Resident Priest Emerita


In September, 2011, Tonen O’Connor stepped down as MZC's Resident Priest, having served in that role since 2001. She received ordination from Tozen Akiyama in 1994, dharma transmission in 1999 and in 2000 performed the ceremony of zuise at Eiheiji and Sojiji, head temples of the Soto school in Japan. She trained in Japan at Shogoji, Hosshinji and Hokyoji, and holds the rank of nitokyoshi within the Japanese Soto system as well as a four-year assignment as kokusaifukyoshi.

For over fifteen years she has worked extensively with inmates within the Wisconsin correctional system, served on the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Religious Practices Advisory Committee and gave a presentation on this work at a conference in Tokyo in 2008. Tonen served as chair of the Committee on Interfaith Understanding, is past President of the Board of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association and, with Zuiko Redding of the Cedar Rapids Zen Center, is co-founder of the Great Sky Sesshin, held annually for eight years at Hokyoji Zen Practice Community in Minnesota.

Prior to entering the Zen world, Rev. O’Connor had a 40-year career in the professional theater and was managing director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from 1974-1995. Tonen ;holds a Bachelor's degree with high honors from Swarthmore College and an M.A. From Tufts University. Tonen is the editor of Buddhas Behind Bars, has a response included in The Hidden Lamp and her translation of Kodo Sawaki's Commentary on The Song of Awakening will be published in spring 2014. She has two sons, four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and lives happily with two splendid cats.

With the departure of Interim Practice Leader Hoko Karnegis at the end of September, 2013, Tonen is once again serving as guiding teacher at the MZC as the search for a resident priest continues.


Tonen's bio at Sweeping Zen

Tonen's article Do You Understand Your Job?

Tonen's profile, A Life Filled With Life, in the Swarthmore Bulletin

Tonen on the March for Burma in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal