An Angel to the Poor
Born in Salvador, Bahia, in 1941, the second daughter of Augusto Lopes Pontes and Dulce Maria de Souza, as Maria Rita de Souza Lopes Pontes, she entered religious life when she was 18 years old. When she was thirteen years old, her aunt took her on a trip to the poor area of the city. The sight of misery and poverty made a deep impression on the young girl, who came from an upper middle class background.
Sister Dulce was a Brazilian Catholic nun who founded the Obras Sociais Irmã Dulce, or the Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce, as it is known in English. Her work with the poor population in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, has made her a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church.
When Maria Rita (Sr. Dulce) was 18 years old she began to care for the homeless and beggars on her neighborhood, giving them free haircuts and treating wounds.In 1949, she started caring for the poorest of the poor.
Determined to house sick people who came to her for help, Sister Dulce started to shelter them in abandoned houses, in 1939, in Salvador’s ‘Ilha dos Ratos’ (rats’ island) district. Then, she would go in search of food, medicine and medical care. Later, when she and her patients were evicted from the neighborhood, she started housing them in an old fish market, but City Hall denied her the use of the space and told her to leave.
Facing a big problem and already taking care of over 70 people, she turned to the Mother Superior of her convent and asked her permission to use the its chickenyard as an improvised hostel. She, reluctantly, agreed, as long as Sister Dulce could take care of the chicken (which she did, by feeding them to her patients).
Today, more than 3,000 people arrive every day at this same site (where the Santo Antônio Hospital now stands) to receive free medical treatment. Sister Dulce also established CESA, a school for the poor in Simões Filho, one of the most impoverished cities in the Metropolitan Region of Salvador and in the State of Bahia.
She was known for carrying street children and beggars to the hospital herself when she found them on the streets even though for the last 30 years of her life, her lungs were highly impaired and she had only 30% breathing capacity.
After being hospitalized for 16 months due to a worsening of her respiratory problems, Sister Dulce died at the age of 77, in Santo Antonio’s Convent, and she was buried at the Basilica of Our Lady of Conception. On 26 May 2000, her body was transferred to the Chapel of Santo Antônio Convent.
At the time of her death in 1992, Sister Dulce had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, she had received two personal audiences with Pope John Paul II, and she had, almost single-handedly, created one of the largest and most respected philanthropic organizations in Brazil.
Her work with the poor population in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, has made her a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church. In 2003, she was named Servant of God by Pope John Paul II. She is considered the most influential religious person in Brazil, during the 20th century.
New movie coming out in November in Portuguese about the life of Sr. DulceRead More