Sister Dianna Ortiz, OSU: Sept. 2, 1958-Feb. 19, 2021

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.”


Survivor 2012

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.

Comments

  1. Dianna Armstrong

    RIP Sr. Dianna Ortiz. You were a beautiful light in this world. I was glad that I knew you in the mid-80’s at the Mount. My prayers and condolences for your family and friends.

  2. Pat Howell

    Rest in peace Diana. I am sure you are now in the arms of the Lord you so dearly loved. You always believed that Jesus would take care of you and now you are in His presence for all eternity. Congratulations dear friend. You were a special gift to those who knew you, and will always be remembered by everyone who were blessed and inspired by your willingness, courage and faith. We were all gifted by your spirit and life-giving spirit to serve God’s people regardless the cost. You will be missed but we rejoice with you as you begin eternal life. You will always live in our memories and spirit. Enjoy eternity with Jesus.

  3. Rev. James Flynn

    What a woman dedicated to her sisters and brothers in Guatemala as well as those with whom she shared so much pain as victims. She still is a model dedication to a cause for all of us. She rests in peace, but we don’t rest till peace arrives. With her spirit it will be so.

  4. Patrick Weber

    Sister Dianna, you are a model of selfless love and discipleship that all of us should emulate. Your legacy of love for the poor, peacemaking, and service to neighbor, regardless of who they are will always live on. Rest In Peace Sister Dianna. Pray for Us.

  5. Claire McGowan OP

    I am so sorry to read of Dianna’s death. Thank you Ursuline community for your consistent love and support for her, and thank you, Dianna, for your stunning witness to courage and love! May we dare to carry on your spirit!

  6. Maree Oneill

    The Holy Spirit worked through Sr. Dianna Ortiz. I feel her Spirit will continue. May she rest in peace with Jesus. My prayers and condolences to the Ursuline Sisters, her family and friends.

  7. Thomas Ehrlich Reifer

    I hadn’t spoken with Dianna for many years and thus was shocked to find of her passing, into the world of the angels, where she belongs. I came to know Sister Dianna, as I experienced torture, not as defined by the UN Convention, but after being abandoned by my parents who were heroin addicts at 18 months old, and growing up with ever present apocalyptic violence thereafter until I ran away from home at 13 years old. Somehow, though I never graduated from high school, I now teach at the University of San Diego, and when the law school invited the torture lawyer John Yoo to campus as I was going through my long recovery, I was in contact with Sister Dianna, then head of TASCC, and she helped up with our Torture Abolition Month. Most importantly though, talking to me, and reading her memoir, the most powerful I ever read, I realized that my feelings, experiencing and coping strategies mirrored other survivors, including Sister Dianna, as I read in her memoir and spoke to her about and heard her affirming words. Sister Dianna accepted me, and expressed her support and understanding and thus, changed and indeed saved my life, along with many friends. I will always love her and treasure her memory and example. Namaste. Tom Reifer (Dr. Thomas Ehrlich Reifer, Professor, Sociology, University of San Diego; Associate Fellow, Transnational Institute)

  8. Genaro Flores

    After reading her suffering in my country, my heart was broken and my eyes full tears for what she went throuhg. Hopping that she will be rewarded acordind to her feith. Rest in Peace.

  9. Jane Deren

    Sr. Dianna was intelligent, loving, spiritual, compassionate–it was an honor and a blessing to have worked with her at the Education for Justice project at the Center of Concern. I have happy memories of work and of friendship with her; while the darkness engulfed her at times, she always turned to the Light and moved forward to work for peace and justice. Rest in peace and love, dear Dianna.

  10. Emilie Smith

    Giving thanks for the life of this exemplary and courageous woman. Thank you, Hermana, for all that you have done for the Reign of Justice on Earth.

  11. LadyV

    Thank you for your Human Rights work Sister Dianna. I will never forget meeting you in the 1990’s and your willingness to summon courage and speak your painful truth again and again. You were a living angel and now your human rights work will be amplified by your ascent into the cosmos. Your work for justice and equity continues here on Earth. Thank you for the model of integrity and honesty you have left us. Paz y justicia para todos. Gracias Dianna por tu Valentina y trabajo sagardo.

  12. Maria Cordova-Salinas

    Querida Hermana Diana, el mundo ha perdido un ser muy valioso y valiente.
    Gracias por haber tocado nuestras vidas y tantas otras. Descansa en Paz hermanita.

  13. Mary Danhauer

    Dianna, I have much to learn from your life and your death. Thank you for leaving me a legacy to try to live up to. Grateful for your presence in my life.

  14. Elise García, OP

    My condolences to all who loved and worked with Sister Dianna, with great gratitude for the courageous witness she gave with her life as a tireless advocate against state-sponsored torture and in support of justice and peace. May she rest In peace — and may her Ursuline community, Pax Christi companions, family and friends, all know our deep gratitude and be comforted by God’s love.

  15. Sister Kathleen (Kathy) Neely, OSU

    Thank you, loving God, for receiving Dianna into your Kingdom. Thank you, Dianna, for your testimony of love and service to God’s people.

  16. Deacon Steve Kaneb

    I have never had another friend who so remarkably picked up their cross daily. May we follow Dianna’s example through love of neighbor and vulnerability.

  17. Pat Farrell

    My experience with Dianna in Central America, her gentle and deeply resilient spirit, has marked my own life forever. She has been a model of integrity and courage within such vulnerability. I carry her memory within—a treasure and great source of strength.
    Pat Farrell, OSF

  18. Jean Ann Ledwell, osu

    With heartfelt sympathy to you all dear Sisters at Maple Mount and to all Diana’s family, friends and colleagues.
    I sent a note to Sandy S with whom I still keep in touch from far away Atlantic Canada!
    Blessings of peace!
    Jean Ann Ledwell osu ( Chatham Union)

  19. Dilkhwaz

    Rest in preface Sr.Dianna, you’ll be missed by everyone.
    رحمك الله ويجعل مثواك الجنه الابديه 🌸🌺

  20. Eleanor Gleeson

    Dianna, I never meet you, but I have followed you and prayed for you ever since I first heard of you capture and torture in Guatamelo. Thank you for the witness you have borne and the organizations to advocate and assist victims and survivors of evil.
    May the joy of eternity be yours.
    Glory to God.
    Eleanor

  21. Gisele

    RIP Sr. Dianna Ortiz.She was an extraordinary sister and she gave her life helping others God just gained a beautiful Angel in Heaven I will never forget her she was amazing 🕊🕊🕊🕊🕊🕊

  22. Nelson Garner

    Dear Sister, l did not know you personally but when your tragic events happened it inspired me 30 years ago to compose a moving poem ” DUST IN HEAVEN ” that includes the words of those that tortured you : ” Where is your God now ? “. It will be my utmost honor to present my poem to a member of your family.

  23. Doreen Smith

    Thank you Sister Dianna for your inspirational life. A life nurtured by Gospel values. A peacemaker of our times. Rest in peace

  24. Maria Cordova-Salinas

    I would love to see the poem inspired by Sr Diana. (Where is you God now) In her presence I felt a powerful feeling of peace. She was an angel loaned to us to show us the way.

  25. John L Heagle

    Dear Sister Dianna,
    You have walked the Way of Jesus with such love and prophetic courage. I join all your sisters and brothers in the desire–and ongoing commitment–to follow that same path of peacemaking and restorative justice that has been your life. Carry us all in your heart, as you are now in the loving heart of God.

  26. Jane Finnerty, OSU

    My prayers are with my Ursuline Sisters of Maple Mount as they mourn the passing of Sr. Dianna. When I was living in D.C., Dianna was keeping vigil and praying outside the White House hoping that justice would be done. What an extraordinary daughter of Angela. May she rest in peace.
    Jane Finnerty, OSU (Roman Union East)

  27. Phyllis Kemper, OSU

    Diana’s advocacy for torture survivors was witnessing the Gospel’s
    call to justice despite the cost. My prayers for Diana and all who loved her. May Diana rest in the peace of God’s loving care.

  28. Marie Dennis

    As a member of Assisi Community in Washington DC for over 25 years, Dianna brought courage, compassion and beauty into our lives every day. Her long struggle to survive the effects of torture taught us painful lessons about the horrific, long-term impact of violence, but also about resilience and hope. Her commitment to human rights and social justice encouraged countless survivors of torture and inspired her vast circle of friends and followers. God is mercy, she taught us in her last days. Thank you, dear friend. Sister Dianna Ortiz, Presenté!

  29. Sr Beverly Anne LoGrasso

    I recall meeting Diana during her hunger strike in Lafayette Park, Washington DC. Also, she met with the First Lady Hillary Clinton. She is an example of Ursuline women who are in the tradition of Angela, Ursula, and Dorothy Kazel, who have the courage of solidarity with the suffering. May Angela, Ursula and the Central American martyrs greet her!
    Presente!
    martyrs greet her…Presente!

  30. Sr. Virginia DeVinne

    Please know of my prayers for Dianna as she rests in peace. My sympathy to her family and all the sisters in her Ursuline community on her death. I give thanks for her ministry that had such an impact on others. Her witness to the hope of healing from trauma speaks to so many others.

  31. Victoria S. Schmidt

    When I heard of the passing of Sr. Dianna my heart was deeply saddened. I felt that she had somehow been robbed of her life among us. That she had worked so hard to heal on move forward with her life only for it to end this way. Perhaps it is God’s way of saying you have suffered enough – come be with me now.
    I send my deepest sympathy to the Ursuline Sisters in Owensboro, Dianna’s family, her hundreds of friends and colleagues who walked with her through her ‘dark night of the soul.’ May she RIP no longer burdened by the trauma she suffered. And may we follow in her footsteps to be the peace and strength for others that Dianna dedicated her life to serving

  32. Vincent Hamon

    I encourage the Ursulines, Pax Christi, and other organizations and people who knew Sister Ortiz to petition our new shiny administration to reopen her case! All of those implicated, from the thugs who abducted her to the CIA mastermind, should be brought to justice. Besides honoring her spirit, I hope we would be prevenient the CIA from committing immoral such acts in the future. A new CIA director by the name of William Burns will be confirmed soon by the Senate. Let’s give him a present.

  33. Matthew Nichele

    Dianna

    My heart sinks at the news of your passing. I know your work and its impact. Thank you for your friendship. You enlightened my heart as well as my mind. You will not be forgotten.

    Peace,

    Mateo

  34. Meredith L

    Sister Dianna Ortiz. Inspiration, support, and friend to so many. With so much empathy, compassion, and commitment to survivors, to a world free of torture.

    I remember her as a dear friend. I share sympathies and condolences with her beloved family, the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, and all who were touched by Sister Dianna’s life and work.

  35. Timothy Kantz

    Having been raised by Ursulines to seek compassion, empathy for the suffering of others, sacrifice in our daily work, in making our lives an ongoing prayer-in-action of fighting on behalf of, alongside, with, as, the suffering of others, our most vulnerable women and men (sisters and brothers each and all, not an iota of difference in value from one to another), even in the face of terror—from my Mom (half Ursuline), and my Dad (part Jesuit with nothing but reverence for Liberation Theology even though certainly not the case across the board among Jebbies)—I can only agree with something I just saw about a movement for sainthood for the Central American martyrs, except that I’m not concerned so much with the actual canonization, but that we hold them in our hearts and minds as our compañeras, animating spirit still around us, that may sustain us and help us remain focused on that one ultimate non-ultimate anti-Truth truth—that we are here, we are blessed to be here, and that our mutual suffering and solidarity is our love and bond and faith. In humility always, knowing our common weakness, forever blind spots needing feedback and self-reflection. Gracias, Hermana Dianna, Hermana Mimi in Chili, Mom and Dad, countless others. But Dianna now, especially now of course, the extraordinary strength of sacrifice and love, gracias, lives on through you and because of you and your compassion for all those many, and more every day, undoubtedly, whose names we’ll never know, but you knew, saw, believed, understood, as no different, as just as precious and uniquely blessed, as any and all.

  36. Sr. Patricia Froning, OSF/T

    My dear Sisters all of Mount Saint Joseph, Maple Mount, may the God of mystery and wonder be the dance of your hearts as Dianna joins your very special “Cloud of witnesses.”
    Dianna, you have impacted thousands of hearts (including my own) with tender touch and a courage and fortitude that suffering gave to your own heart. Continue to teach us your way of peace and justice so like our own dear brother, Francis of Assisi. May you, too, dance in the joy of your Beloved.

  37. Rose Marie Berger

    I knew Sr. Dianna through her advocacy work and through regular gatherings for Mass at the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., where she lived for 25 years. I came to know her more closely during her fast for justice in the mid-1990s when I wrote an article for Sojourners out of that experience. In 2007, poet Joseph Ross and I organized a poetry reading and poetry anthology to accompany an exhibit of paintings by Colombian artist Botero in D.C. We were so grateful to Sr. Dianna for writing the forward to Cut Loose the Body: Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib paintings. She wrote, “To our feelings of betrayal, fear and isolation, must we also carry the insistent sense of hopelessness our torturers would force up on us? No, we need not. Oh no, we will not. We who have survived this crime against humanity have, indeed, learned to speak for ourselves and to be understood …”
    As I reflect on Sr. Dianna’s life and death I keep thinking: Dianna is what resurrection looks like in public. She came out of the belly of death in Guatemala with her scars intact, and she dealt with her wounds every single day. Somehow, she turned her experiences of death into the power of resurrection that saved the lives of thousands of people. And through that slow process of resurrection she came to know a God called Mercy. Forgive me and us Dianna for all the ways we hurt you and didn’t understand. We in turn “forgive” you for making us uncomfortable when you were bold enough to claim your healing in public. You are our saint of nonviolent witness. Presente!
    https://sojo.net/articles/sr-dianna-ortiz-torture-survivor-and-activist-dies-62
    https://sojo.net/magazine/january-february-2003/torture-truth
    https://sojo.net/magazine/july-august-1996/deaths-dance-broken

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