Growing Community in Sister Dorothy Stang’s Memory

Sister Patty and Sister Paula

A special garden named in honor of Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN is taking shape at the Notre Dame du Lac Assisted Living Community in Worcester, Massachusetts. Sister Patricia (Patty) Butler, SNDdeN and Sister Paula Cormier, PBVM started the garden, which symbolizes a living tribute to Sister Dorothy’s legacy. With plans to start planting seedlings in May, the garden is poised to become a source of fresh produce for the local community.

Sister Paula first proposed adding a garden to the community's land. She wanted a space for residents and local community members to visit and get their hands dirty.

“Thinking of a garden brings us down to earth to talk and think about what it means,” said Sister Paula. “It means you have to do something physical, real, that should bear fruit. And that’s the idea.”

When plans for the garden became concrete in February, around the anniversary of Sister Dorothy’s death, it seemed right to dedicate it to her.

“Paula used these words: ‘It’s a dream garden, and it should be in memory of Sr. Dorothy Stang,’” said Sister Patty.

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Sister Patty was director of the SNDdeN congregational office for mission support from 1990-2005, during which time Sister Dorothy worked in Brazil. Late at night, Sister Dorothy would call her, asking for money to fund projects that would support the farmers and ranchers in the Amazon.

“Sister Dorothy had such a huge vision,” said Sister Patty. “Her heart was bigger than herself. She just wanted her people not to be suffering from the ranchers who were cutting down the trees and ruining the land that they were farming.”

With Sister Dorothy’s help, the settlers of Para, Brazil, built a preserve-making factory in the middle of the forest, which took fruit grown in the Amazon and produced jellies and jams to be sold in the market. She helped the community get telephone service in the jungle. She even helped plan a hydroelectric plant to be built in the forest.

“One day, I was in my office in Boston, and a big package of papers arrived. It was the blueprint for a hydroelectric plant. Her vision was huge,” Sister Patty said. “And today, they have a hydroelectric plant in the jungle. She did it.”

“I read her life story. I’ve always been impressed by Dorothy Stang because of her commitment to the people, her commitment to the poor,” said Sister Paula. “She really wanted to help better their lives, which is what the missionary position is all about. That we move into an area and help people to go forward.”

In April, community members from a local parish came to the assisted living community to help set up the garden. They built six raised beds filled with soil, ready for planting seedlings at the end of May. Two Sisters who live in a house on the Notre Dame du Lac property will take care of regular weeding and the area surrounding the garden.

The vegetables grown in the garden will be given to those needing food. It will also serve as an activity for people to work and learn from.

“Even the readings for the Mass today tell us to remain in him and to bear much fruit, and I was thinking of the garden,” said Sister Paula. “That’s what we’re hoping, that the garden will bear much fruit. It will be the activity of people who are into the soil and realize what a gift that is, how it’s God-given, how it all comes together.”

Learn more about Sister Dorothy Stang

Read more about her life and her work pushing for the protection of Brazil’s rural poor—especially those in the Amazon.