It’s with sadness that we mark the death of Sr. Rosemary Lynch, early founder of peace witnesses at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. And it is with deep gratitude that we recall this woman who was a shining light of faithful leadership and nonviolence in modern American history. She was also co-founder of Pace e Bene, a Catholic peace organization promoting nonviolence.
Rosemary died in Las Vegas on Sunday at age 93 after being hit by a car while out walking. Her legacy will be carried on by the many lives that she touched in her rich and vibrant life. The Las Vegas Sun notes:
Born in Phoenix, Lynch became a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity community in 1932. After taking her vows in 1934, she went on to teach at a Catholic school in Los Angeles followed by a stint as principal at a high school in Montana. From there, she went to Rome as a representative for her congregation. Her 15 years in Rome included the Second Vatican Council.
Pace e Bene’s Ken Butigan expanded on Rosemary’s history:
After returning to the United States in 1977, Lynch settled in Las Vegas where she joined the staff of the Franciscan Center. That summer, President Jimmy Carter announced that he was seeking funding from Congress to develop the “enhanced radiation” or “neutron” bomb. Soon afterward, news was leaked that the neutron bomb had already been developed and tested at the Nevada Test Site. Lynch decided to do some research on this program and the test site in general. In the course of her exploration, she discovered that a group of Quakers, including Larry Scott and Albert Bigelow, had held the last demonstration at the test site on August 6, 1957.
Spurred by this, she and a group of friends in Las Vegas organized an event at the gates of NTS to mark the 20th anniversary of this activity, to protest the impending production of the enhanced radiation weapon developed there, and to remember the bombing of Hiroshima thirty-two years earlier. They dubbed themselves “Citizens Concerned about the Neutron Bomb.” As it was later reported:
Nineteen people met at the main gate of the NTS before dawn to hold a prayer vigil and conduct a teach in about Hiroshima. The vigilers held signs along the road that led into the Test Site and they were very careful to make signs that supported the workers but objected to testing. One sign read: “NTS Workers Yes, Nuclear Bombs No.” The vigil was highlighted by the visit of Japanese Hibakusha [survivors of the atomic bombings] who wanted to present a book of drawing of the bombs dropped on Japan to the Test Site officials. The vigilers went directly to the guard house at Mercury Station. The Japanese approached the gate house but the guards refused to accept their book. An older Japanese lady, a Hibakusha, extended her hand to the guard and he refused to shake her hand. The small group began a chant, “Take her hand. Take her hand.” Finally the guard gave in and shook her hand. (Michael Affleck, The History and Strategy of the Campaign to End Nuclear Weapons Testing at the Nevada Test Site, 1977-1990 (Las Vegas, NV: Pace e Bene, 1991).
Rosemary was part of the first “Lenten Desert Experience” at the Nevada Test Site in 1982 to protest ongoing nuclear testing and violence. The movement later became known as the Nevada Desert Experience, which still exists today.
It was during those protests that Ediger said Lynch’s character was exposed: She protested issues involving the test site — not the people on the other side of the debate, he said. In fact, Ediger said, through her social activism, Lynch developed “very warm human relationships” with the people in support of the test site.
Rosemary was an apostle of peace. “Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon her.”