A defiant 88-year-old nun and her sister, who have now served six-month
federal prison sentences for protesting at a US military base allegedly
linked to Central American death squads, say the two will continue to
pursue their cause.
Sister Dorothy Marie Hennessey, left, and Sister Gwen L. Hennessey served six months in prison for trespassing. Sister Dorothy Marie, who is 88, rejected a judge's offer to serve her sentence under house arrest. (Mark Hirsch for The New York Times )
"Whatever you do, please say we'll continue with this because the school
is not closed and that is our goal," said Dorothy Marie Hennessey, a
retired Franciscan nun convicted with two dozen other protesters
including her sister, Gwen, of trespassing at the former School of the
Americas in November 2000.
"I haven't changed my mind, haven't made an act of contrition for
anything I did. If God is anything, he's against injustice to the poor
and the marginalised," said Dorothy Marie, who lives with Gwen at
Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Family, a convent and retirement home
for 425 nuns in Dubuque.
The Hennessey sisters were among 3,500 protesters who marched onto the
grounds of the former School of the Americas at Fort Benning in
Columbus, Georgia, where several Central American military leaders later
implicated in death squads received training.
The protesters held crosses bearing the names of slain victims of
Central American death squads, and the Hennesseys were among a group who
received warnings and were prosecuted for repeated incursions onto the
The sibling nuns made international headlines in mid-July for refusing a
judge's offer of serving their sentences under house arrest and instead
reported to a federal prison in Pekin, Illinois. The stoop-shouldered
Dorothy Marie, one of 15 children, told the judge, "I am not an invalid."
She said the attention to their cause was invaluable, though prison had
some "not-so-nice" drawbacks.
"One of the things about prison is that there were some people... who
were not exactly mean, but they acted mean," Dorothy Marie said, adding
she had to surrender her own watch and buy one at the prison commissary.
About midway through her six-month sentence, Dorothy Marie was moved to
a prison halfway house in Dubuque - where she had served on the board of
directors - for medical reasons. Gwen, who turned 69 while in prison,
served out her six-month term.
"We had a beautiful welcoming ceremony this afternoon. Gwen got up here
in time from Pekin," Dorothy Marie said.
The sisters say their activism was stoked by their late brother, Ron,
who spent years in Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s and recounted
in letters to them the slaughter of native peoples by military death
squads. He had also befriended Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who
© 2002 Reuters