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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

HENNESSEY, Dorothy (Sister)

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Family History; http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=cuatroake&id=I044759

Photo courtesy: Archdiocese of Baltimore

HENNESSEY, Dorothy (Sister). (Manchester, IA, Mar. 24, 1913 – Dubuque, IA, January 24, 2008). In 1986 Sister Hennessey, then 73 years of age, was one of nearly 300 participants in the "Great Peace March" from Los Angeles-to Washington, D.C. to urge global disarmament. (1)

She was drawn to the Peace and Justice movement and the School of the Americas Watch by her brother, Ron Hennessey, a Maryknoll priest in Latin America from 1964 until his death in 1999. Her views became more public when she agreed to participate in the Peace Walk across the United States in her seventies to protest against the United States Cold War buildup.

She was most widely known for protests in 2001 at Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the Army's School of the Americas, a facility for training Latin American soldiers. Sister Dorothy and her real sister (Sister) Gwen HENNESSEY were among an estimated 3,500 people who trespassed onto the base in a mock funeral procession, carrying crosses. Sister Gwen's cross bore the name of a 4-year-old said to have been killed in El Mozote. They recited the names of the dead, planted the crosses in the grass and were then herded into buses to be fingerprinted and processed. Sister Dorothy, along with Sister Gwen, were arrested, convicted, and sentenced to six months in federal jail. Sister Dorothy was 88 years old at the time.

Sister Hennessey believed that the School of the Americas taught torture techniques to Latin American soldiers and that graduates of the program had been involved in atrocities, including the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador. The school denied these claims and argued that it helped to spread democracy in Latin America.

Her brother, Father Ron Hennessey, had written letters to his family describing his life in Guatemala and El Salvador. In the 1980s, his letters described Mayan Indians in his parish being terrorized and killed by Guatemalan military squads. Father Ron later befriended Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador. When the archbishop was assassinated, Father Ron wrote of the funeral in the cathedral when the Salvadoran military fired into the mourners.

In Dubuque, Sister Hennessey stood vigil weekly in WASHINGTON PARK for eight year protesting the United States military involvement in Central America. She later used the same site to protest the Iraq War. in 2001 she and her real sister Gwen L. Hennessey (Sister) were each sentenced to six months in prison--the maximum sentence--for trespassing at a United States military schoo that trained Latin American soldiers. (2)

In 2002, Dorothy and Gwen Hennessey were awarded the Pacem in Terris Award. It was named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII that called upon all people of good will to secure peace among all nations. Pacem in Terris is Latin for 'Peace on Earth.' (3)

Sister Dorothy Hennessey, OSF, died on January 24, 2008. At the time of her death, she resided at a Dubuque, Iowa Franciscan Order religious center.



1. "Peace Marchers Head for Colorado-Utah Line," Telegraph Herald, May 5, 1986, p. 20

2. Goodstein, Laurie. "Sibling Nuns Will Go to Prison for Protesting at U. S. Military School," The New York Times, June 24, 2001, Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/24/us/sibling-nuns-will-go-to-prison-for-protesting-at-us-military-school.html

3. "Sister Dorothy Marie Hennessey, Peace Activist, Dies," Archdiocese of Baltimore, Online: https://www.archbalt.org/sister-dorothy-marie-hennessey-peace-activist-dies/