The Late Bloomer

This season finale follows the story of Sr Betty McKenzie, CSJ and her journey as a civil disobedience and peace activist.

Sr Betty:
I was active with the peace community and we had done civil disobedience. I have done civil disobedience in the Twin Cities several times, but I also did done in Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. I was convicted down there and sent to federal prison for six months in Pekin, Illinois in the women’s federal…you know in the least prison of prison minimum security, no walls around it no barricades of any. We could walk away at any time, but if you did walk from it and you got caught, it would be an automatic felony and add five years to your prison sentence.

Pa Ying:
Sr Betty McKenzie was born in Rochester, Minnesota. She entered the congregation Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1949, one year after she entered St. Catherine University.

In her early years as a sister, Sr Betty taught all subjects to 6-8th graders, but she never felt fulfilled with her work. It was not until she attended her first protest at Honeywell Corporation that she felt her true calling.

Sr Betty:
Well I had friends who were involved with it. I just never gotten real serious until this friend and I went together to a protest at Honeywell in Minneapolis. Honeywell at that time made real weapons of mass destruction, I mean, they made Cluster Bombs. Cluster Bombs were a big bomb and in it were several hundred little bomblets. When the bomb was released, those little bombies were scattered over quite a long distance, like maybe a football field and they exploded when they got to the ground. And there were shards inside, metal shards that were scattered from each one, they were awful things. Some of them didn’t explode so that a child going there later on could walk on one or pick one up and it would explode then. A child might be killed or a farmer might be killed or lose a leg or arms or eyes or whatever.

I went to a demonstration on a Good Friday in 1986 and it was a very moving experience for me. Honeywell said, get off the property or we’re calling the police to arrest you so a bunch of people decided to get arrested and I thought that is something I can do. My friend had driven me over there and she was not getting arrested, but because she had driven I had not bother to take my ID with me. Another friend of mine, another sister, who had since died, she was younger than I, but she has since died, she hid her ID. She knew, she had been arrested before and she knew that you had to have an ID to get released by the police. She hid her ID in her sock so that I wouldn’t be alone in the holding cell. As it turned out, there were five or six of us in the holding cell. Early afternoon, my ID came so we were released then. And then we went to trial, now I have forgotten how that trial turned out, there has been so many since then. But it got me into the peace movement and I just didn’t want to stop then. That was it, I liked doing it.

Pa Ying:
Over the years, Sr Betty has done several protests and have been arrested 18-20 times. While age has made it difficult for her to continue protesting, she is still active in the community. You can find her at Peace House in Minneapolis, talking and lending an ear to visitors who come to find a safe haven during the day. She has stated “Peace work is important, it is crucially important even… But I think there's something more important. And of course, you couldn't have peace without it… and that is loving people which is to me, the most important thing in my life right now. That is, loving everyone and everything. It's not always that easy but it is extremely important and by that I mean looking for the good in people and celebrating it and encouraging it. You can always find something good in people. Always.”

“One has the moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” - Martin Luther King Jr.

For more information:

Sr Betty McKenzie:

School of the Americas:

Peace House:

Honeywell Project:

About Curve Riders

Curve Riders is a short narrative podcast of women who didn't make the history books. Produced by Pa Ying Vang; the series presents achievements and cultural impacts of women religious. Inspired by SisterStory's coverage "Sisters of Influence" on pinterest the podcast aims to present these stories anew with an emphasis on storytelling through writing, sound design, and music. The podcast was created by Alexa Harnagel who produced it in 2015 with subsequent production also handled by EJ La Valle and Maakwe Cumanzala.