In 2001, Sr. Dorothy Hennessey, eighty-eight, made headlines when she was arrested with her younger sister Gwen Hennessey for trespassing at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. They were part of a large contingent of human rights protesters waging a campaign to close the school, whose alumni included the perpetrators of torture, massacres, and military coups in Latin America. Dorothy and Gwen were sentenced to six months in prison. When their judge offered to commute Dorothy’s sentence to “motherhouse arrest,” she replied, “I’d rather not be singled out. If you wouldn’t mind, I would just as soon have the same sentence as the others.”
Dorothy had entered the Franciscan order at nineteen and spent many years teaching. But over time, her sense of global responsibility was awakened through letters from her brother Ron Hennessey, a Maryknoll priest in Guatemala, who reported on the violence and atrocities occurring at the hands of the military. In the early 1980s she went to Nicaragua during the time of the Contra war to serve as a witness for peace. In 1986, in her seventies, she took part in a continental walk for peace across the entire United States.
In 2002, she and her sister Gwen received the Pacem in Terris award from the diocese of Davenport, and award previously won by Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Harkin, senator from Iowa, entered into the Congressional Record these words from an article in the Des Moines Register:
“Sister Hennessey taught many things, including courage, compassion, and the importance of independent thought and creative action. She taught that aging gracefully can be consistent with living meaningfully and even dangerously. But most important, she taught that we don’t have to stand by in frustration when wrongs are perpetrated, even by our government; that the world is best served when we stand up for what is right. And that you do whatever you can, from wherever you are. In her case if was for the Lord’s work.”