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Nun, 94, did federal time back in 2001

Tuesday, January 29th 2008

Mick Walsh, Columbus Ledger Enquirer

On the day that 11 SOA Watch protesters were sentenced to prison for trespassing last November onto Fort Benning, 94-year-old Catholic nun Dorothy Hennessey, 88 who had once been sentenced to federal prison for the same offense, was being buried in her hometown of Dubuque, Iowa.

She died Thursday.

Hennessey and her then-69-year-old sister, Gwen, also a member of the Sisters of St. Francis Order, were arrested, arraigned, and sentenced to six months at the federal penitentiary in Pekin, Ill., for crossing onto post in November 2000.

During their incarceration, the sisters kept a journal, which was shared with Ledger-Enquirer readers.

U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth, who presided at Monday's sentencing at the federal courthouse, wanted to sentence Hennessey to six months of house arrest at her Dubuque home back in May 2001.

But the feisty Hennessey refused, telling Faircloth, "I'd rather not be singled out for special treatment. I would just as soon receive the same prison time as the rest of them are getting."

Faircloth then gave her the same six-month prison sentence he had imposed on 21 other protesters, including Gwen Hennessey.

Rebecca Kanner of Ann Arbor, Mich., who witnessed Monday's sentencing, was one of 10 sent to Pekin with the Hennessey sisters.

"I'd known of Dorothy even before we became co-defendants," Kanner said Monday. "She had marched cross-country, from L.A. to D.C. in the Great Peace March of 1986," she recalled. "My brother Steven and I both walked portions of the march for global nuclear disarmament. In 1998, down here in Columbus, we stayed in the same hotel as Dorothy. I remember my brother and I taking a long walk with her and Gwen one evening."

Kanner said she cried when she learned that Dorothy had left Pekin after several weeks because of illness. "I knew her health wasn't that good but those of us at the prison wanted a chance to say goodbye to her. But we didn't get that chance."

Right before entering the Pekin facility, Sister Dorothy, as she was called, said she really didn't know what to expect in jail.

"I've been told all we can take with us are our glasses," she said.

But, she added, her prison stay is "just another assignment in my mission to serve."

The national media seized upon the story of two nuns heading to federal lock-up. The New York Times printed an article and the sisters appeared together on "Good Morning America" two weeks before reporting to jail.

"We called her and Gwen our 'SOA media magnets,' " Kanner said.

Illness cut short Sister Dorothy's stay at Pekin. Several weeks after her incarceration, she was moved to a correctional facility in her hometown of Dubuque. Gwen, however, completed her prison term.

Asked why she had joined the protesters at the gates of Fort Benning, Sister Dorothy said her brother, a Catholic priest, had witnessed many atrocities in El Salvador in the '70s and '80s, crimes that allegedly were committed by graduates of the School of the Americas.

"He asked me if there was anything I could do about it," she said.

Kanner and the rest of the SOA Watchers in town this week learned of Hennessey's death Friday night.

"The woman had a great influence on my life," she said.


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