Elegy for a peacemaker: Sister Jacqueline Hudson

jackie_hudsonBy Sister Lucianne Siers, OP

Jacqueline Hudson, OP (1934–2011) passed away on Aug. 3, 2011. Jackie was a prisoner of conscience and was incarcerated for her actions a number of times throughout her life. During her last imprisonment, her health deteriorated and she was released from prison in Ocilla, Georgia several weeks before she died.

This is a personal reflection of a life well lived, filled with courage, passion and patience. Jackie lived so clearly out of her own conscience that there were times when her courageous actions defy logic. Both of us grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, belonged to the same parish, attended the same school, and grew up in the same neighborhood existing in different generations. We both became Dominicans of Grand Rapids and through our years together in religious life, we were grounded in the spirituality and history of Dominican life.

Jackie became steeped in the paradox of the Gospel story, in the example of our founder, St. Dominic, and the long tradition of women religious living the evangelical counsels. Our sister, St. Catherine of Siena provided a backdrop of living a passionate life of love and justice, speaking courageously to religious and political leaders. In addition, the non-violent peace movements led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Dan and Phil Berrigan awakened us to the critical needs of peace and justice in our world.

In her early years, Jackie was a music teacher, teaching piano, choral and instrumental music in both elementary and high schools. Throughout her years, she sang in a musical group of Dominican Sisters known as the Mellow D’s. Her finely trained ear led her to listen carefully to the politics of war, and she began to address the discord of violence and war within our country.

As members of our congregation studied and prayed over the problems that were emerging in our schools, it became apparent that violence in the streets of our cities was escalating. Drugs became increasingly available and our cities were becoming dangerous to the life and well-being of the students. Searching for reasons for this increase in violence, our sisters became aware of systemic corruption. Several sisters began to explore civil resistance as a way to call attention to the ways in which our country chose to solve problems by acts of violence on a large scale such as the ultimate and dangerous use of nuclear weapons.

In 1990, after much discussion, prayer and study, our congregation developed a policy that cleared a path in which a member was free to pursue a way to live out her desire to address the violence in our world through non-violent civil resistance. A member, in dialogue with congregational leadership about the overall discernment and not the specific action, could decide that acting in civil resistance was an act of conscience in her case. The member would act as an individual and not in the name of the congregation. The congregation would support the member for her personal needs, but would not assume any costs associated with the act of civil resistance, e.g. legal matters such as bail and lawyer fees.

The clarity of this policy provided our congregation with the freedom to care for and support those who are spent time in prison. We became aware and sensitized to the violence within the legal and prison institutions because of our brave and committed women. We have been able to provide pastoral, psychological and spiritual support beyond our imaginations. Our bonds of community and the ways of living the common life have held fast, even behind bars.

With great fidelity, Jackie maintained her membership as a vowed religious in our congregation. Along with her justice community, she kept us aware of the destructive nature of the use of nuclear weapons. We continue to be challenged to pay attention and to speak and act against violence particularly regarding the use of nuclear weapons.

In 1993, Jackie moved to Bremerton, Washington where she joined a peace community involved in social justice issues. She became certified as a commercial driver and drove a bus in the city system in order to support her contribution to the congregation’s common good. She once said, “I liken myself to St. Paul, who was a tent maker to pay his expenses and still gave himself time for ministry.”

With her friends Sisters Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert, also Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters, and a faithful justice community, she participated in demonstrations and ultimately in acts of civil resistance for the cause of nuclear disarmament.

Jackie pursued the root causes of violence that are hidden deep in the politics of the arms race and the buildup of our country’s nuclear weapons. Along with her justice community, she studied over many years the destructive invisible and hidden attitudes, behaviors and actions that led our country to systemic violence. These forces lead our country to violence beyond our comprehension since they are capable of destroying the entire human race. Jackie ultimately believed that the pursuit of military dominance through nuclear weapons was illegal under international law and U.S. treaties.

For Jackie, the process of justice making was a complex activity of naming the powers, unmasking the powers and engaging the powers. This requires bringing a critical perspective to the political, economic and cultural institutions. One must have the courage to break the silence and confront the structures of abuse. Jackie did this in countless ways, by letter writing and by crossing the lines in challenging the laws that protect the secrets of destruction.

Jackie acted in civil resistance and willingly faced the consequence of violating the law, which took her to prison where she lived patiently over long periods of time. In the abusive atmosphere of the prison culture, with its diminishment, hatred and violent treatment of persons, Jackie spoke out on behalf of justice and compassion. Her witness and courage were sources of strength and inspiration to all who knew her.

Jackie has not left us with volumes of notes or letters to solve the systemic violence embedded in the build-up of nuclear weapons. She simply confronted the systemic violence and bore the consequences of her choices. She followed Jesus and lived her life according to her conscience. She chose to walk a difficult journey true to her convictions as did Jesus—faithful to the end.

Jackie leaves us a beautiful song for justice. It is one that is filled with harmony and balance, with movements of passion and conviction. It is a complex work of carrying out a clear melody in a complicated world filled with ambiguous entanglements. Her voice is clear and her life is well lived. She leaves us with a legacy of melody we can remember and play in our hearts, of a courageous, heart-filled love longing for justice.

Rest in peace dear Jackie, dear beloved Sister!

Lucianne Siers, OP, is Dominican Co-Promoter of Justice for North America and executive director of the Partnership for Global Justicein New York City.