Sister Dorothy Hennessey: Activist for Peace and Justice

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IN HER EARLY TWENTIES, Dorothy Hennessey
joined the Franciscan community
in Dubuque. For most of her life she was
busy teaching in Catholic schools in
Iowa. She remembered that in her early
years she was a very conservative person.
When she was about 55, she became
deeply concerned with the world beyond
her classroom. She felt called to be in solidarity
with people who are suffering.
One thing that occasioned this change
was the realization of the injustice of the
Vietnam War. The most important influence
in her radical change, however, was
the letters she received from her brother,
Father Ron Hennessey, when he was a missionary in
Guatemala. His letters described the massacres and terror
brought by the government military forces while he was
pastor among the Mayan people. Father Ron’s letter’s
changed her life. She became angry and began to speak
out and join with others in public protests about U.S. policies
that have treated innocent people so brutally.
Starting about 1968, Sister Dorothy began to write letters
and attend talks and participate in demonstrations
against war and the unfair treatment of others. During the
Vietnam War she joined protests at the Rock Island Arsenal.
During the early 1980s, she visited Nicaragua with
Witness for Peace as part of a human shield that protected
northern border villages from CIA-backed Contra attacks.
She made three trips to protest at a nuclear test site in
Nevada during the 1980s.
In March 1986, at age 73, she set off
from Los Angeles on The Great Peace
March for Global Nuclear Disarmament
with 1,200 other marchers on a 3,500 mile
walk to Washington, D.C. In the 1990s she
stood with others almost every Wednesday
at a Dubuque city park protesting the US
military involvement in Central America. In
1992 she participated in a protest action at
the SAC airbase in Omaha and ended up
with 36 others in police custody.
In 1997, she began to make annual trips
to the School of the Americas. Twice Sister
Dorothy got arrested for joining with many
others to enter into the area close to this
infamous school. In 2000, she was arrested for a third time
at the gates of the school. This time she and her younger
sister who is also a nun, Sister Gwen Hennessey, were sentenced
to six months in a federal prison in Pekin, Illinois.
Dorothy was 88 years old at the time of her imprisonment.
Even in her 90s, Sister Dorothy did not consider herself
to be in retirement. She attended events, speeches and
peace protests whenever she had the opportunity. She
stayed in touch with many of the people with whom she
marched and protested. She never seemed to grow tired or
discouraged in her work for peace and justice. Sister
Dorothy died January 24, 2008 at age 94. This ex-con
deserves to be remembered.

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