On The Beat: 2/7

Angel of the Amazon

By Jim Bucher

The life story of Sister Dorothy Stang still resonates going on 12 years after her murder.

Born and raised in Dayton, one of nine siblings, Stang was part of a traditional Catholic family, and it soon became apparent she would make the mission of the church her life’s calling.

Entering the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur community in 1948, Stang taught elementary classes throughout the country and ended her final ministry in Brazil, settling there in 1966.

She worked with the Pastoral Land Commission, a church organization that fought for the rights of poor workers and defended land reforms.

Stang had been very outspoken in her criticism of landowners and loggers, receiving many death threats. Tragically, she was murdered in 2005 at the age of 73.

Since her senseless death, Stang has been honored for her life and work by the U.S. Congress and has been formally recognized by the Vatican as a modern-day martyr. There is even an opera about her life called Angel of the Amazon, composed by New York native and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music graduate Evan Mack.

“I was told how the day before her murder, gunmen arrived, and instead of running or fighting, she blessed them and fed them,” Mack says. “She pulled out her Bible and said, ‘This is my only weapon,’” and started reading the beatitudes, and they killed her. I heard this and said, ‘This is an opera.’ I ran home, started doing research, and connected with the Ohio Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. They gave me access to her letters from 1969 until the week she was killed.”

Mack says there was an immediate connection with Stang.

“Almost everything that Sister Dorothy sings in the opera are her words or paraphrasing. And if it isn’t her, it’s a reflection of her from one of her closest friends, Sister Joan Krimm. Each scene in the opera uses one of the beatitudes as a symbol. She lived the beatitudes in her life, and the opera does as well.”

The opera premiered in 2011 at Encompass New Opera Theatre in New York City. A concert version of the opera has toured San Francisco, San Jose, Cincinnati, Columbus, and upstate New York.

The Angel of the Amazon will travel to Nashville in April, but there is a chance to experience the show first hand during its performance at University of Dayton’s Chapel of Immaculate Conception.

“I am both nervous and excited,” Mack says. “This is a very special performance. She is the patron saint of Dayton, Ohio. There will be many of her family members there and that will mean a lot to me. The opera is about bringing an emotional connection to her story.”

Mack tells me, unlike operas of the past about Nordic gods or Egyptian princes, this opera is living and breathing.

“I remember a workshop performance in 2010: I was able to announce the day of the performance that one of her conspirators was [also] convicted that day! It is also sad to know that because of the Brazilian judicial system and the corruption that goes with it, that same conspirator was released and justice is still being sought,” Mack says.

Many knew Sister Dorothy from news reports of her death, but Mack says there’s much more to learn from the way she lived her life.

“People in Dayton know her story as a news report or a biography. My hope is the opera connects them emotionally and inspires them to act. The last aria is ‘Will They Listen?’ In the context of the opera, it is the moment before she speaks to the press about all of the atrocities happening to her people (land grabs, violence, threats). Emotionally, it is asking, ‘After you’ve witnessed her life, how will you hear the cries of the poor?’”

Words and music to live by.

Cheers to Sister Dorothy and Bravo Mr. Mack!

Buch

Angel of the Amazon will be performed Saturday, Feb. 11 at the University of Dayton’s Chapel of Immaculate Conception. Show starts at 1 p.m. Admission is free, but there is a suggested $10 donation. For more information, please visit AngeloftheAmazon.com.

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For over 25 years, Jim Bucher has been a regionally known and loved local television icon. “Buch’s” followers describe him as trustworthy, fun, the guy next door, a friend and role model. You can promote your business with Buch and grab your customer’s attention! Reach DCP freelance writer Jim Bucher at JimBucher@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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