A Change of Habits

When Kate, Brigid, Rita, and Jane McDonald joined the Sisters of St. Joseph nearly 50 years ago, they knew that nuns worked hard, lived modestly, and wore long cloaks. The sit-ins, marches, and street protests didn't come till later.

This past year it was Rita's turn to stay behind, owing to a bout with bladder cancer. Three weeks after Rita's chemotherapy ended, she was back protesting at Alliant, and a few days after that she took part in a demonstration at the Federal Building against the bombing of Iraq and a sit-in at Sen. Paul Wellstone's Minneapolis office. The protesters accused Wellstone of betraying the peace movement by supporting the bombing of Iraq last December.

Earlier this month Jane and Kate McDonald confronted Wellstone again, when they and about 100 other protesters from Minnesota traveled to Washington for a weekend of rallies condemning the School of the Americas and the NATO bombings in Serbia and Iraq. On Monday, May 3, the protesters surrounded the Pentagon for an anti-School of the Americas "die-in," in which hundreds of them lay on the sidewalk wearing clear "death masks" while their bodies were outlined in red spray paint.

Afterward, about 45 members of the Minnesota contingent, including the two McDonald sisters, Marv Davidov, and Rita Steinhagen, met with Wellstone in his Washington office to discuss a bill he is co-sponsoring that would permanently shut down the School of the Americas. But according to the accounts of those present, the NATO attacks were on the protesters' minds, and Jane seized the opportunity to speak up. "I notice your picture on the wall here, shaking hands with President Clinton," she said. "When you go to these meetings about Kosovo, and you have an opportunity to talk to people in positions of abusing power, I hope you'll make reference to the blood on our hands."

She held up her own hands, which were stained a deep red from the spray paint. Wellstone told the protesters that the bombings weren't working as well as Congress had predicted, and added that he was calling for a brief pause in the air strikes in order to give peace talks another chance.

When the meeting was over, another protester, a minister from Rochester, suggested Wellstone pray with the group. Before leaving for his next appointment, a meeting about the future of the Kosovo air attack, the senator joined hands with Jane and with Rita Steinhagen, and all three bowed their heads and prayed together for peace.


As they do each Wednesday morning, protesters will picket from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. outside the headquarters of Alliant Techsystems, 600 Second St. NE in Hopkins.

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