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 with Julie Polter 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!–Rose Marie Berger
Dianna Ortiz (Sept. 2, 1958 – Feb. 19, 2021) died early this morning on 19 February 2021, after a brief recurrence of cancer. She was a member of the Catholic Ursuline order who lived for 25 years at the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C. She was was 62.
To write about the final days of Sister Dianna Ortiz’s life is beyond sad. For those who have not heard, Dianna passed away early this morning after a short illness; my apologies for conveying word of it in such an impersonal way.
Actually, her illness and devastating diagnosis of an inoperable cancer has taken place almost too quickly to comprehend at this moment. Three weeks ago a member of our Assisi Community – of which Dianna has been a part for 25 years – insisted that she go to an emergency room for persistent and increasingly painful stomach pain. In rapid succession, Dianna was hospitalized, discovered to have a serious abdominal blockage and biopsied, revealing the cancer. She was designated for chemotherapy to reduce the tumor but when her symptoms continued to increase, she underwent surgery and the inoperable status of the cancer was discovered. All in less than three weeks!
It is said that our parents’ final legacy is their acceptance of death. Surely this can be said of anyone close to us who walks bravely through the dying process. It is most certainly true in the case of our dear sister – friend – community member – and exemplar. After the initial shock of this rapid series of events, Dianna seemed to call on a deep well of faith, acceptance and resignation as she faced the inevitability of her situation.