Vatican News

Dulce Lopes Pontes: From serving the sick to Nobel nominee

A brief biography of Brazilian Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes, who was canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday, October 13, 2019.

By Vatican News 

Her secular name was Maria Rita, and she was born in Salvador de Bahia in 1914. After her mother died, she went to live with her aunts. When she was 13, they took her to visit one of the poorest areas of the city. Maria Rita was so struck by what she saw that she began dedicating herself to the poor and needy of her neighborhood.  

Love and service

Maria Rita was particularly devoted to Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and felt a strong calling to religious life. She said she was ready to perform the "small acts of love" that Jesus transforms into great works.

After entering the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, she became Sister Dulce, her Mother’s name, and spent her time attending to the local poor and destitute. Eventually she founded the Sao Francisco’s Workers Union and opened a clinic, a library, a school and even cinema for the poor.

A hospital in a henhouse

As Sister Dulce’s reputation grew, so did the number of people seeking her help and attention. She started out housing them in abandoned buildings in a rundown area of Bahia, known as “Rat Island”.

After a series of evictions, Sister Dulce’s Superior said she could use the henhouse attached to the convent, on condition she took care of the chickens. She did: by feeding them to her sick patients. That chicken coop was later to become the present-day Santo Antonio Hospital, a 1500-bed health care centre specializing in cancer treatment.

Nobel Prize nominee

Sister Dulce herself developed serious respiratory problems and had to spend 16 months in that hospital. It was there that Pope John Paul II came to visit her while he was on a trip to Brazil in 1990. The President of Brazil had already nominated her for the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition of her work with the Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce, which she founded in 1959.

The "Mother Teresa of Brazil", as she was known, died on 13 March 1992 at the age of 77. Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed her Blessed on 22 May 2011.

12 October 2019, 13:41