Nun jailed for peace activism, Megan Rice, dies at 91

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FILE – In this August 9, 2012 file photo, Sister Megan Rice, center, and Michael Walli, in background, are greeted by supporters as they arrive for a federal court appearance in Knoxville, Tenn ., after being accused of sabotaging a government nuclear complex. Rice, who served two years in prison and was released when her original conviction was overturned by a federal appeals court, died of congestive heart failure on October 10, 2021 at the Holy Child Center in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. She was 91 years old. (Michael Patrick / Knoxville News Sentinel via AP, file)

ROSEMONT, Penn. (AP) – Megan Rice, a nun and Catholic peace activist who spent two years in federal prison when she was 80 after breaking into a government security complex to protest nuclear weapons, has died . She was 91 years old.

Rice died of congestive heart failure on October 10 at the Holy Child Center in Rosemont, Pa., By her order, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus.

“Sister Megan has lived her life with love, action and zeal, said Carroll Juliano, chief of the American province of the order. “His commitment to building a peaceful and just world was unwavering and selfless. ”

Rice was born in New York City to activist parents who met famous Catholic writer Dorothy Day during the Great Depression to find solutions to societal problems, she said in a 2013 interview with the Catholic Agitator.

His activism was also heavily influenced by his uncle, who spent four months in Nagasaki, Japan, after he and Hiroshima were destroyed by atomic bombs to hasten the end of World War II, bombings Rice would call later the “greatest shame in history.” . ”

While still a teenager, she joined the Society of the Holy Child of Jesus to become a nun. She made her final vows in 1955 and took the religious name of Mother Frederick Mary. Rice went on to graduate from Villanova and Boston University, where she earned a master’s degree in science.

She taught elementary schools in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts for over a decade before being posted to Nigeria.

Rice spent 23 years in West Africa as a teacher and pastoral guide. It was there that she began to hear about the plowshares movement, a reference to a passage in the Bible that refers to the end of all war: “They will turn their swords into plowshares.

Upon returning to the United States, Rice began to become involved in anti-nuclear activism.

“I felt drawn to the peace movement,” she said in the Catholic Agitator interview. “I felt very inspired by direct action on nuclear issues. My uncle had such a strong influence and he was still alive at that time.

Court records show that she had already been convicted four times for protest activities when she and two other Catholic peace activists, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, broke into the Y- national security complex. 12 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in July 2012.

The trio walked through several fences and spent two hours outside a bunker stocking much of the country’s bomb-grade uranium, where they hung banners, prayed, hammered outside the bunker and painted spray painted peace slogans.

They were arrested and charged with sabotage. Federal prosecutors have described Rice and her co-defendants as “repeat offenders and repeat offenders” who would break the law again “as soon as they are physically able,” according to court records.

Rice’s lawyers sought clemency from U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar, arguing that the nun’s devotion to Christian nonviolence posed little threat to the public. Rice wrote a letter to the judge asking him to follow his conscience.

But the judge did not budge, telling the defendants that their moral beliefs were “not a free jail release card.”

The U.S. 6th Court of Appeals dismissed the sabotage charge and the three were released in May 2015 after serving two years. They were then sentenced to an already-served sentence on a lesser charge of interference with government property.

During her testimony at her jury trial, Rice defended her decision to break into the Oak Ridge uranium facility as an attempt to stop “manufacturing that … can only cause death.” According to a transcript of the trial.

“I had to do it,” she said of her decision to break the law. “My guilt is that I waited 70 years to be able to say what I knew in my conscience.”


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