These 4 sisters are in fact sisters: the “worker sisters” of Minnesota celebrated in a new play


Most Wednesday nights there is a small but lively peace protest at the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis. At this vigil, a constant since President Bill Clinton ordered bombs to rain on Yugoslavia in 1999, you will likely find one or more of the four biological McDonald sisters. These nuns did not initiate the protests – an activist named Marie Braun was a key catalyst – but have been staunch supporters ever since.

Last month, Jane McDonald was there, holding up signs at motorists honking their support and displeasure or otherwise making their feelings known. His sister, Brigid, has also recently braved the inclement weather to encourage his fellow human beings to take the path of peace.

“When people walk past us and wave at us, I say, ‘Well that’s half a peace sign,’ said Brigid McDonald, a peace protester for more than half a year. century.

“I believe we are all wounded healers,” added Jane. “I was born into the Roman Catholic Church, but I am in the wandering church in search of a more liberated truth.”

Popular heroes and icons of peace, the outspoken sisters led a life of activism against war and injustice. They have been arrested more times than they remember, helping them achieve near-mythical status in peace circles, but also attracting unwanted attention. They were the subject of newspaper articles and even a documentary in 2009, “Four Sisters of Peace”. Now their story, which began on a farm in Minnesota, takes center stage at this weekend’s “Sisters of Peace” premiere at the History Theater.

The play is about women who worked in Minnesota but who became world famous, not least because they opposed powers and principalities, including the Pope. Los Angeles-based playwright Doris Baizley interviewed the four siblings – including Rita and Kate – to create a story about these icons of peace, tackling everything from their stories and choices to their mission and determination.

The sisters are not cloistered, Baizley explained. Because they are part of the Sisters of Saint-Joseph de Carondelet, an order named after a carpenter, they live and work in community.

“So their philosophical basis is the worker nuns,” said Baizley, who has written a number of documentary theater shows but has always been amazed at the iconoclasm of the sisters. “I had never met such active women, and each of them so individual, so personal. It is contradictory to what we think of when we think of people who join a religious community and renounce their identity. “

Gradual transformation

The McDonald sisters came from a large Irish-American farming family with 11 children in Hollywood Township near Watertown, Minnesota. Rita was the first sister to join the convent. She is now 97 years old and age-appropriate health issues prevent her from being interviewed. But she has spoken in the past about what religious life has to offer.

“In the 1950s, it was a way for women to find more satisfying work,” Baizley said. “Brigid worked in a bank for a while, but when she went to work in the community, it was more fulfilling. “

While people have this idea of ​​worshiping and praying nuns, this was not the example that Rita McDonald set for her sisters.

“The world of nuns was not only about devotional rites, but was following the work of Jesus, which means working with the poor,” Baizley said. “People don’t really see a convent as a place where you become a social activist. But these sisters, living in an all-female world, were part of the women’s movement.

At the History Theater, actress Sue Scott plays Jane. The others are portrayed by well-known performers Wendy Lehr (Rita), Katherine Ferrand (Kate) and Peggy O’Connell (Brigid) in a production directed by veteran theater artist Barbra Berlovitz.

Don’t ask Jane, McDonald’s younger sister at 83, what it feels like to watch an actor play her in rehearsal.

“It’s a little embarrassing in a way – you’re not used to that much focus,” she said. “It’s a bit like reliving some of those experiences.”

She’s glad not to be the only one on stage, added Jane. “She makes me better than me.”

The play, which begins in 1955 – the year Jane entered the order – is structured around four arrests. In their career of protest, the sisters opposed the Vietnam War, the ammunition makers and the church, which excluded LGBT people. In the play, they are arrested as they demonstrate for each of these causes – an activism that spills over into their family, which is dotted with military personnel.

The late KJ McDonald, a Korean War veteran turned state legislator and mayor representing Watertown, was their brother.

“He was very right,” Baizley said. “But when I asked them about Thanksgiving family reunions, the sisters said something educational for the country. They never let an argument last more than 24 hours. And they played a lot of cards. It was about their love for each other.

The sisters weren’t always relentless peace activists, Jane explained. It was a gradual transformation that included moves to missile silos.

“I grew up with the idea of ​​a just war,” said Jane. “I grew up believing and internalizing that war was a solution.”

But then the Vietnam War came, and they became certain, through their reading and attending the conferences, that something was wrong.

“From an educational and geographic perspective,” said Jane, “the tide has turned in my own soul. “

Measuring success

If you have led a life of peace activism, how do you measure success?

“You don’t think in terms of results or impact because you don’t see it right away,” Jane said. “If you had to wait until you were successful, you would probably quit. We are doing it because it is the right thing to do.

The impact is more gradual and is part of a larger tide. “We’re just little ants climbing the mountain,” Brigid said. “It’s a tough road.”

Brigid ticked off songs from Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. She called out the names of militant religious leaders, including Archbishops Óscar Romero and Desmond Tutu, people who have affected the conscience of the country and the world. They spoke of the growing political awareness of young people today.

Even so, Jane, at least, is not satisfied with the situation of the country and the world in terms of peace.

“That’s the sad part, isn’t it?” she said. “When it comes to US policies, we are still a hawkish country.”

Sisters can be unpopular voices in the wind. Whether on deck or in conversation with a journalist, they never hesitate to express their opinions. Brigid mentioned the near paralysis of Venezuelan politics, wondering aloud if America is simply coveting the nation’s resources with the world’s largest oil reserves.

But they are willing to pay any price for their moral righteousness, even in their ninth and tenth decades of life.

“The worst part is when you have to go to jail,” Brigid said. “We have been arrested so many times. They call us intruders, but our drones and bombs are invading the whole world. The war-makers are the ones who should be arrested.

Even though things haven’t changed that much, the sisters at least witnessed little graces as they were taken away.

“The best experiences we’ve had include cops wanting to protect us,” Jane said. “A big cop wanted his picture taken with all the nuns to send to his mother in New York because she wouldn’t believe he was arresting nuns.


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