Nun-activist who protests ‘immoral’ U.S. nuclear weapons focus of film via Crux

SOUTH BEND, Indiana – From her petite frame, knit sweater and snow-white hair, it would be difficult to guess that 88-year-old Sister Megan Rice, a member of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, recently spent two years behind bars for a felony.

Even more difficult to comprehend: This octogenarian was invited to a congressional hearing, spoke at the United Nations in New York City and is now touring the country as the star of a new documentary.


“It’s illegal to deal in weapons of mass destruction – immoral and illegal,” declared Rice.

“We’re not being taken to the international court of justice and indicted the way Iran or some other place would,” she said.

It was Rice’s shockingly bold campaign against nuclear weapons that launched her into the spotlight over five years ago and caused her to become the issue’s ad hoc spokeswoman.

In July 2012, the octogenarian breached security to stage a protest at the self-styled “Fort Knox of uranium,” the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The facility creates and houses materials for making nuclear weapons.

Rice, then 82, and two middle-age companions cut through fences and reached the warehouse that stores bomb-making uranium. There, they splashed blood on the wall, hung banners and spray-painted messages condemning nuclear weapons.

The action sparked national shock and outrage, led to a congressional investigation of the security at Y-12 and sent Rice and her companions to prison.

It also caught the attention of filmmaker and Emmy-winning producer Helen Young. Young was already working on a documentary about this country’s nuclear arsenal.


The story of Rice and her companions struck a chord with Young. The filmmaker was already following a similar break-in and protest staged in 2009 in Tacoma, Washington, by a group that included Sacred Heart Sister Anne Montgomery and Jesuit Fathers Stephen Kelly and Father Bill Bichsel.

Titling the documentary “The Nuns, The Priests and The Bombs,” Young followed the aftermath of the protest by Rice, her prison sentence and the story of the Tacoma group. Young also interviewed policy, law and scientific experts for insight on the current state of U.S. nuclear weapons.

“I think a lot of people don’t even know we have (nuclear weapons), how powerful they are today,” Young explained.


A longtime advocate for nuclear disarmament, Cortright is a professor at the Keough School of Global Affairs and the director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, both at the University of Notre Dame.

“We need a little bit of little creative protest and dissension against the system which is unacceptable, immoral and threatens to destroy all life on this planet,” he told CNS ahead of the Notre Dame screening.

Rice, Cortright and Powers all maintain that disarmament, while challenging, is possible.

“The Church has a much more hopeful view of what is possible in international affairs,” said Powers.

“They know it’s a long-term goal, they know it’s utopian, but ending the Cold War without a third world war seemed utopian – until it happened,” he said.

In addition to the University of Notre Dame, Young’s documentary has been screened at the United Nations in New York City as well as the Carnegie Institution and George Washington University, both in Washington.

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