Dorothy Day’s granddaughter, a Weathersfield resident, off to prison for nuclear break-in

  • Vermonter Martha Hennessy and supporters prepare for sentencing in the former bedroom of her grandmother, Dorothy Day, at the Catholic Worker Maryhouse in New York City. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Dorothy Day faces armed sheriffs while sitting on a California picket line in 1973. (Stanford University Libraries - Bob Fitch)

  • "The garden has never looked so good with me being on house arrest," said Catholic peace activist Martha Hennessy, 62, as she worked in the vegetable gardens outside her Weathersfield, Vt., home Tuesday, July 3, 2018. While awaiting trial on federal charges for entering the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia last April to protest the nuclear missile carrying submarines housed there, Hennessy is restricted to her home and the surrounding gardens, except for a scheduled daily walk to the mailbox, two masses at St. Mary's in Springfield each week, and occasional trips to New York City where she volunteers at Maryhouse Catholic Worker. She faces the possibility of serving more than 20 years in jail. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Martha Hennessy is the granddaughter of social activist and founder of the 'Catholic Worker' newspaper Dorothy Day. While working in her office in her Weathersfield, Vt., home, Tuesday, July 3, 2018, Hennessy is reflected in a portrait of her grandmother taken by photographer Richard Avedon. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Published: 11/26/2020 7:11:49 PM
Modified: 11/26/2020 7:11:43 PM

A Vermont granddaughter of the late, legendary Catholic activist Dorothy Day has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for breaking into a Georgia naval base to protest its stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Martha Hennessy, 65, of Weathersfield, and six other pacifists known as the “Kings Bay Plowshares 7” have been convicted of cutting through a padlock and security fence, spilling blood and spray-painting anti-war slogans at the Brunswick submarine base in 2018, resulting in $33,500 in damage.

“We can’t allow those kinds of things to happen without recourse,” U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Wood, sitting in Brunswick, Ga., said upon ordering Hennessy to report to prison in December, according to the Catholic News Service.

In a sentencing statement, Hennessy — one of Day’s nine grandchildren — likened her actions to the New Testament story of Jesus overturning the money-changing tables at the entrance to the Jerusalem Temple.

“I have no criminal intent; I want to help prevent another nuclear holocaust,” Hennessy said in her statement. “The final questions that dying children everywhere — not only here in Brunswick, but all across the planet — will be asking their parents is, ‘Why didn’t somebody stop this, while we still had a chance to stop it?’

“Some people did try to stop this,” Hennessy concluded. “But we prosecuted them. And we locked them away.”

Hennessy is following in the footsteps of her grandmother, who earned the Vatican title “Servant of God” — the first step toward canonization as a saint — as founder of the Catholic Worker Movement that helps “the homeless, exiled, hungry and forsaken” while fighting “injustice, war, racism and violence of all forms.”

Pope Francis cited Day as one of four “great Americans” (along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Merton) in his unprecedented 2015 address to Congress.

“Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed,” the pontiff said of Day, “were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”

Another of Day’s granddaughters, fellow Vermont native Kate Hennessy, recently authored the biography Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty, “an intimate portrait” of the woman she called “Granny.”

“We all need to live our lives as if we are Dorothy’s children and grandchildren,” she wrote in the book, “being comforted and discomforted by her as she invites us to be so much more than how we ordinarily see ourselves and, perhaps more important, how we see each other.”

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