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Saint Xavier to Host Peace Activists, Prayer Vigil

Sister Moira Kenny, R.S.M., and Mary Dean to speak at University Sept. 29

CHICAGO (Aug. 1, 2004) – Two women who, collectively, spent a year in federal prison for protesting the School of the Americas will discuss their actions at a presentation titled “Waging Peace: Prayer, Prison and Protest.” The program will be held from 12 to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29 in McGuire Hall on Saint Xavier’s Chicago Campus, 3700 W. 103 rd St. A prayer service for peace will follow immediately after the program in McDonough Chapel.

Sister Moira Kenny, RSM, began protesting at the School of the Americas, (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in 1998 and was arrested in 2000, receiving an order forbidding her from entering the Ft. Benning Military base (which houses the SOA). In 2002, she violated that order and was arrested again. For this, she served six months in Bryan Federal Prison in Bryan, Texas from April to October 2003. A Sister of Mercy of the Cincinnati Regional Community, Sister Kenny presently ministers as a paralegal for a non-profit civil rights organization in south Texas on the United States/Mexico border.

Mary Dean has been working to close the School of the Americas since 1994, through fasts, congressional visits, protests and educational events. Dean served a federal prison sentence from September 2002 to March 2003 at the Illinois’ Greenville Federal Prison Camp for entering the Ft. Benning base.

The event – to be co-sponsored by the Center for Religion and Public Discourse, the Saint Xavier University chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and Saint Xavier’s Department of Women Studies – will be moderated by Saint Xavier University history Professor Peter N. Kirstein, himself an outspoken opponent of war.

“Especially during war, universities must be venues where advocates for peace and justice are heard,” Kirstein said. “Voices from prison, voices from banishment or voices from the underground represent a civil disobedience that must not be silenced. Whether the Catholic Worker Movement, Plowshares, Dr. King, the Berrigans or Thoreau, protest and non-violent resistance represent a courageous activist commitment to the elimination of war as an instrument of national policy.”

Sister Sue Sanders, RSM, director of the Center for Religion and Public Discourse, welcomes the community to the program – whether they agree or disagree with the strategy of civil disobedience or with the positions of the speakers. “Only by dialogue and respectful interaction will we be able to understand and evaluate the positions and actions of those for whom nonviolent civil disobedience is a legitimate form of protest,” Sister Sanders said. “The Gospel calls each of us to peacemaking. How we respond to that call can vary from person to person, from conscience to conscience. Sister Moira’s response is personal and grounded in her faith. And she accepted the consequences of her response. I am sure her presentation will be thought- provoking and that’s what we want to do at Saint Xavier: stimulate dialogue, thinking, learning and thoughtful responses to the issues of our age.”

Following the presentation, Sister Sanders invites participants to join together in the McDonough for a prayer service for peace. “Prayer is a form of discourse too,” reminds Sister Sanders, “and we welcome people of whatever political viewpoint to be ‘on’ for peacemaking by joining together in prayer for world peace and nonviolence.”

The School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, “provides professional education and training for civilian and law enforcement students from nations throughout the Western Hemisphere,” according to the institute’s Web site. Based at Ft. Benning in Georgia, the school offers a curriculum that “includes instruction in leadership development, peace support and counterdrug operations.”

Sister Kenny and Dean participated in protests at the WHISEC as part of the group, School of the Americas Watch (SOAW). According to the SOAW’s Web site, institute “graduates are consistently involved in human rights abuses and atrocities. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated the use of torture, extortion and execution.”

Sister Kenny and Dean are two of more than 170 people, ranging in age from 19 to 89, who have served a total of over 75 years in prison for engaging in civil disobedience in a broad-based campaign to close the school, notes the SOAW Web site.

“I took this action as an act of conscience. As a Sister of Mercy, I believe I must answer to, and abide by, a higher law – that of God and my congregation,” Sister Kenny said in her trial statement. “… I believe the School of the Americas is the cause of much of the misery suffered by our sisters and brothers in Latin America. It is obvious that the training done at the SOA is intended to be used against civilians.”

For more information about this program and the prayer service that follows it, please contact the Center for Religion and Public Discourse at (773) 298-3981. The presentation is free and open to the public.