Sr. Dianna Ortiz, OSU

Earlier this morning, Dianna Ortiz, OSU, our friend and colleague, passed away after a short illness. As anyone who ever encountered Dianna knows, she was an extraordinary person. We have lost a member of our family, the heart at the center of our life together as a staff who lifted all of us with her unceasing encouragement, support, kindness and gentleness. Our heartbreak and grief are only tempered by our gratitude and love for all Dianna has been for us, and for the rest and peace that she now has. The entire Pax Christi USA community mourns with all those who know and love Di, and we give thanks for the time that she was among us.

Many of us in the Pax Christi world first met or learned of Dianna in the 1990s when, with grace and perseverance, she pushed the U.S. government to tell the truth about the kidnapping and torture she suffered in Guatemala in November 1989. Dianna drew on her own excruciating experience to create the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC), which provides tools and assistance for torture survivors to advocate for themselves, to raise awareness of the ongoing use of torture around the world and to change laws and customs. She served as TASSC’s executive director for several years.

Dianna was a part of the Pax Christi family for many years. She received the Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace award in 2000, and then served as program director and internship program coordinator from 2009-2012. She returned to the staff as deputy director almost one year ago.

More information will be shared in coming days. For now, we ask for prayers for the Pax Christi family, for Dianna’s Ursuline community in Kentucky, for the Assisi community in Washington, D.C. where Dianna has lived since the 1990s, and for her mother, siblings, nieces and nephews.

Dianna Ortiz, presente!


More on Dianna:

  • Dianna’s community, the Ursuline Sisters of Mt. St. Joseph, has posted this obituary of her.
  • TASSC, the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition which Dianna founded has a memorial page set up for her here. Read TASSC’s statement here on their homepage.
  • Read this column from Fr. Joe Nangle, Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace and Dianna’s friend and community member, about Dianna’s last days. On the one-week anniversary of Di’s passing, Fr. Joe Nangle followed his first column with this one on pledging to continue Dianna’s work.
  • See photos of Dianna, links to more information about her life, interviews and more at this link.
  • Dianna’s obituary in The Washington Post can be read here.

36 thoughts on “Statement on the passing of our beloved Dianna Ortiz, OSU

  1. Dianna was an extraordinary woman, a powerful advocate for peace and justice and a survivor who used her voice for those without a voice. I met Dianna once when she spoke at a faith group gathering in Kansas City, Missouri. It was many years ago but her spirit has remained with me. My prayers are with all of you at Pax Christi…what a profound loss for you.

  2. Dianna lived in the Hour Children community in LIC, NY upon her return from Latin America. Her caring and compassionate presence was a gift to all, especially the children with whom she lived. May she grace our lives with peace, Sister Tesa Fitzgerald CSJ

  3. This news is heart-breaking. I was in the audience for her talk at the Rothko Chapel in Houston when she was awarded the Oscar Romero Peace Prize. It was such a moving and healing, though emotional, experience. I read her book and recommended it widely, though it was difficult reading about what she endured. Her grace, gentleness, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, courage and agape love will remain a model of Christ’s presence in our lives. She embodied everything that we know as Holiness and Goodness. I am deeply saddened but so grateful for that I was a spectator to her Spirit and her witness.

  4. I met Dianna Ortiz briefly at the Assisi Community Home when three of us were lobbying the US Bishops to speak out against the Iraq sanctions. I give thanks for the gift of her life and for all that she did for so many including me. May her love and grace continue to shine upon us. Dianna Ortiz. Presente!

  5. I am so sorry, she had such a gentle spirit. I will certainly be praying for her community, family and the PCUSA staff.

  6. Praise God in the person of Dianna! My prayers are with her, with the Maple Mount, KY Ursulines, her Assisi community, the entire Pax Christi community and all whose lives Dianna has touched.
    Pace e Bene!

  7. I am so sorry to hear this. Dianna was an inspiring woman. I will hold Pax Christi, the Assisi Community and her family in my prayers.

    Adel O’Regan
    Bronx, New York

  8. For many years, it has been a blessing to join Dianna and the Assisi Community for morning prayer, and then to stand with her in protest of the ongoing violence and torture of the United Stated Empire. It was an honor to know her.

  9. My husband and I first met Diana in Antigua, Guatemala in 1987. We were on our way to serve in Nicaragua with Witness for Peace and she would be staying in Guatemala. Anyone who lived through those days in Central America will appreciate the bonds that formed among kindred spirits. When she fasted in front of the White House for release of documents concerning her torture, I joined for a few days to be “the memory” for her of those first months in Guatemala. So much more that I could say. Many, many prayers. !Diana, presente!

  10. I met Dianna once in St. Louis, many years ago. She spoke with our peace and justice community about her personal experience in Guatemala and her efforts on behalf on survivors of torture. I can still see her in my mind’s eye, a gentle and strong woman, so gracious and generous. Blessings to the Assisi Community and Pax Christi, her family and her congregation.

  11. My heart is deeply moved to hear that Dianna has been called home. My heart goes out to her mother who was such a Pillar of Strength during the time Dianna was keeping vigil in Lafayette Park. Sitting in solidarity with her there was a precious moment in my life that has changed me. May she live on in our hearts as we recommit ourselves to being part of this long journey of transformation that she lived for day by day. Dianna presente! Adrienne Kaufmann, OSB

  12. Dianna, please — be at peace, but don’t rest. We are in need of your presence more than ever…letting go of your physical nearness is so hard. Let us know, once in awhile that you really haven’t gone anywhere. Maureen and the Carmelite Vedruna community.

  13. God blessed me to journey with Dianna on a couple of paths. We worked at Center of Concern from 2012-14, and then from 2019-20 with the classroom project for Global Sisters Report. Such a gentle, caring, compassionate witness of God’s love she was to me and all she touched! She moved so many souls with her thoughtful prayers. She did all things with great humility. She put the needs of others first, modeling the love of the servant leader we follow. Dianna Ortiz, presente!

  14. Friends, My heart sank and tears quietly flowed in grief with the news of Dianna’s death. Women like Sr. Dianna are today’s witnesses of the continuous Paschal Mystery of Divine Love and Life among us. People like Dianna move and dance in the footsteps of Mary of Magdala who bravely stood by the cross of the suffering Jesus. Hours later as dawn broke on Easter Sunday she alone encountered the Risen Lord Jesus and shouted the Good News of Resurrection to all people with ears to hear. Welcome into Glory, Dianna.

  15. I lived with Dianna in San Miguel Acatán, Guatemala. Right now, I am thinking of the lamb that followed her around. She named the lamb, “Pixane” which is a Kanjobal (Mayan language) word for “True heart”. Dianna had a true heart for the people of Guatemala and for the work of peace. No one should have to suffer what she suffered. She dedicated her life to the cause of seeing that others could be freed from suffering and oppression. ¡Viva Dianna Ortiz!

    Maureen Leach, OSF

    1. I’m trying to get organizations and individuals connected to Sister Ortiz interested in forcing the US government to reopen her case. I never met her or knew about her until I read her obituary. The least we can do in her memory and the memories of those who went through a similar experience before and after is to force the US government and the immoral CIA to face up.

    2. You are truly lucky. Few people get to live with a saint let alone meet one. That said, I think all of us who admired her should petition our new administration to reopen her case and get to the bottom of it. By doing on so, we would not only be honoring her memory but hopefully saving others from CIA-directed brutality.

  16. This was so shocking to read. She who endured so much pain yet sought and worked for peace. We as a community has lost a light who taught forgiveness by her being herself.

  17. How blessed the world is to have known Dianna Ortiz and benefitted from her work.
    Prayers for her mother, siblings, nieces, and nephews and friends.
    Mary Kelley

  18. I met Sr. Dianna several years ago at the Assisi community morning prayer. Though we did not exchange words, I felt her calm spirit, her eyes reflecting the depth of compassion and understanding that come from a vale of tears and suffering. Over the following years, I got to know Sr. Dianna in a more expansive way, through her writing, her inspiring talks and my visits with her at TASSC to share from my experiences as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner and from my encounters with survivors of torture. Sr. Dianne’s gift of listening epitomize Thich Nhat Hanh’s description of compassionate listening “….You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. … You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less.” My last encounter with her was just a few months ago, when she was tending her garden patch at the DC Dorothy Day Catholic Workers. She expressed relief that despite Covid raging, she would be able to fly to to visit her elderly mother in New Mexico. Then she enquired about me and my wife, Kirstin, about how it was for us to return to the US from several years of intense service in challenging circumstances. Again, that willingness to be present, to listen from the heart. She wished us well and we bid each other good-bye. It is that memory of Sr. Dianne that is forever etched in my heart – her standing in God’s garden, harvesting peppers, a gentle wave, a smile in her eyes.
    Sr. Dianna – PRESENTE!!
    Merwyn De Mello

  19. 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)

  20. Joe, so beautifully expressed, allowing Dianna to continue inspiring us who read this. And deepest gratitude that Dianna, even in her lifetime, fell into the arms of a loving God through the beautiful embrace of the Assisi Community over the past 25 years. Kathleen Kaelin, OSU

  21. Waking up to Internet News, I came across this article on Sister Dianna Ortiz’s passing. I did not know her personally, but the headline grabbed my attention. Strangely last night I dreamt of receiving a medical report of cancer diagnosis and memories of what I consider torture that I suffered visiting NYC in 2017. After reading Dianna’s story, I simply cried…I can’t even begin to compare it to my story… even though I still suffer from forms of PTSD from my experience. I use my faith in God, though I did seek out counseling. I too, felt slighted by so many authorities. After a walk to the Empire State Building in 2017 . I stopped for a refreshment at a cafe on 6th Avenue where acquaintances later drugged my drink, kidnapped me, dragged my limp body into a Uber, drove around the city and tried to take me into a large apt. Bldg. Struggling from respiratory depression to breath, and literally no motor control or clear vision (but I could hear); the Uber driver (who refused my breathless pleas for help or call 911) assisted the perpetrators and put my lifeless body on the sidewalk where they attempted to lift me (to take into Apt Bldg) but I just squirmed and somehow they could not lift me! I swear God made my body as lead! A witness called 911, ambulance arrived and I was taken to Mount Sinai. Where the story continued to decline. No IV, no tests, no nothing. I (still struggling to breath) told them I had been drugged or poisoned. My esophagus walls was literally sticking together, how I woke up later is a miracle. I suffered many bruises on upper torso and eye (which I had to document myself!), but thankfully not raped. And no where near what Sister Ortiz suffered. But something is very wrong when I reported the names of the perpetrators and details to NYC PD, only to have them write a report that didn’t match the crime or mention the perpetrators or the experience…it was the twilight zone. Instead I was chastised about talking to strangers. Well guess what, I am in the medical field and one of the perpetrators is an RN! The other is the Mgr of a huge 300 apt bldg on NYC popular Ave. I live in upstate NY! Why should I be afraid to talk to fellow citizens in a decent, supposedly legitimate cafe in daylight on 6th Ave? Does this hold true for the St. Regis, too? I intended to report the RN perpetrator to the Health Dept. For ethics violation but I am afraid of retaliation as I live in the same state. Surely, the RN would lose their license! It was a PTSD harrowing experience. My flight was leaving hours after my unethical ER protocol care & phony reason discharge (no tests done whatsoever & my $3K bill disappeared magically)… I immediately got hydration (no thanks to Mt. Sinai), nutrition for my shaking body and went to St. Patricks’s Cathedral to pray and thank God I was “alive” before heading home. That experience lives with me everyday, so when I saw Sister Ortiz’s article and read about her much, much more harrowing experience…I know it could have been much worse for me. It is by the grace of God, to move on and I am. But the courage, endurance and good works of Sister Ortiz is amazing and inspiring. And to think of those who continue to suffer from such inhumane injustices and degradation. Sister Ortiz had the real human spirit of God in her, and may her works of dedication and recognition continue. Sincere condolences to her family and all who knew and loved her. I am a stranger who happened upon this article [her passing and who she was], for whatever reason…but I am glad to have met her now and will remember how even in death, she is helping others. Forever.

  22. My prayers are with the Pax Christi community at this difficult time, especially the PCUSA staff, the Assisi community and the Ursuline community. Dianna’s witness for peace was prophetic as she spoke her own truth to power and gave voice to those who were voiceless. She had a profound presence and touched so many through her courageous witness. May she now rest in the peace she promoted so passionately in life.

  23. I had not known much about Dianna before I heard her speak at the Pax Christi assembly in Richmond in 2000 when she received the Teacher of Peace award. (I still have a copy of her acceptance speech that was published in the Catholic Peace Voice that summer.). I was astonished by her story and the way she was able to tell it. I felt that I was in the presence of a saint. I can only imagine what a privilege it must have been to work with her, and how much you will miss her.

  24. The first time I remember hearing of Sister Ortiz was when I read her obituary. Now, after reading several articles about her life, I’m incensed at the United States government. I hope to Pax Christi, the Ursulines, the U.S. Catholics Church, the organization she founded and others unite to reopen her case. The monsters who tortured her must be brought to justice, including the CIA operatives and officials behind it. Soon, a new CIA director will be confirmed. His name is William Burns. He must be contacted, as well as the appropriate congressmen or women from New Mexico, her birthplace.
    For too long, Americans have turned a blind eye to the immoral acts perpetrated by our administrations and agencies across the world. Just think of the torture that happened at Abu Ghrabi, the Irak prison where American soldiers (including females) degraded Iraqis simply suspected of being bad guys. Some died in custody. Who knows what reprehensible acts the CIA and our military are doing today in the name of freedom?

  25. Dear Fr. Joe, Marie and Community of Assisi House,
    I just read that Sr. Dianna Ortiz has passed away. I am so very sorry for the loss of this incredibly brave, strong and Holy woman. She was such an inspiration to all that ever had the chance to even just hear her speak, let alone have the opportunity to meet her. You had invited me to supper at Assisi House and that’s how I had the privilege to meet and get to know something of this wonderful woman. What a blessing that opportunity was for me. Thank You! She truly is a witness to the Gospel and continues to be an inspiration for me. Now I can pray to her for more strength in trying to carry on the message!
    -Bro. Tim Raible, MM
    Maryknoll – Thailand

  26. Truly our loss and heaven’s gain. She was an inspirational speaker. Heard her at CTA.

  27. Weeks have passed but I still think — and pray — daily for Dianna and for all of us who love her and miss her. She was a “new” friend for me — we met through her work on the Classroom project for Global Sisters Report –we bonded quickly and I had been looking forward to deepening our friendship. She overcame terrible suffering and was a remarkable, courageous and generous soul…may her work and ministry on this earth continue.

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