Second daughter of the dentist Augusto Lopes Pontes, professor of the Faculty of Dentistry, and Dulce Maria de Souza Brito Lopes Pontes, born on May 26, 1914, in Salvador, Sister Dulce received the name of Maria Rita de Souza Brito Lopes Pontes. The baby came to the world in Rua São José de Baixo, 36, in the neighborhood of Barbalho, in the parish of Santo Antônio Além do Carmo. The girl Maria Rita was a child full of joy, she loved to play dolls, to climb kites and had special predilection for soccer - she was a fan of Esporte Clube Ypiranga, a team formed by the working class and the social excluded.
At the age of seven, in 1921, she lost her mother Dulce, who was only 26 years old. The following year she made the first communion in the Church of Santo Antônio Além do Carmo, together with his brothers Augusto and Dulce (the beloved Dulcinha).
The vocation to work for the benefit of the needy population had the direct influence of the family, particularly an inheritance of her father that she carried forward, with the decisive support of her sister, Dulcinha. At the age of thirteen, thanks to her fearlessness and sense of justice -marked traces revealed when she was still very young-, Irmã Dulce began to welcome beggars and sick people into her home, transforming the family's residence - at Independence Street, 61, in the Nazaré neighborhood, in a social care center. The house became known as 'The San Francisco Ordinance', such as the number of needy people crowded her door. It was at that time too when, for the first time, she announced the desire to devote herself to religious life, after a visit with her aunt to an area with very poor people.
On February 8, 1933, shortly after her graduation as a teacher, Maria Rita joined the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God in the city of São Cristóvão, in Sergipe. On August 13, 1933, she received the nun's habit of the Missionary Sisters and adopted, in honor of her mother, the name of Irmã Dulce.
Sister Dulce's first mission as a nun was to teach at a college maintained by her congregation in the neighborhood of Massaranduba, in the Lower City, in Salvador. However, her thinking was directed at working with the poor. Already in 1935, she assisted the poor community of Alagados, a group of stilts that had consolidated in the inner part of the district of Itapagipe. At the same time, she began to attend to the numerous workers in that neighborhood, creating a medical post and founding in 1936 the Workers’ Union of San Francisco - the first Catholic workers 'organization in the state, which later gave birth to the Workers' Circle of Bahia. In 1937, she founded, together with Frei Hildebrando Kruthaup, the Operational Circle of Bahia, maintained with the raised funds from three cinemas they had both built through donations - Cine Roma, Cine Plataforma and Cine São Caetano. In May 1939, Irmã Dulce inaugurated the Santo Antônio College, a public school for workers and their children, in the neighborhood of Massaranduba.