Sister Esther Heffernan advocated for racial justice, prison reform

As a child, Sister Esther Heffernan, a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, became aware of poverty and inequality in the world.

From there, she made it her life’s work to fight for social justice, her religious congregation said.

Sister Esther died Nov. 20 at St. Dominic Villa in Hazel Green, Wisconsin. She was 91.

A funeral was held Nov. 25 at the Dominican motherhouse in Sinsinawa, followed by burial in the motherhouse cemetery.

Sister Esther taught at the former Cathedral High School in Omaha from 1953 to 1956. Then she served as a college instructor who led efforts on prison reform and race relations.

She was an instructor at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, for nearly 50 years, and taught at St. John College in Cleveland, where she worked on inner city race and ethnic relations during the 1960s.

While in Madison, Sister Esther served in leadership for the Sinsinawa Dominicans, organizing conferences on incarceration and forming Madison Organizing in Strength, Equality, and Solidarity (MOSES). Her doctoral study in women’s reform led to a book, “Making It in Prison: The Square, the Cool, and the Life.”

She received several honors in Wisconsin for her work.

The Seattle native is survived by her Dominican Sisters with whom she shared 67 years of religious life.

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