Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Celebrating the “Sisters of Peace”

I'm happy and honored to count Rita, Kate, Brigid, and Jane McDonald as both friends and inspirations. Their story as told in the play Sisters of Peace, premiered on Saturday, March 23, at the History Theatre in St. Paul, MN. It was a wonderful evening, to be sure!

The show runs until April 14, and is definitely worth seeing. For ticket information, click here.

Following is the official synopsis of Sister of Peace.

Today, yesterday and beyond. Wednesday nights on the Lake Street Bridge, you can always find a handful of people marching with colorful signs and protesting for peace. Among them, you’d find the McDonald sisters Brigid, Jane, Rita and Kate: legendary peace activists, who grew up as sisters in a large Irish farm family in Hollywood Township, Minnesota. The four sisters all entered the convent and became Catholic nuns who devoted their lives to teaching and peace activism. That’s only part of the story. Their incredible lives come to life in this stirring play that take us on a journey from the security gates of Honeywell Corporation, to the School of the Americas and back to the steps of the Cathedral of St. Paul. Wherever there is injustice, the chances of bumping into the McDonald sisters are high.

This is their story! A story of love, passion and compassion – all with a sense of humor that comes from their wonderful Irish upbringing! These Sisters of Peace are Minnesota legends, for sure!

Sisters of Peace stars Wendy Lehr as Rita; Katherine Ferrand as Kate; Peggy O'Connell as Brigid; Sue Scott as Jane; Annick Dall as Young Rita/Kate/Brigid/Jane; Terry Hempleman as Pop, KJ, Pope John XXIII, and Marv Davidov; Melinda Kordich as Mom and Dorothy Day; and Ben Shaw as Young KJ and Jim.

Above: The McDonald sisters with the cast of Sisters for Peace, playwright Doris Baizley, and director Barbra Berlovitz.

Above and below: After the premiere a reception was held in the foyer of the theatre. Sisters of Peace is part of the St. Paul History Theatre's “HERstory” series, one that focuses on “real women, real stories, real equity.”

Above: Notes playwright Doris Baizley (pictured far left):

To prepare the program for Sisters of Peace, [History Theatre Artistic Director] Ron Peluso asked me to give the play's Time and Place, but there is no one time or place that can define the McDonald sisters' lives and work. Through nearly a century of wars and acts of inhumanity, the McDonald sisters have been standing with the opposition in the struggle for peace and justice. If this sounds like Superman, good. They are my models for a life of service and action that doesn't stop with age or unbeatable odds, or give in to bitterness or cynicism. May we all become McDonald sisters.

Above: Says director Barbra Berlovitz (center):

It has been an honor and a pleasure to work on this project,the story of four exceptional women doing the work they love with dedication, compassion, gentleness, intelligence and forgiveness. They have been tireless in their work. For decades they have devoted their lives to making the world a better place for everyone. What a gift to the community these women have made and continue to make.

Above and right: No event with the McDonald sisters would be complete without a song or two! (From left: Rita, Kate, Brigid, and Jane.)

Standing behind the McDonald sisters is Ron Peluso, Artistic Director of the History Theatre. Says Ron:

The McDonald sisters are dedicated to 'helping people up' and making the world a better place: a place of peace, kindness and love. Behind the habit, or lack there of, the McDonald sisters continue to this day to speak for those who don't have a voice, stand up for peace, and speak truth to power. They are truly saintly – angels – funny, compassionate, and fiercely courageous. Amen, sisters!


I have Brigid McDonald to thank for getting me involved in the Twin Cities justice and peace community. Our mutual interest in Celtic spirituality brought us together; we both attended a class on the topic at St. Catherine's University in the summer of 1996. She invited me to join the weekly vigil outside of the corporate headquarters of Alliant Techsystems, which at that time was Minnesota's largest military munitions contractor.

Left: With Brigid (right) and our mutual friend Sue Ann at my 50th birthday celebration in October 2015.

As I note on my Faces of Resistance website, it was my participation in this weekly vigil and the community that faithfully gathered for it every Wednesday morning come rain or shine, that introduced me to the crucial role that militarism plays in US foreign policy. It also made me aware of many other justice and peace issues, their underlying causes, and various creative and nonviolent responses and alternatives to them. This awareness compelled me to get involved in a range of social justice issues and to creatively document via photography, the people I encountered and the events I witnessed, participated in, and, in some cases, helped facilitate.

Such activity was very energizing and ensured the building of lasting friendships with many interesting and inspiring individuals, including, of course, the McDonald sisters.

Above: Standing at left with Brigid McDonald outside the Hopkins, Minnesota corporate headquarters of Alliant Techsystems, where with other citizen-activists from 1996 to 2011 we would vigil each and every Wednesday morning for peace and an end to war profiteering.

Spun off from the Honeywell corporation in 1991, Alliant Techsystems was at one point the 23rd largest supplier to the Department of Defense of component parts for weapons ranging from cluster bombs to guidance systems for Cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles. It also had international sales offices in 33 countries – including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Malaysia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India, Pakistan, Greece and Turkey. At one time, the corporation was the largest manufacturer of antipersonnel landmines in the United States.

Left: Jane McDonald at the Alliant Tech vigil, July 1997. "The drum beat is a symbol of the heartbeat of the earth and the pulse of the people," said Jane when I took this picture for my Faces of Resistance exhibit. "It calls us to conscience; calls us to honor the earth, its resources, and its people. Working to stop military madness is part of this honoring."

Right: I think it's fair to say that a key missing character in Sisters of Peace is Marguerite Corcoran, CSJ, who lived with Rita and Kate McDonald for many years in south Minneapolis and who joined with the McDonald sisters in all their justice and peace activities. I took this particular photo of Marguerite in July 2002 at the weekly Alliant Techsystems vigil. On my Faces of Resistance website I note the following from that time.

For the last twenty years Marguerite [along with Rita and Kate McDonald] has worked with women and children at Incarnation House – a Minneapolis-based establishment which she describes as “a place for women getting out of chemical dependency and needing a supportive system for a short time until they're able to be independent.”

Commenting on her sign, “People Before Profits,” Marguerite notes that it has been disturbing to watch funds gradually being cut from services provided by places like Incarnation House. “Back in the 1980s it was possible to get women what they needed so as to get back on their feet and be able to care for their children. But at this point it's really difficult. When you see where the money is going – to military contractors like Alliant – and where the profits are, it's very disturbing.”

Nevertheless, Marguerite finds inspiration from "the wonderful community" that gathers to vigil at Alliant and from this community's shared belief that “it is small groups that are going to make change in the world.”

Marguerite now resides at Carondelet Village in St. Paul, which is where Rita and Kate also live.

Above: Kate, Rita and Brigid with Marv Davidov, Barb Mishler and Betty McKenzie, CSJ.

Marv (1931-2012) was a longtime justice and peace organizer and activist in the Twin Cities. A Freedom Rider in the early 1960s, Marv later founded the Honeywell Project in 1968 and the Midwest Institute for Social Transformation (MIST) in the 1980s.

Above: Kate with Marv in 1999.

Right: For many years Kate joined with other justice and peace advocates every Wednesday afternoon on the Lake Street Bridge, which spans the Mississippi River and connects Minneapolis and St. Paul, for a silent vigil to protest the sanctions on Iraq. Said Kate at the time I took this picture: "While vigiling I say to myself: If our message could eventually stop the sanctions and save even one child's life, my sitting on this hard bridge railing for an hour is well worth it!"

Above: In the summer of 2005 my parents visited me in the U.S. (before the three of us traveled to Europe for two weeks). In this photo Mum and Dad are pictured with Rita and Marguerite.

Above: On May 16, 2006 I made my commitment to being a consociate member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ). My companions during my two-year consociate candidancy were Rita and Marguerite.

Above: That's Brigid and Jane beating their drums at the Vigil for Solidarity with LGBT Catholics, an event that saw over three hundred people gather at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota on December 2, 2007.

We gathered to express our disagreement with then-Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt’s declaration that people who encourage and support their LGBT family members and friends are “cooperating in a grave evil.”

All four McDonald sisters are strong allies of the LGBTQ community, and for many years Brigid served with me on the board of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM).

In the summer of 2008 my older brother Chris and his family visited the Twin Cities. Pictured above are my nephews Mitchell, Liam, and Brendan with Marguerite and Rita.

Above: With Brigid and my nephew Brendan – August 1, 2008. Brigid arranged for a lovely pool party at the home of our mutual friend Molly Culligan.

Above: Brigid with my nephews Brendan and Liam.

Above: Over the years I've hosted many parties at which the McDonald sisters have been lively participants! These gatherings have ranged from birthday parties to tea parties!

In this photo are (from left) Rita, Daniel, Mike, Mary Lynn, Kate, Kathleen, and Marguerite. If I remember correctly, the event was my 43rd birthday party in 2008.

Above: With Jane – September 2009.

Above: Kate (center) with friends Darlene, Noelle, Eileen, Jim and Phil – December 2011. The event was a Christmas party I hosted, complete with an “Aussie Quiz”!

Above: The McDonald sisters – October 2012.

Above: With Rita at the May 3, 2013 Carondelet Gala at the Minneapolis Hilton. This annual event helps raise money for the St. Mary's Health Clinics. These clinics are an ecumenical ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and are located throughout the Twin Cities metro area. They offer primary care, referrals to specialists, laboratory, radiology, in-patient, and prescription medications – all free to patients who otherwise would have no access to medical care.

Above: At the 2014 Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Ministries Foundation Gala. Pictured with me from left: Rita, Kate, Brigid, and our mutual friend Kathleen.

Above: On the afternoon of Friday, January 30, 2015 I hosted a tea party for a number of the wise and inspiring women in my life. Pictured from left: Brigid McDonald, CSJ; Marguerite Corcoran, CSJ; Rita McDonald, CSJ; Theresa O'Brien, CSJ; Paula Ruddy; Rita Quigley; Florence Steichen, CSJ; and Kate McDonald, CSJ.

Above: With Rita – Sunday, December 27, 2015.

Above: Brigid's annual St. Patrick's Day party – March 17, 2016. Pictured from left: Darlene, Kathleen, Brigid, Tom, and Kate.


Following are some more images from the premiere of Sisters of Peace on Saturday, March 23, 2019.

Above: With Kate, Rita, and Brigid.

Above: With Jane and our mutual friend Mike.

Above: With Kate and our mutual friend Jean.

Above: With Kate and Rita.

Above: Brigid with Peggy O'Connell, the actress who portrays her in Sisters of Peace.

Related Off-site Links:
Minnesota Sisters Who Became Sisters Made a Habit of Fighting for Peace and Justice – Kathy Berdan (Pioneer Press, March 21, 2019).
Minnesota's Iconic Anti-war “Worker Nuns” Celebrated in New History Theatre Play – Rohan Preston (Star Tribune, March 18, 2019).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Inspiring Brigid McDonald
Beginning the Process
Making My Consociate Commitment
The Vatican and U.S. Women Religious
Three Winter Gatherings
In Wintry Minnesota, An Australian Afternoon Tea
Award-winning “Hellraisers” at It Again
Alliant Action
It Sure Was Cold!
Walking Against Weapons
Saying Farewell to CPCSM

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

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