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Hennessey, Gwen, Sister, 1932-2008



  • Existence: 1932 - 2008


Gwen Hennessey, the thirteenth child of Anna Killias Hennessey and Maurice Hennessey, was born on a farm in Buchanan County, Iowa on September 29, 1932. The Hennessey children, in order of birth, were: Dorothy, Monica, Tom, Miriam, Geraldine ("Jerry"), Jack, Catherine, James (who died at ten days old), Maurice, Jr., Dave, Ron, Marilyn, Gwen, Larry and Mary June. At the time of Gwen Hennessey's birth, her oldest sister Dorothy was already a Franciscan nun. Hennessey's sister Miriam would also take her vows and leave home before Gwen started school, and brother Ron would later become a priest.

Hennessey started attending a one room rural school at the age of four. She began high school at age twelve, graduating from St. Patrick's in Ryan, Iowa, at age sixteen. Hennessey remained at home the following year to help her mother. It was during this year that Hennessey's calling to become a Sister became more pronounced. Hennessey earned a degree in English literature and education at Briar Cliff College in Sioux City, Iowa. She took her final vows on August 10, 1956. Following her final vows, Hennessey was assigned to teach. Her teaching career would include positions in both Iowa and Illinois. In Chicago, Hennessey became involved with Clergy and Laity Concerned (CALC) where she became active in the nuclear disarmament movement. She also attended Jesuit School of Theology in Chicago (JSTC) where she studied liberation theology. Following Chicago, Hennessey helped start the Catholic Peace Ministry in Des Moines, Iowa. She then earned an M.A. at MST Mary Knoll School of Theology in New York. Hennessey's career included co-director of the Maura Clarke/Ita Ford Center in Brooklyn, New York, and a ministry with the Appalachian Office of Justice and Peace in southwest Virginia. Eventually Hennessey returned to Dubuque, Iowa where she and her older sister Dorothy served at Mount St. Francis.

Hennessey began attending protests at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as the School of the Americas) at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1997. In 2000, Hennessey and her sister Dorothy were among 15,000 protesters, 3,600 of whom crossed onto the base at Fort Benning, Georgia. Charged with trespassing, a third degree misdemeanor, the sixty-eight year old Gwen and the eighty-eight year old Dorothy were sentenced to six months at the Federal Prison Camp [FPC] in Pekin, Illinois. After a month and a half at FPC Dorothy Hennessey, due to health reasons, was transported to the Elm Street Correctional Facility in Dubuque, Iowa. She also spent part of her time recuperating at the Franciscan infirmary at Holy Family Hall. Midway through the sentence, she was assigned to do community service at an AIDS house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Gwen Hennessey served her entire six months at the Federal Prison Camp. In 2002, the Hennessey sisters became the 33 rd and 34 th recipients of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award, presented by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport, and only the third and fourth Iowans to receive it. Dorothy Hennessey passed away in January 2008.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Sister Gwen Hennessey papers

Identifier: IWA0491

Franciscan nun sentanced to six months in federal prison for trespassing at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Dates: 2000-2005