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Sister of Providence released from prison

Those arrested for participating in the peaceful protest against the SOA and their supporters make a statement on the steps of a Georgia courthouse July 8, 2002. Sister Kathleen Desautels, center in pink shirt, was sentenced during this trial.

Sister of Providence Kathleen Desautels, who has served a six-month sentence at the Federal Prison Camp-Greenville (Ill.), was released Friday, March 7, amid cheers, hugs and outward expressions of hope from a group of her housemates and co-workers.

Sister Kathleen, 64, a native of Indianapolis, walked away from the prison camp’s administration building at 8:30 a.m. (CST) Friday. She was accompanied by Mary Dean of Chicago and Kate Fontanazza of Milwaukee, both serving the same sentence as Sister Kathleen. All three were found guilty on federal trespassing charges in connection with their November 2001 participation in a non-violent protest against the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

As Sister Kathleen, Mary and Kate walked away from the administration building, about 50 women who are imprisoned at the camp stepped around the corner of one of the prison’s buildings and waved and shouted to the three leaving the facility.

By 9 a.m. (CST), the welcoming group moved to the front gate at the prison grounds for a short prayer service in celebration of the moment and to offer a blessing of the prison grounds and for the women still serving time there.

While in prison, Sister Kathleen befriended many of the women who are incarcerated. “We were able to create a community in our alley. It was very hard to leave them behind,” Sister Kathleen said. “Leaving prison brings mixed blessings – gladness of heart to be going home while sad to leave our sisters behind. I won’t forget the friendships of my ‘alley mates,’ their good humor, care and concern for each other.”
Sister Kathleen also said she was very thankful for the outpouring of support from friends and family who sent hundreds of letters and cards to her and visited with her during her incarceration. “The list of memories and feelings of gratitude are so many,” she said.

Sister Ann Margaret O’Hara, general superior of the Sisters of Providence, continued her support for Sister Kathleen. “I pray in gratitude for Sister Kathleen’s courageous act of justice and for her supportive ministry of presence with so many other women imprisoned,” she said.

As a peacemaker, Sister Kathleen remains committed to her mission and to working to close the SOA/WHINSEC.

“If loving peace and doing civil resistance to bring attention to this Gospel call is a crime, I’m glad to be called guilty,” she said. “Being a prisoner of conscience or being a probationer of conscience is being part of a growing community of peacemakers willing to do a non-violent act of civil disobedience. I prefer to think of it as faithful obedience to the Gospel call for love, mercy and justice.”

Within a few minutes of leaving the prison facility, Sister Kathleen was wearing a “No War” button on her coat.

“Did my one act of civil resistance, my spending six months in prison, close the SOA? Obviously not. The peace movement, I believe, is about expanding the circle of those who believe in an alternative to war, to murder, to massacres, to disappearances. Violence only begets more violence. If the circle of believers is wider because many of us are prisoners of conscience, then that’s an accomplishment,” she said. “I’ve tried to accomplish for myself a faithfulness by choosing life. If such a choice means doing prison time, so be it.”

After breakfast in downtown Greenville, Sister Kathleen returned to Chicago where she reunited with members of the 8th Day Center for Justice staff, some members of the Congregation and friends.

Sister Kathleen has served for the past 16 years as a staff member for 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago. She served as a teacher at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Village School (1964); as a teacher at St. Joseph School in Jasper (1965-1968) and director of religious education for that parish (1973-1975); as a teacher at St. Peter School in Linton (1968-1969) and coordinator of religious education for that parish (1969-1970); and as director of religious education and pastoral associate at St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington (1970-1973). She also served as theology instructor, campus minister, acting vice president of student affairs and director of alumnae affairs at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (1975-1982 and 1983-1985). She also ministered as prison chaplain at the Indiana Youth Center in Indianapolis (1985-1986).

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Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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