Local Ministries

The path to zero

by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to The Leaven

SHAWNEE — Good Shepherd parishioner Ann Suellentrop loves the number zero. To her, it is the most important number in the world. And she truly believes, with God’s grace, the world can reach the number zero in her lifetime – global zero, that is; total nuclear disarmament.

Suellentrop’s dreams may be global, but her focus is local. She is a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a board member of PeaceWorks Kansas City, the metro area’s leading voice against the nuclear arms race.

An Avila University alumna, Suellentrop’s work as an anti-nuclear activist has been so successful — and her example of living the Catholic call to social justice has been so inspiring — that this October she received the university’s Alumni Achievement Award, recognizing her “extraordinary contributions to the greater community served by Avila University.”

Benedictine Sister Barbara McCracken, assistant director of the Keeler Women’s Center in Kansas City, Kan., has been involved in peace and justice issues in the area for more than 30 years and has often worked with Suellentrop. She knows her to be a fearless advocate for many causes.

“She’s willing to take the necessary risks to work for justice for all people,” Sister Barbara said. “She has a global vision as well as a national concern about people, health issues, justice for workers — the list goes on and on.

“Her leadership is quite outstanding. She puts a lot of time and energy into organizing, and she works a full-time job, and also volunteers for us here at the Keeler Women’s Center.”


Suellentrop said her calling to social justice was clear from before the day she was born.

“My dad became a Sierra Club member when I was in the womb,” she said. “And I’ve always loved anything with social justice, because I grew up in the ’60s.”

Born in Colwich, Suellentrop was the oldest of seven children in a devout Catholic family. She graduated from Avila in Kansas City, Mo., with a nursing degree and went on to get her master’s in nursing at KU Medical Center. She’s worked in many aspects of the profession and now provides education and care as a mother/baby nurse.

Her commitment to social justice deepened five years ago when she helped bring the JustFaith program to Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee.

“JustFaith made me very proud to be a Catholic,” she said. “It really brought [social justice work] to the next level for me.

“And it gave me the nuts and bolts and small group support to go ahead and step out.”

Always creative at heart, Suellentrop recently earned a bachelor’s degree in photo video and computer art from the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Mo. She’s hoping those skills will help her further promote the cause that’s closest to her heart: anti-nuclear activism.

As part of her volunteer work with PeaceWorks, Suellentrop manages the Kansas City Plant Awareness Project to raise consciousness of issues involving the federal complex located at Bannister and Troost in Kansas City, Mo.

The plant began building nonnuclear components for nuclear weapons in 1949 under the management of Bendix Corporation and has maintained that role under successive companies.

Now operated by Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technologies under the National Nuclear Security Administration, the facility makes 85 percent of the nonnuclear components for the nation’s nuclear weapons.

Just cause

Suellentrop’s project opposes an ordinance that calls for the decommissioning of the Bannister plant and the building of a new nuclear weapons component plant on land just north of the old Richards-Gebaur Airport at Missouri 150 and Botts Road.

In solidarity with other PeaceWork volunteers, Suellentrop has a long list of concerns, including cleanup of contamination in the area around the old plant.

“Back in the day, no one really worried about [toxic chemicals],” she said. “They were worried about production, so they dumped a lot of chemicals there, and it’s in a flood plain right by the Blue River.

“It will take $278 million to clean it up, but they’ve done the minimum right now.”

With the world moving toward nuclear disarmament and President Barack Obama declaring that a world free of nuclear weapons is a long-term national goal, Suellentrop wonders why taxpayer money would be used to build another nuclear weapons plant.

“They call it complex transformation or complex modernization,” she said. “And it sounds really good — we could use some modernization. But it’s just an excuse for making more, and so-called better, nuclear weapons.”

“Do we need that?” she asked. “How many times do we want to blow up the earth?”

Donna Constantineau, a member of Holy Family Parish in Kansas City, Kan., and a licensed professional counselor at the Keeler Women’s Center, met Suellentrop five years ago doing volunteer work through the Holy Family Catholic Worker Community in Kansas City, Mo.

Constantineau originally headed up the PeaceWork’s project. Since she’s passed the reins to Suellentrop, she’s been amazed at the progress that’s been made under Suellentrop’s guidance and leadership.

“It started out being a pretty small movement and now I would say it’s a regional movement with her on the project,” Constantineau said. “She’s a great network person. She knows a lot of people in the Kansas City area and has really used all of her networks and resources.”

Constantineau sees nuclear disarmament as one of the most critical pro-life issues facing Catholics today.

“We’re talking about the annihilation of all human life,” she said.

Sister Barbara agreed, relating antinuclear activism to Gospel teaching. “

To me this is a real key way to live out the Gospel message of Jesus: to promote nonviolence, to promote the end of nuclear weapons, to support our president who is trying to do that globally,” she said.


As she works tirelessly to free the world from the shadow of nuclear weapons, Suellentrop is mollified by the sense that she’s having a significant impact.

“We are definitely making headway, we most certainly are,” she said. “We had at least 60 people speaking out at one hearing [in opposition to the new plant] and 40 at another. It was great. They had T-shirts, they had banners.

“One girl brought her guitar and sang a [Bob] Dylan song. One guy read a poem.”

An alumni information card brought Suellentrop’s work to the attention of Avila University. She filled out the card, hoping the information might bring a little awareness to her cause.

It worked. The information sparked the interest of administrators, who researched the activist and were amazed at what they found. There was little doubt she deserved to be recognized.

Suellentrop said she was honored by the award and proud of her alma mater.

“I’m absolutely amazed and so proud of Avila,” she said. “That they would honor this kind of social justice issue says a lot.”

Suellentrop’s next goal is to participate in the International Peace Walk taking place next year (see sidebar on previous page). And she hopes to get many more members of the archdiocese involved in promoting the goal of Global Zero.

“[President] Obama can’t do it all by himself,” she said. “He’s got to have mass numbers of people pushing for it. And I think this award shows that what one person does really matters — we can really change the world.”

Global Zero

The Global Zero initiative is an international, nonpartisan effort formed in response to the growing threats of proliferation and nuclear terrorism and dedicated to achieving the phased, verified elimination of all nuclear weapons.

Global Zero is spearheaded by a group of more than 100 leaders worldwide, including many who have worked at senior levels with issues of national security, such as former heads of state, former foreign ministers, former defense ministers, former national security advisors, and more than 20 former top military commanders.

The Global Zero Summit, from Feb. 2-4, 2010, will convene 250 international leaders.

To learn more about Global Zero, visit the Web site at: www.globalzero.org.

The Catholic Church and Global Zero

On July 29, in Omaha, Neb., Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore, formerly the prelate for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, gave a speech on nuclear weapons, entitled “Nuclear Weapons and Moral Questions: The Path to Zero.” The following is an excerpt from Archbishop O’Brien’s speech:

“Now some will argue that a world without nuclear weapons is a dangerous, utopian dream. They will assert that it can never be. They raise valid questions about the new risks that might arise as the world moves toward zero. Will moving toward zero increase the strategic value of even a small number of nuclear weapons and make it harder to stop proliferation? Will there be an incentive to move to counter-population deterrence, despite moral objections, because there are insufficient numbers for counterforce deterrence? These questions deserve creative and concrete solutions — solutions that can only be crafted by committed policy makers, experts and scientists.

“Religious leaders, prominent officials, and other people of goodwill who support a nuclear-weapons-free world are not naive about the task ahead. They know the path will be difficult and will require determined political leadership, strong public support, and the dedicated skills of many capable leaders and technical experts. But difficult is not impossible.”

The text of the entire speech can be found at the following link: www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/nuclearzero.shtml

Learn more about PeaceWorks Kansas City

PeaceWorks Kansas City is the metro area’s leading voice against the nuclear arms race and home of the Kansas City Plant Awareness Project, opposing the plan to build a new facility for manufacturing nuclear weapon components. For more information, visit the Web site at: www.PeaceWorks.org or call (816) 561-1181.

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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