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Irmã Dulce
Born 26 May 1914(1914-05-26)
Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Died 13 March 1992 (aged 77)
Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Irmã Dulce (or Sister Dulce) (26 May 1914 - 13 March 1992) 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. In 2003, she was named Servant of God by Pope John Paul II.

She was recently named the most admired woman in the history of Brazil by "Estado de São Paulo" newspaper and the most influential religious person in Brazil, during the 20th century, by "Isto É" magazine[1]. In 1949, she started caring for the poorest of the poor in her convent's chicken yard [2]. 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.

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.


Early life

Born in Salvador, Bahia, 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.

She began to care for the homeless and beggars on her neighborhood, giving them free haircuts and treating wounds. By that time, she had already shown interest in following religious life. Her father, however, did not like the idea and insisted that she became a teacher.

Graduation and religious life

She graduated from high school at the age of 18. She, then, asked her father to allow her to follow her religious calling. He agreed and she joined the "Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of God's Mother", in Our Lady of the Carmel Convent, in Sergipe. A year later, she became a nun and was given the name "Dulce", in honor of her mother (who died when she was 6 years old).

Social works

During the same year, she founded the "São Francisco's Worker's Union", the first Christian worker's movement in Bahia. A year later, she started welfare work in the poor communities of Alagados and Itapagipe. It was then that they started calling her the "Angel of Alagados". In 1937, she transformed the Worker's Union into the Worker's Center of Bahia.

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).

The foundation of OSID

There, in 1960, the Santo Antonio Hospital, consisting of 150 beds, was inaugurated. On 26 May 1959 the Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce was born, a result of the determination of a Sister who was tireless in her attendance to the sick and to the beggars who lived in Salvador's streets.

Sister Dulce's work impressed the President of Brazil, José Sarney, who, in 1988, nominated her to the Nobel Peace Prize with support of Queen Silvia of Sweden.

The organization she founded, known by its Portuguese acronym as OSID (Obras Sociais Irmã Dulce) is one of the most well-known and respected philanthropic organizations in Brazil.


The Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce is a private charity chartered under Brazilian law; accredited at federal, state and municipal levels; and registered by the National Welfare Council and the Federal Ministry of Education.

OSID provides health, welfare and education services, with a strong commitment to medical education and research.

The Santo Antônio Hospital is the largest 100% free hospital in Brazil, according to the Federal Ministry of Health. It has over 1.000 beds and receives more than 3.000 patients everyday.

OSID also established CESA (Santo Antônio Educational Center), a school for the poor in Simões Filho, one of the most impoverished cities in the Metropolitan Area of Salvador and in the State of Bahia. There, OSID provides free educational programs for approximately 800 children and young people ranging in age from 6 to 19 years old.

CESA offers basic education in accordance with the guidelines of the Brazilian Federal Ministry of Education. In addition, CESA has developed a complementary program of educational, physical and professional development activities to help students learn more effectively and enrich their lives.

It also operates a commercial bakery and an orthopedic production center, staffed by professional workers, which produce and sell their products in many regions of Brazil and even internationally, following the idea of self-sustainability, which is part of the work concept created by Sister Dulce.

Health problems

During the last 30 years of her life, Sister Dulce's lungs were highly impaired and she had only 30% breathing capacity. In 1990, her respiratory problems began to worsen and she was hospitalized. It was in her sick bed that she received the visit of Pope John Paul II (whom she had met, for the first time, in 1980).

After being hospitalized for 16 months, 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.

Beatification and Canonization

Started in January 2000 by the Archbishop of Salvador da Bahia and Primate of Brazil, Dom Geraldo Majella, the cause for the beatification of Sister Dulce, which was distinguished in the same year by Pope John Paul II, with the title Servant of God, seeks the recognition by the Catholic Church of the virtues, fame of sainthood and the tireless determination of a life dedicated to the needy.

Since June 2001 the process continues in the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. In June 2003, the Congregation received the Positio. At that same time, the Vatican juridically recognized the possibility of a miracle performed by Sister Dulce.

On 10 May 2007, in a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, during his visit to Brazil, the Governor of São Paulo, and former Presidential candidate José Serra said he will send a letter to the Vatican, in favor of Sister Dulce's beatification.[3].

On 20 January 2009, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously recommended to Pope Benedict XVI that he proclaimed Sister Dulce's heroic virtue, therefore recognizing her as a Venerable person.[4].


  1. ^ O Brasileiro do Século
  2. ^ 'Brazil's Mother Teresa' edges to sainthood
  3. ^ Serra vai pedir ao papa a beatificação de Irmã Dulce
  4. ^ [1]

Further reading

  • Gaetano Passareli: Irmã Dulce, o Anjo Bom da Bahia (Editora Record; ISBN 8501066540)
  • Nathan A Haverstock: Give us this day; the story of Sister Dulce, the angel of Bahia (Appleton-Century)

External links



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