A Doer Of The Word


One of the legends in the U.S.A peace movement, Sister Anne Montgomery was a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart for more than 60 years. She spent over three years in prison for many civil disobedience actions against war. She dedicated many years teaching in Harlem, and several years living with the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron, Palestine-Israel. She was a tiny person, well under five feet, but she didn’t fear to go to prison and offer her life for the cause of peace. Her friend Fran Tobin wrote of her: “Contemplative and a lover of the poor, Anne stood simply and strongly against that which harmed people and the earth, regardless of the cost to herself.” She died at 85, after a protracted fight against cancer.




Sometime in 1980, a group of eight peace activists entered the General Electric Plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, USA, in order to demonstrate against the nuclear arms. They called themselves “The Plowshares Eight.” Two of them were the famous brothers and religious priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan. Sr. Anne was with them, one of the only two women members of that peaceful commando. This is how she describes the action: “It turned out that it was easy to get inside. I helped distract the guard, then we went inside, and there they were – the nuclear nosecones. We were able to hammer on a nuclear nosecone to symbolize the need for nuclear disarmament.
We used the Isaiah quote as the basis for our witness: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and study war no more”(Isaiah 2:4). We said people should start dismantling these weapons. It was a symbolic action, but it was also real because we made those nosecones unusable. The police arrested us and I spent eleven weeks in jail.”
In the 1970s, she had been working with students in Albany and Harlem. Her awareness about peace action came from people who were poor and knew the government wasn’t there for them. Eighteen year olds had just got the right to vote but didn’t use it because they felt it was useless. Then she heard Daniel Berrigan, S.J. speak on the need to witness to the Gospel. It helped her to understand the issue of nuclear weapons from a spiritual perspective, that nuclear weapons were evil, and were the greatest reality and symbol of what was wrong. The combination of her work with the poor and meeting Dan Berrigan challenged her to join the demonstrations and get involved.
In July 1982, the group went to the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Connecticut. Four of them, including Sr. Anne, got into a canoe and boarded the Trident “U.S.S. Florida,” and hammered on several missile hatches. Then they went to the storage yard and hammered on two Trident sonar spheres. They waited there three hours before they were arrested. She spent the most time in prison, nearly two years, for the Pershing Plowshares action, for trespassing at the Martin Marietta plant in Orlando, Florida. There, the protesters hammered and poured blood on Pershing II missile components and on a Patriot missile launcher and displayed a banner which read: “Violence Ends Where Love Begins.”
Sr. Anne reminisces: “Certainly the Plowshares Eight actions stand out because they set in motion a whole movement, but they also stand out because of the sense of vulnerability I felt in the face of our nation’s addiction to power and greed, in the face of such blasphemous power. On Labor Day, 1989, we swam in freezing water for an hour and a half in the Thames River, in Connecticut, to reach the Trident nuclear sub which was being readied for sea trials. Three boarded it from a canoe; those of us who were swimming got caught in the tide. Some reached the side and hammered on it.
I’ll never forget the vulnerability of our action in the face of the most powerful and deadly weapon on earth. If we want to change hearts and minds, we have to come from that position of vulnerability and trust in God.” Sr. Anne was 63 when she participated in that action. She adds:“In all these actions, the Holy Spirit is with us in a very real way. People are able to enter places, and witness to the evil that’s there in a way that’s unexpected. Doors open, people look the other way, and you’re able to get where you want to go. Sr. Anne would go on to do six Plowshares actions, the last of which took place in 2009 when she was 83.

A Journey of Faith
Sr. Anne Montgomery was born on November 30, 1926, in San Diego, California, USA, to Rear Admiral Alfred E. and Alice Smith Montgomery. The family moved several times during Anne’s childhood before settling in Pennsylvania. She joined the Society of the Sacred Heart in Albany, New York state, in 1948, at 22, professing final vows in 1956. She graduated with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Manhattanville College, and later earned a second master’s degree from Columbia University in New York. She taught at several Sacred Heart–run schools, including those in New York City and Albany, where she experienced the challenges faced by the poor and minority people.
In 1975, Sr. Anne completed training to work with children with learning disabilities and returned to New York to work with school dropouts in East Harlem. The work led her to the Catholic Worker in New York and to the collaboration with the more famous lay woman/peace activist Dorothy Day. By 1980, she moved into full–time ministry as a peace advocate, becoming known among faith–based activists on both the East and West coasts. Sr. Anne was truly a contemplative at heart.
As more people were trying to understand plowshares actions and the role of nonviolent resistance to bring about true disarmament, Fr. John Dear, S.J. approached Sr. Anne about collaborating on a book about the Plowshares actions and nonviolent resistance. She agreed and, together, they co–edited Sword Into Plowshares, (Harper and Row, 1987). Keenly aware that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood but the principalities and powers of this world,” (Ephesians 6:12), Sr. Anne provided compelling insights into how nonviolent resistance actions are really experiments in truth that should be seen as acts of “divine obedience,” rather than civil disobedience. She wrote: “Civil disobedience is traditionally the breaking of a civil law to obey a higher law, sometimes with the hope of changing the unjust civil law… But we should speak of such actions as “divine obedience,” rather than civil disobedience. The term “disobedience” is not appropriate because any law that does not protect and enhance life is no real law. In particular, both divine and international laws tell us that weapons of mass destruction are a crime against humanity and it is the duty of the ordinary citizen to actively oppose them.”

Ministry of presence at Hebron
Sr. Anne’s commitment to standing with and for the victims led her to many war-torn areas. In January 1991, she was part of the Gulf Peace Team Camp on the Iraq/Saudi border calling upon the U.S. not to bomb Iraq. Sr. Anne would return to that country many more times. She was among those activists who held a month–long liquids–only fast in 2000 aimed at ending U.S. support for U.N. sanctions against Iraq. According to UNICEF and other human rights groups, the sanctions were responsible for the deaths of a million Iraqis, including 500,000 children.
Sr. Anne later became a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), serving in Iraq, the Balkans, the West Bank, and Hebron, where she stayed for seven years. Explaining her witness in the West Bank, Sr. Anne said in an interview: “We say we’re on the side of the people who have the biggest guns pointed at them. In this case, we think the Israeli occupation is wrong. It’s wrong to take people’s land, to destroy their homes, which is what the Israeli military does. As long as this unjust occupation continues, there can’t be peace.” In Israel, her ministry was one of “accompaniment and presence,” walking with Palestinian children, harassed and bullied by the largely American illegal “settlers.”
Sr. Anne’s work is the fruit of years of reflecting on the meaning of religious life and her responsibility to the social teachings of the Catholic Church. She wrote: “Who’s going to do this if we don’t? If anyone should take a risk, it should be the religious. That’s what many religious orders were set up to do, but we’ve lost that spirit through the ages.” And on a more personal note: “I couldn’t do this work without faith in God. What give me hope are the ordinary people who get involved, who take one step out of their comfort zone and join the work for peace. We’re all learning that when we powerless people come together, we have power. I also have hope in knowing that God’s power and God’s nonviolence are stronger than violence and war. Love is stronger than evil, hate, fear or war.”

The last battle
Sr. Anne’s final Plowshares action took place in 2009, when she was 83. For it, she served a two–month jail term and four months of house arrest in 2010. Her extraordinary community of the Sacred Heart actually commissioned her at the time of her sentencing: “We send you, Anne, on behalf of the Society of the Sacred Heart, to continue your prophetic, educational mission with courage and grace, whether within the walls of prison or without, making known the love of Jesus for our world and all people.” This is the pure flowering of a Vatican II religious community.
Following the 2010 Disarm Now Plowshares trial conviction, Sr. Anne lived with her community in Redwood City, California. It was there that she discovered that she had cancer. From there, in March 2012, in a letter to friends, describing her cancer, she wrote: “I have been on chemotherapy for cancer, and it seemed to be helping but, last weekend, I had breathing problems and tests showed a lung full of fluid and that continuing any chemo, etc. would not help. I have been blessed by so much support, personal and medical, that I know I must share that in some way with all those across our world who lack so much and are near desperation, especially for their children.
I also know that the Spirit prays at the heart of the universe and that creation is on an ongoing journey of death and resurrection, however mysterious that process is. Because it is energized by Love, we can enter into it rather than count on our own weak efforts and vulnerabilities and worry about failures. When I made my final vows, our group was named: “Joy in the Faith.” I am coming to believe that that must somehow be possible since it is promised in the Beatitudes and that those who have nothing show us the way.
I am constantly filled with gratitude to you all who have done the nitty-gritty work of peace and nonviolent action and invited me to join you. I hope to be able to do so in a new way. As Phil Berrigan said in his last letter, work must come from our own vulnerability. Much love, Anne.” Sr. Anne accepted on behalf of Christian Peacemaker Teams the 40th annual Peace Award of the War Resisters League. The War Resisters League advocates nonviolence as the method for creating a democratic society free of war, racism, sexism and human exploitation. The League was founded in 1923. Previous award recipients have included Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan, SJ.
A week before she died, she was also given the 2012 Courage of Conscience Award from the Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusetts. On August 27 2012, God called Sr. Anne Montgomery home to her eternal reward. All who knew her lost a very special friend. The Church lost one of Jesus’ most steadfast disciples and prophets. And the world lost an extraordinary peacemaker.

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