Sister Dianna Ortiz, 62, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph for 43 years, died Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Washington, D.C., after a brave battle with cancer. She was raised in Grants, N.M.
Sister Dianna called on God to help her survive a traumatic event in her life to become an advocate for torture victims worldwide.
She taught at Immaculate Conception School, Hawesville, Ky., (1983-85) and Blessed Mother School, Owensboro, Ky. (1985-87) before doing mission work with Mayan children in Guatemala. While there in 1989 she was abducted by government forces and tortured. After much prayer and counseling, she became a grassroots organizer for the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C. (1994-2000). In 1998, she founded the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) International in Washington, to advocate for the abolition of torture and to support its victims. Her book, “The Blindfold’s Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth,” was published in 2002. She testified before Congress concerning human rights and torture and received numerous honors for her work from peace and victims advocate organizations.
She served as deputy director of Pax Christi USA in Washington from 2010-2012. She served with the Center of Concern on its Education for Justice Project in Washington from 2012-18. In 2020, she returned to Pax Christi USA as deputy director, where she was serving at the time of her death.
Survivors include the members of her religious community; her mother Amby Ortiz of Grants; sisters Barbara Murrietta of Grants and Michelle Salazar of San Mateo, N.M,; brothers Ronald Ortiz, Pilar Ortiz Jr., John Ortiz and Joshua Ortiz, all of Grants; nieces and nephews.
Due to health and safety concerns, the wake service at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, and the funeral at 10:30 a.m., Monday, March 1, will be private. They will both be live streamed on the Ursuline Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ursulinesmsj/live. (Watch Sister Dianna’s funeral below.)
Donations in honor of Sister Dianna may be made to the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, 8001 Cummings Road, Maple Mount, KY 42356.
Remembrance of Sister Dianna Ortiz
February 28, 2021
Sister Amelia Stenger, OSU, Congregational Leader
Early on the morning of February 19, 2021, God and all the Ursuline Saints welcomed Sister Dianna Ortiz to heaven. She had very little time to contemplate what was happening to her during the three weeks after she learned that she had cancer. As she had so many times in her life, she faced this challenge with grace, dignity, and reverence.
Dianna Mae Ortiz was born in Colorado Springs, CO on September 2, 1958. Her parents were Pilar Ortiz and Ambrosita Esquibel Ortiz. She had seven brothers and Sisters. Ronald, Brian, Barbara, Pilar, Jr., Johnathan, Michelle, and Joshua. Amby and all of you who have come, you have our sympathy and prayers. We are so glad that you are here with us.
Dianna Mae was baptized on December 7, 1958 at St. Joseph Church, in Fountain, CO. She was confirmed on June 28, 1959 at St. Joseph Church in San Jose, NM. During her early years she attended San Jose Elementary School. She also attended Sierra Vista Elementary School in Grants, New Mexico. The first three years of her high school were at Grants High School in New Mexico and in August of 1976 she came to Mount Saint Joseph Academy to complete her senior year. She said that as early as the sixth grade she talked about being a Sister. She began conversations with Sr. Elizabeth Ann Ray, who was at the time teaching at St. Theresa’s School in Grants. Sister suggested that perhaps Dianna might want to come to the Mount for her senior year. She thought that coming to the Mount would give her information she needed to make her decision. Several of her teachers at the Academy were Sister Theresa Marie Wilkerson and Sister Kathleen Kaelin.
During that senior year of high school, she became more acquainted with the Sisters and decided that she would enter the convent following the summer after her senior year. She entered with four other young women, Amy Payne, Lisa Sellars, Carol Shively and Alicia Coomes. Sister Carol and Sister Alicia are here with us and we offer you our prayers as you say good-bye to your classmate. Together they attended Brescia College and worked on degrees in education. Sister Dianna focused on early childhood education and became very fond of teaching young children. That first year of postulancy was difficult for her because she was so far from home.
During the next years as she was learning what Religious life was like, she was also going to school at Brescia University, her desire to be a missionary deepened. She often spoke of “when I go to the missions, I know I will be doing what God asks of me.”
She made her temporary profession on August 26, 1981. She continued her education and graduated from Brescia on May 7, 1983 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. She began her teaching career at Immaculate Conception School in Hawesville, KY in 1983. In 1985 she moved to Blessed Mother School where she taught Kindergarten. Parents of those early students continue to say what an influence Sister Dianna had on their child. One parent from Blessed Mother said, “I don’t know where my daughter would be today if Sister Dianna hadn’t taken such a great interest in her.”
In 1986, on July 20, she made her perpetual vows to God as an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph.
After two years at Blessed Mother, she asked to go to Chillan, Chile to discern whether she would be able to work as a missionary. She was drawn to missionary work, especially in Latin America where she could learn more about Hispanic culture and the Spanish language, which she understood because her parents, Mexican immigrants, sometimes spoke Spanish. She decided that she needed to learn the language so attended language school at Centro Linguistico Maya in Antigua, Guatemala in 1987.
After completing language school in the summer of 1987, she went to San Miquel Acantan in Huehuetenango, Guatemala to teach indigenous children and help in the parish there. She was working with people who had been victimized by one of the most oppressive regimes of Latin America. She received warnings to stop her work and to leave the country. On November 2, 1989 she was abducted and forced to endure unspeakable torture. In the aftermath of her kidnapping and torture, Sister Dianna lost memory of her life before abduction, and since that time, she battled both real and remembered demons in her struggle to heal.
Sister Dianna did not succumb to her nightmares nor did she forsake the vow she made in solidarity with the thousands of innocent Mayans and other Guatemalans who had suffered torture and murder. She confronted her ordeal by speaking out against torture and seeking the truth about the extent of the torture and murder.
Her courage and determination to honor her fellow victims resulted in the publication of her memoir, The Blindfold’s Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth published in 2002.
Throughout the years she worked tirelessly for justice in countless ways: working through the court systems in Guatemala to reveal the identities of those responsible for torture there, working with the justice system in the United States to reveal the ways in which our own country was involved in supporting torture in other countries. She received national recognition for a lengthy sit-in and fast in the park across from the White House, to highlight her demands that secret documents related to U.S. involvement in Guatemala and other countries be made public. She worked with another survivor to found TASSC (Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition) based in Washington, D.C. It is an international organization of torture survivors who help other survivors.
During her years in Washington, D.C., she lived with the Assisi Community. Marie Dennis and Fr. Joe Nangle, OSUA, are here representing the community. We offer you our prayers and gratitude for being with Sister Dianna and please tell the others in the community how grateful we are for the love and care you gave to her.
During the early 2000’s, Sister Dianna was a recipient of many awards. Too many to mention here. She was recognized all over the world for her work with social justice for torture victims. After she had worked with TASSC for ten years she decided to move to other areas of social justice work. She was the Deputy Director of Pax Christi USA in Washington, D.C. and also worked for the Center for Concern as the Editor for the Education for Justice project. After working there for several years, she moved back to Pax Christi USA where she was working until she died.
Sister Dianna was a woman with many gifts. As we end this remembrance, I have asked several people to read some thoughts that were parts of letters she wrote during her years as an Ursuline. Her words are much more powerful than any that I could say about her. Sister Grace Simpson will end the remembrance with a poem she wrote for Sister Dianna.
From a letter on February 26, 1985—”Jesus, the Master Painter of my life, has painted upon the canvas of my heart a desire to consecrate my total being to Him. The vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and instruction enable me to know my Master’s touch—the “touch” (love) that frees me to enter more fully into the life of Christ and the life of a Mount Saint Joseph Ursuline…. Angela reminds us often that we must have “hope and firm faith in God…for he will supply us with the fortitude to accomplish that which we cannot do by ourselves.” I sincerely believe that with God all things are possible, and He will gift me with the strength and courage to remain faithful to His call.”
From her article, “The Color of God,” she said, “What about faith? I believe by one’s works we learn about faith—for faith is action. Our faith calls us—demands of us—that we live out the Gospel, and that Gospel insists that, like Jesus, we speak truth to power.”
From a letter to the Sisters of our Community in 1998—“For nine years, my life has been a candle in the wind. The flame at times has shown brightly, perhaps even defiantly. But so very often, I have felt that flame flicker, its light grow dim as the very idea of hope seems hopeless. Even when injustice’s cold winds were most threatening, your friendship was a shield, lessening the despair, making hope seem less hopeless. Because of the friendship you have shown, I recognize that the struggle is not simply to survive alone but to do so within the community…”
From a letter on March 12, 2009—I am at least twice blest in my life (in addition to my family in New Mexico, of course), there is my Ursuline Community and its support, and I have a second community as well. Here at Assisi, from time to time, difficulties have befallen members. It’s been so impressive to see the other members simply “take up the slack. The idea of Assisi (not unlike the Ursulines) is that we share the problems that others have, and we provide whatever support might be needed.”
On Saturday, February 16, 2021, three days before she died in a phone conversation, Sister Dianna said, “Tell the Sisters that I am sorry if I have hurt anyone. Tell them I love them. Thank you for all you have done to support me over my years in community. I am going home.”
In your yes to life
You are a beacon to many.
The many bless you, love you
And pray you to peace.
A corner of my heart bled
As I approached the Vigil Place
A park, a white house, green, red, black,
Shown and known to you.
A voice for the lowly and tortured ones,
Yours—powerful through suffering
Let your strength, O God, Embrace
The heart’s path, the way of hope.
Through the cross of living
Is found justice for the battered self,
While kindness and love stand
With the friends of many memories.
In the darkness of fear
May the light of courage bathe you,
While the winter in you reaches toward spring,
Be grace the sojourner in your soul.
In your yes to life
You are a beacon to many,
The many bless you, love you,
And pray you to peace.
Sister Grace Simpson, OSU
Sister Dianna, we pray you to peace. You are now at home with our God. Rest in peace.