Megan Rice, nun who was imprisoned over nuclear weapons protest, dead at 91


Megan Rice, a nun and Catholic peace activist who spent two years in federal prison while in her 80s after breaking into a government security complex to protest nuclear weapons, has died. She was 91.

Rice died of congestive heart failure October 10 at Holy Child Center in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, according to her order, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. Sister Megan was a person who lived her life in love, action, and zeal,” stated Carroll Juliano the American Province Leader of the order. Her unwavering commitment to building a peaceful, just and prosperous world was selfless. “

Rice was born in New York to activist parents who would meet with well-known Catholic writer Dorothy Day during the Great Depression to craft solutions for societal problems, she said in a 2013 interview with the Catholic Agitator.

Her activism was heavily influenced also by her uncle who spent four month in Nagasaki (Japan) after Hiroshima and Hiroshima were destroyed by the atomic bombs. Rice later called the bombings “the greatest shame in human history”.

Sister Megan Rice, center, and Michael Walli, in the background waving, are greeted by supporters as they arrive for a federal court appearance in Knoxville, Tenn., Aug. 9, 2012.
Sister Megan Rice, center, and Michael Walli, in the background waving, are greeted by supporters as they arrive for a federal court appearance in Knoxville, Tenn., Aug. 9, 2012.

AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Michael Patrick


While still a teenager, she entered the Society of the Holy Child of Jesus to become a nun. She made her final vows in 1955 and took on the religious name Mother Frederick Mary. Rice earned her degrees at Villanova University and Boston University where she also earned a Master in Science.

She was a teacher in elementary schools throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts for over ten years before she was assigned to Nigeria.

Rice spent 23 years in West Africa working as a teacher and pastoral guide. Rice was there when she first heard about the plowshares movements, which refers to a Bible verse that says that all war will end. “They’ll turn their swords into ploughshares.” After returning to America, Rice became involved in anti-nuclear activism.

“I felt drawn to the peace movement,” she said in the Catholic Agitator interview. Direct action on nuclear matters inspired me greatly. “My uncle was such an influence, and he was still living at the time. “

Court records show she already had been convicted four times for protest activities when she and two fellow Catholic peace activists, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in July 2012. The trio went through many fences to reach a bunker that contained a lot of nation-bomb-grade uranium. They spent about two hours there, hanging banners, praying, and spray painting peace slogans.

Weapons Plant Incursion
In this Aug. 17, 2012, photo a sign warns against trespassing onto the Y-12 National Security Complex.

Erik Schelzig / AP


They were arrested and charged with felony sabotage. Federal prosecutors described Rice and her codefendants as “recidivists and habitual offenders” who would break the law again “as soon as they are physically capable of doing so,” according to court records

Rice’s attorneys sought leniency from U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar, arguing the nun’s devotion to Christian nonviolence posed little threat to the public. Rice sent a request to Amul Thapar asking for his leniency.

But the judge did not move and told the defendants that their moral convictions were “not an escape from jail card.” Rice received three years imprisonment, Walli was given more than five years and Oertje Obed was sent to prison for two years.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the sabotage charge and the three were freed in May 2015 after serving two years. Later, they were resentenced for the lesser offense of injuring property government property.

Rice testified during her jury trial that she broke into Oak Ridge’s uranium plant to prevent “manufacturing…can only cause deaths.” According to trial transcripts.

“It was necessary for me to do so,” she stated about her choice to violate the law. “My guilt is that I waited 70 years to be able to speak what I knew in my conscience. “

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