Two Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods were sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Columbus, Ga., after pleading not guilty to federal trespassing charges.
Sister Rita Clare Gerardot, 76, was sentenced to 12 months probation and 500 hours of community service, part of which will be continuing her prison ministry with federal Death Row inmate David Paul Hammer.
"I feel elated at the fact that what I proposed to the judge as an alternative sentence of community service was accepted," she said in press release issued by Sisters of Providence. She also plans to volunteer in the maternal health clinic at Union Hospital in Terre Haute.
Sister Adele Beacham, 76, was sentenced to 12 months probation and house arrest and 250 hours of community service. She will be confined to the motherhouse grounds at Saint Mary-of-the- Woods, except for trips to receive medical treatment.
"The process has worked itself through. What has happened, the people I have met and the groups that supported me are truly gifts," she said.
The sisters were arrested for crossing an arbitrary line at Fort Benning, Ga., Nov. 17, 2002, during a non-violent protest against the School of the America, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
Sister of Providence Kathleen Desautels is serving a six-month sentence in a federal prison for a similar action in 2001. She will be released March 7.
The trial started Monday in Columbus, Ga., with U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth presiding. A total of 96 people were arrested during the November protest.
The annual non-violent protest at Fort Benning is organized by the SOA Watch. The SOA Watch is an independent organization that seeks to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas.
"Our support and concern for the sisters has been strong throughout this legal process," said Sister Ann Margaret O'Hara, general superior of the Sisters of Providence. "We pray that more people will take notice of our government's commitment to continue training Latin American military personnel who later use terrorist tactics in their own countries. Courageous acts such as those offered by our sisters and the thousands who marched with them will help raise awareness about one of our government's foreign relations programs."
Sister Rita Clare and Sister Adele should be back in Terre Haute sometime today.