Four volunteers honored for work on behalf of torture survivors

A School Sister of Notre Dame from Minnesota and a Catholic Worker in Washington were among four people honored for their service by the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International, known as TASSC.

Sister Alice Zachmann, 84, who returned to her religious community in Mankato, Minn., earlier this year, and Helen Schietinger of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker were cited for their years of volunteer service and the assistance they have provided to victims of torture from around the world who have resettled in the Washington area.

Also honored were volunteers Harold Nelson and Mary Harding, a victim of torture in Bolivia.

TASSC honored the foursome in a program at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington Dec. 10, U.N. Human Rights Day.

A former elementary teacher and school administrator, Sister Alice got her introduction to human rights work in the 1970s after visiting Guatemala twice. “I was smitten by the beauty of the country but appalled by the poverty,” she said.

Her visits came in the middle of the country’s long and violent civil war and she learned about widespread human rights abuses.

“I returned and vowed to do whatever I could to support the people of Guatemala,” she told Catholic News Service.

After praying about what to do about what she learned, she received her answer. She was approached by activists and asked to start an organization to support human rights efforts in Guatemala. That’s when she resigned from work in parish ministry in St. Paul, Minn., and came to Washington, where she became the founding director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA in 1982.

She said the experience of Ursuline Sister Dianna Ortiz inspired her work. An American missionary in Guatemala, Sister Dianna was abducted by members of the country’s military in 1989 and tortured while in captivity. Sister Dianna now works for Pax Christi USA in Washington.

Sister Alice stayed with the human rights organization for 20 years and then joined TASSC as a volunteer, serving for eight years. In Minnesota, she continues to speak at parishes and schools about torture that continues worldwide.

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