Faithful to the call in her heart
Appleton nun arrested at annual protest of the School of the Americas
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
"By teaching violence, we are only creating a more violent
world," said Sr. Caryl Hartjes, CSA, referring to the School of the
Americas (SOA) located at Ft. Benning outside Columbus, Ga. "We
could teach democracy. We could teach human rights. We don't have
to teach more violence."
Sr. Hartjes, an Appleton native, was among the 6,500 people who
took part in the SOA protest on Nov. 17, 2002. The annual gathering
marked the Nov. 19, 1989, killings of six Jesuit priests in El
Salvador. Protesters claim that the school, which in 2001 changed
its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security
Cooperation, trained soldiers who have tortured and killed
thousands of civilians in their Latin America countries. Sr.
Hartjes had attended the protest in the past without incident.
"This year I felt that I had to do more," she said. "That's what
it's going to take to close the school. At the rally on Saturday, I
still wasn't sure I was going to cross. The other sisters told me
they would support me in whatever I decided. We prayed and sang a
blessing, and then I squeezed through the gate."
Sr. Hartjes was one of 96 people arrested for trespassing, a
federal offense which can carry a sentence of six months in prison
and a $5,000 fine. Those arrested walked around a 12-foot-high,
chain link fence put up between the protesters' usual protest site
and the fort property. Sr. Hartjes will stand trial in two weeks
along with Sr. Kathleen Long, OP, and college student, William
Slattery, also from the Green Bay Diocese.
Violent acts by soldiers trained at the School of the Americas
hit close to home, said Sr. Hartjes. In 1990, two members of her
order, the Sisters of St. Agnes, including a missionary from
Milwaukee, were killed while serving in Nicaragua. In a separate
incident, a native Nicaraguan sister was also killed.
"Three times it has hit us," said Sr. Hartjes, who works at
Hospice Home of Hope in Fond du Lac. "I have heard first hand other
Latin American stories about people being killed, raped or missing.
It has propelled our whole congregation to stand up to stop the
violence. Our congregation does not blame anyone. It doesn't help
to blame one side. We just want everyone to stop the violence."
The School of the Americas was moved to Ft. Benning from Panama
after the U.S. lost control of the Panama Canal. The violence began
at the SOA's original home, said Sr. Hartjes.
"There are stories that they would round up homeless people in
Panama and use them as target practice," she said. "Over the years,
I've met some beautiful people who happened to be homeless. To look
at any one person and say that their life is worthless shows that
the school lost control. Nicaragua is powerless without us. They
depend on the U.S. Stop teaching violence. We have to respond."
Sr. Hartjes is preparing for the worst and hoping for the best
at trial. So far, the treatment of those arrested has been harsher
than in past years. Unlike previous years, those arrested at the
2002 protest spent a night in jail. Previously, those who crossed
the line were arrested, arraigned and released in one day. The
trial date is also much earlier this year.
"I feel panic struck when thinking about it," said Sr. Hartjes.
"I was faithful to the call that I heard in my heart. I'm trying to
remain peaceful and am taking care of myself. If I have to go to
prison, I want to be in good shape physically."
The positive effects of her arrest include the opportunity to
increase awareness about the School of the Americas through
speaking appearances and the overwhelming support she has
"I just received a letter from a friend who is going to take the
day of the trial off of work," said Sr. Hartjes. "She is going to
spend the day in prayer and is going to play the flute. She is not
going to play any particular song. She is just going to play and
let the spirit move her. I have a sister who is going down to the
trial with me. A sister from Canada will then take her place, so
someone is always with me. I have been touched by the concern of so
"We will close the school," she continued. "It will happen. I
hope people write the politicians to voice their concerns. The
protest is a response to the cries. You have to respond. You have
to be true to their cries. You do it for them, the victims."