Irmã Dulce Pontes

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Blessed Dulce Pontes, S.M.I.C.
Irmã Dulce.jpg
Drawing of Blessed Pontes
Religious Sister and social activist
Born (1914-05-26)26 May 1914
Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Died 13 March 1992(1992-03-13) (aged 77)
Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Venerated in Roman Catholicism
Beatified 22 May 2011, Church of Our Lady of Hope, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil by Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo
Major shrine Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Feast 13 August
Attributes Religious habit
Major works Founding Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce

The Blessed Irmã (Sister) Dulce Pontes, S.M.I.C., (26 May 1914 – 13 March 1992) was a Brazilian Catholic Franciscan Sister who was the founder of the Obras Sociais Irmã Dulce also known as the Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce.

In 1949, she started caring for the poorest of the poor in her convent's chicken yard in Salvador, Bahia.[1] 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 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.

Her work has made her a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church. On 22 May 2011, she was beatified with papal approval by Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo.

She was named the most admired woman in the history of Brazil by O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper[citation needed] and the most influential religious person in Brazil, during the 20th century, by ISTOÉ magazine.[2]

Early life[edit]

Born in Salvador, Bahia, the second daughter of Augusto Lopes Pontes and Dulce Maria de Souza, as Maria Rita de Souza Pontes, she entered religious life when she was 18 years old. When she was thirteen years old, her aunt had taken her on a trip to the poor area of the city. The sight of the misery and poverty she encountered there 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 in her neighborhood, giving them free haircuts and treating their 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[citation needed].

Graduation and religious life[edit]

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 the Mother of God, in Our Lady of the Carmel Convent, in Sergipe. A year later, she received the religious habit of that Congregation and was given the name Dulce, in memory of her mother (who had died when she was 6 years old).

Social works[edit]

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 chicken yard as an improvised hostel. The Superior reluctantly, agreed, so long as Sister Dulce could take care of the chickens (which she did, by feeding them to her patients).
That improvised hostel giving rise to the Hospital Santo Antonio, the center of a complex medical, social and educational, that which continues to open doors for the poor in Bahia and throughout Brazil.[3]

The foundation of OSID[edit]

There, in 1960, the Santo Antônio 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 for 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 completely 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, death and burial[edit]

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 on 13 March 1992, at the age of 77, in Santo Antônio'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.

On 9 June 2010, Sister Dulce was finally buried at the Imaculada Conceição da Madre de Deus church, in Salvador, Bahia. It was discovered that her body was naturally incorrupt and even her clothes were still preserved 18 years after her death.[4]

Beatification and Canonization[edit]

Started in January 2000 by the Archbishop of Salvador da Bahia and Primate of Brazil, Geraldo Majella Agnelo, the cause for the beatification of Sister Dulce, who 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 formally recognized a miracle performed by the intercession of 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 would send a letter to the Vatican, in favor of Sister Dulce's beatification.[5]

On 20 January 2009, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously recommended to Pope Benedict XVI that he proclaim Sister Dulce's heroic virtue, thereby recognizing her as Venerable.[6] Pope Benedict XVI approved the decree on the heroic virtues of Sister Dulce on 3 April 2009, granting her this title. Sister Dulce's body was exhumed and examined on 9 July 2010 as part of the beatification process, and was found to be still incorrupt.

On 27 October 2010, the Archbishop of Salvador announced that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had recognized a miracle attributed to her intersession, paving the way for her to be beatified. The decree on the miracle has been submitted to the Pope for approval. The approval was officially announced on 10 December 2010.[7]

Sister Dulce was beatified in a Mass on 22 May 2011, in Salvador, Bahia. The Mass was presided over by the Archbishop of Salvador and the Primate of Brazil, Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo, who conducted the beatification by mandate of Pope Benedict XVI; the service was attended by about 70,000 people. President Dilma Rousseff and Governor Jaques Wagner also attended.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'Brazil's Mother Teresa' edges to sainthood
  2. ^ "Irmã Dulce - O Brasileiro do Século - Categoria Religião" [Irmã Dulce - The Brazilian of the Century - Category Religion] (in Portuguese). ISTOÉ. Archived from the original on 28 October 2000. Retrieved 4 January 2017. 
  3. ^ "The Life of Sister Dulce" (in Portuguese). Official site (Brazil). Retrieved 14 August 2013.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  4. ^ "The definitive burial of Sister Dulce" (in Portuguese). O Globo (Brazil). 2010-06-10. 
  5. ^ Serra vai pedir ao papa a beatificação de Irmã Dulce
  6. ^ Vaticano declara irmã Dulce "venerável" e acelera processo de beatificação
  7. ^ "Papa Bento XVI promulga beatificação de Irmã Dulce" (in Portuguese). O Globo (Brazil). 2010-12-10. 
  8. ^ "Irmã Dulce é beatificada na Bahia" (in Portuguese). O Globo (Brazil). 2011-05-22. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Gaetano Passareli: Irmã Dulce, o Anjo Bom da Bahia (Editora Record; ISBN 85-01-06654-0)
  • Nathan A Haverstock: Give us this day; the story of Sister Dulce, the angel of Bahia (Appleton-Century)

External links[edit]