See more of the story

Whether in a picket line outside the local federal building, a demonstration at a military contractor's office, or a vigil on the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge, chances are that over the last four decades, you'd find the four McDonald sisters — nuns as well as siblings — waving peace signs there.

If civil disobedience was involved, at least one McDonald sister — or sometimes all four — likely were among those arrested.

"I've got to be out there saying something — that I do not agree, I resist. It feeds my soul," said Sister Rita McDonald, in "Four Sisters For Peace," a 2004 documentary that ran on Twin Cities Public Television.

Rita, the oldest of the four sisters, died Monday at Carondelet Village care center in St. Paul. She was 101.

Rita "was feisty and determined and compassionate and generous," said Jane McDonald, her sister. "She cared about people that were less fortunate. She had the ability to laugh at herself."

Rita McDonald was born in Waverly, Minn., in 1922, the second oldest of 11 children. Their parents, Kenneth and Margaret McDonald, ran a cattle and crop farm in Watertown, Minn., where Rita graduated from high school. She moved to Minneapolis and went to work cleaning and vacuuming B-25 bombers at the outset of World War II.

"Isn't it ironic?" Jane said.

According to a 1999 City Pages cover story, Rita "shocked her family" when she announced she would enter a convent and pursue nursing, as many nuns did. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul, an order that at the time ran six hospitals, two orphanages and a home for unwed mothers, as well as the then-College of St. Catherine.

Three of Rita's younger sisters — Kate, Brigid and Jane — followed her into the order. All survive her.

"We like to think we had a strong faith in God's goodness and mercy," said Jane, who added jokingly: "Of course, nobody proposed to any of us."

Rather than nursing, Rita McDonald worked for several food service units, as well as the Bridge for Runaway Youth and other ministries.

As opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War escalated in the 1960s, the McDonald sisters joined Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) and became fixtures at anti-war protests.

Rita "was a faithful, long-term member" of WAMM, said Mary Beaudoin, who edits the group's newsletter. "Rita was one of the angels of the peace movement."

An advocate of non-violence, Rita McDonald could be both spiritual and whimsical. At vigils outside Alliant Technologies, a military contractor — the type of business she considered evil — she often greeted protest organizer Tom Bottoleneby asking, "Are you as good as you look?"

Jane McDonald said the sisters were influenced by their nephew, Jim Borer, who opposed the war and had his request for conscientious objector status rejected by the draft board.

"I didn't want to participate [in the war] and had many conversations about that with the four, including Rita," said Borer, who in the end was never drafted.

The McDonald sisters were the subject of "Sisters of Peace," a 2019 play by the History Theatre in St. Paul.

A celebration of Rita McDonald's life is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Dec. 18 at Our Lady of the Presentation Chapel near St. Catherine University, 1880 Randolph Av., St. Paul.

Kate McDonald, 98, and Brigid, 91, both live in St. Paul; Jane, 88, is in Minneapolis. "You add all these years up and you have a long time of good trouble," Jane McDonald said.

Staff librarian John Wareham contributed to this article.