The Founder of Aldeia da Paz, Monsignor João Pedro Baptista da Mata (Fr. Mata), was born September 3, 1926 in São Pedro, Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. He was the eldest of nine children, two of whom took religious vows and are Sisters of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.
At the age of 10, João Pedro Baptista da Mata entered the seminary. He was ordained a priest on October 30, 1949 at the age of 23. His early responsibilities included being spiritual director and teacher at a Diocesan Seminary, teaching secondary school, and being a parish priest at the Cathedral in Funchal. As a young priest, Fr. Mata renovated the São João home for boys almost entirely on his own.
In 1958, Fr. Mata was placed in Mozambique where he served as spiritual director of the seminary as well as parish priest of the Cathedral of Lourenço Marques, known today as Maputo. It was in Mozambique that Fr. Mata received the title of Monsignor, and he had up to nine priests under his direction. Fr. Mata was troubled by the discrimination shown the native African children, who were often denied an education because of the color of their skin. As a result, Fr. Mata built many houses in Africa for the poor and established a “granja,” or pig farm, to sustain the homes. Every time the farm made a profit, Father would build another home.
Fr. Mata suffered tremendous persecution in Africa by political oppressors and even the church. At the time, Mozambique was in the middle of a civil war. As a result, Father had to flee Africa in 1976 after Gorillas shot and killed a priest in his name.
In 1976, Monsignor Mata founded the Sisters of the Missionaries of the Poor and established Aldeia da Paz (translated “shelter of peace”) to provide shelter, meals, education, and other services to the most vulnerable members of the Brazilian society.
In 1982, Father and his Missionaries of the Poor were joined by Sister Maria de Deus Raposo (now Mother Superior). Sister left her comfortable life and family in Canada to answer God’s call to serve the poor, especially children, in Brazil. Sister first heard the call when she was 12, which she felt was confirmed when Fr. Mata knocked on her door soliciting donations for Aldeia da Paz. Fr. Mata insisted that the young Maria de Deus complete her education first, so she expedited her studies and graduated from high school at the age 16. Father still insisted that Sister further her education, so she completed her undergraduate studies and began a career in the banking industry before ultimately joining the Sisterhood and Fr. Mata in Brasil where she has remained for over 30 years.
Fr. Mata and the Sisters have established facilities in four different locations around Brazil. During this time, they have rescued more than 100 abandoned elderly women, offered refuge to over 25,000 children, and have given assistance to over 700 families.
Fr. Mata passed away on September 17, 2011. He is remembered for his gentle humility and countless acts of sacrifice in dedication to the poor. Father saw the face of Jesus in every person he encountered and was a model of Christ’s call to put aside worldly things for the promise of the Heavenly Kingdom. Father fought relentlessly for justice and dignity for those whom society would discard or abuse. He was greatly devoted to our Mother Mary and always urged families to pray the rosary together and to attend daily Mass.
Fr. Mata’s passing left a void in the lives of all who knew and worked with him, but his legacy lives on through the Sisters of the Missionaries of the Poor. Led by Sister Maria de Deus, the Sisters are committed to continuing Fr. Mata’s work for the poor with the same passion and dedication that he exemplified.