spirituality and how she used it to teach the families fearful of the Amazon how to love, respect and carefully cultivate its land. This is particularly interesting in light of Pope Benedict XVI's frequent remarks on God, creation and the environment.
Both books are at times a bit dry, as biographies can be. But the testimony of friends and family, and the facts, dates and documents are appreciated by a reader using the books for more than enjoyable reading. These stories do not embellish the truth. Instead, they say: This was the life and mission of Sister Dorothy; this is how an American girl from a farm became a martyr in Brazil's jungles.
Le Breton's biography is a bit more dramatic than Sister Roseanne's book, as she takes more liberties using color describing Sister Dorothy's adventures. Sister Roseanne is also a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
In the end, the deadly combination of money and guns finished a chapter in Sister Dorothy's life, but not necessarily her mission. Though she was murdered on a dirt road in her beloved Amazon jungle, Sister Dorothy remains alive in her creation theology and fight for justice through Le Breton's and Sister Roseanne's books.
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Linskey is assistant international editor at Catholic News Service and a contributor to Catholic Radio Weekly in Washington.
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