By Alice Ollstein
Two white-haired nuns stepped forward and embraced each other tightly. One has been living in a convent in a quiet Philadephia suburb. The other has spent the last two years in federal prison, charged with sabotage, trespassing, and destroying government property as part of a peaceful protest in Oak Ridge, Tennessee against the U.S.’ arsenal of nuclear weapons.
“Welcome out,” said Sister Margaret Doyle, beaming at the newly-freed 85-year-old activist Megan Rice.
Just days before, Rice was dozing in her cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, when she heard the BBC Radio report that the most serious charge against her and her two fellow activists was overturned, and a federal appeals court ordered their immediate release.
On Wednesday, dressed in a tunic and sweatpants that were a gift from a fellow inmate, carrying all her worldly possessions in a grocery bag, Rice returned to the convent where she trained as a novice nearly 50 years ago. There, the Sisters received her with awe and concern.
“I don’t know how she survived. I’d be an absolute basket case,” said Sister Pat Tyrell. “We were so worried. But she had the guts to do it, God love her. We’re not keen on people breaking the law and going to jail, but everything she stands for we stand for.”
“She’s a real prophet,” added Sister Florence Rice. “I’m a nuclear activist too, but I don’t go to marches or go to prison.”
Before dawn on July 28, 2012, Rice and Christian activists and army veterans Michael Walli and Gregory Boertje-Obed broke into the Y-12 nuclear complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee — the so-called ‘Fort Knox of Uranium’ that holds hundreds of thousands of pounds of radioactive fuel for the country’s aging nuclear weapons stockpile. Once inside, armed with only paint, candles, bolt cutters, hammers and a Bible, the three wrote passages from Scripture on the side of the uranium-storage facility and chipped at its concrete walls with their hammers. When security guards finally discovered them, they were loudly singing “This Little Light of Mine,” and proceeded to offer the baffled officers communion bread.