Sister Dianna Ortiz, OSU: The mission of TASSC is to abolish torture wherever it occurs

Sister Dianna, left, is shown with other demonstrators during a recent anti-torture vigil by TASSC members in Washington, D.C.

(From 2012-2018, Sister Dianna Ortiz served as assistant director of the Education for Justice Program at the Center for Concern, Washington, D.C. In 2020, she began serving as deputy director for Pax Christi USA in Washington, D.C. Her life was cut tragically short by cancer on Feb. 19, 2021.)

“When I speak of torture, including my own, I am not speaking of myself alone. Rather, I am speaking of and for every person who has fallen prey to this crime — the dead as well as those still living. Yet the response to my words is too often at the level of a personal problem and not a social issue.” It was obvious Sister Dianna Ortiz, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, was speaking from the depths of her heart as she spoke to those assembled in the Brescia University science building lecture hall March 15 for a Brescia Contemporary Woman program titled “Torture: A Challenge in Contemporary Times.”

Sister Dianna was working as a missionary in Guatemala in November of 1989 when she was abducted by security forces and brutally tortured for 24 hours in a secret torture center in the capital city before she managed to escape. She found her way to the Maryknoll House in Guatemala City, was taken to the Vatican embassy there, and within three days was home with her family.

With no memory of her life before the torture, she began her long journey back to recovery. The journey took her to her hometown in New Mexico, to her Ursuline motherhouse at Mount Saint Joseph, to Our Lady of Peace Hospital in Louisville, to the Kovler Center for Survivors of Torture in Chicago, back to Guatemala and to Washington, D.C. in search of names of her perpetrators and, finally, to the establishing of TASSC, the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition.

Sister Dianna was the guest speaker for the Contemporary Woman Program March 15 at Brescia University.

To this day, investigations by the Guatemalan and United States governments have failed to solve the case of Sister Dianna’s abduction and torture.

With no memory prior to her abduction and torture, Sister Dianna has relied on family members and friends to help her reconstruct her early years.

She was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and raised in Grants, New Mexico, a predominately (52%) Hispanic community of 9,000-plus, the county seat of Cibola County on the west-central boundary of the state. Her father, Pilar, worked in the nearby uranium mines. Her mother, Amby, was a stay-at-home mom. The couple raised seven children – four sons and three daughters. “I’m the one in the middle,” says Sister Dianna, “I’m the one who got the hand-me-downs!”

Sister Dianna and her siblings attended public schools in Grants. But after attending eight years of public grade school and three years of public high school there, Sister Dianna left home to attend her senior year at the Mount Saint Joseph Academy at Maple Mount, Kentucky.

Sister Elizabeth Ann Ray played a key role in Dianna becoming an Ursuline Sister.

From the time she was six years old, Dianna had expressed an interest in becoming a sister. That interest carried into her high school years, at which time she spoke more often with her parents about her interest in a religious life. She and her parents began investigating a number of religious communities in the Grants area, and their investigation brought them in contact with Sister Elizabeth Ann Ray, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, who was principal of Saint Teresa of Avila Grade School in Grants. That led to a visit to the Mount and Dianna was hooked. “The Ursulines appealed to me because of their simplicity, their commitment to education, to children,” she explains.

Sister Elizabeth Ann is now retired at the Mount. Sister Dianna visited with her recently. “I still don’t remember her,” she admits, “but when I see her or when she touches my hand I know that I am safe and that I am Ursuline. And she’s the one who introduced me to the Ursuline community.”