Barbara Blaine, the founder of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, died unexpectedly Sunday at 61 years old.
The organization announced on its Facebook page that Blaine died Sunday following a recent cardiac event. She was surrounded by family and friends, the group wrote.
"Barbara was taken far too early, and we may never find rhyme or reason in the manner of her passing, but we can forever find inspiration and purpose through the manner in which she lived," Blaine's family wrote in a statement. "She was a truly remarkable human being, and her spirit will remain with us, shaping our choices for the better, erring us away from petty concerns and encouraging us to lean in towards compassion, that we might honor her memory."
Blaine formed the SNAP group in 1988 with a meeting at a Chicago hotel. She had been abused as an 8th grader by a priest who taught at the Catholic school she attended, according to SNAP's website.
Eventually, SNAP grew to 20,000 members.
She spoke out on behalf of the men and women who confided in her, many of them waiting years to come forward after suffering abuse as children.
In a statement, SNAP managing director Barbara Dorris praised Blaine's work with victims of clergy sexual abuse:
Few people have done more to protect kids and help victims than Barbara Blaine. Her relentless advocacy enable millions to eventually accept a long unbelievable reality: that tens of thousand of priests raped and fondled hundreds of thousands of kids while bishops hid these heinous crimes. She started and for almost 30 years worked extremely hard to help build the world's most successful organization for child sex abuse victims. Her contributions to a safer society wold be hard to overstate.
Blaine often held Sunday protests in front of Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral and other churches where priests had been removed and eventually took her protests to the Vatican. In 2011, she appeared before the International Criminal Court at The Hague asking for an investigation of the Pope Benedict and top Vatican cardinals for possible crimes against humanity.
She stepped down as head of SNAP in February. At the time, she and other SNAP officials were sued by a former employee who said she was fired after asking superiors whether the organization was referring potential clients to attorneys in return for donations. Blaine said her decision was part of her overall plan to retire from leading the organization on an everyday basis.
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Blaine came to Chicago after college and worked first in the Catholic peace movement before opening a homeless shelter at Little Flower Church on the city's South Side.
She continued to advocate for survivors of abuse and focused her attention on international cases. Much of her career was centered on child advocacy, first as a social worker and then after attending DePaul University School of Law, where she went on to work as an assistant Cook County Public Guardian in Patrick Murphy's office.