By Michael True
“If there are Seven Wonders of the World, the eighth is the Peace Abbey,” according to one of its benefactors.
Since Worcester admirers agree, a recent announcement that the Peace Abbey, based in Sherborn, may be closing was a sad moment hereabouts.
Founded and directed by Lewis Randa, with Meg Randa and Dot Walsh, the Abbey has flourished since Mother Teresa visited there in 1988. In time, it has become a significant memorial for peacemakers throughout history, a resource for education and action by activists resisting war and injustice, and a major conference center for peace studies faculty and students at neighboring schools, colleges and universities.
Dedicated to creating innovative models that empower individuals on the path of nonviolence and peacemaking, it has enriched the community far beyond its borders, with a steady stream of visitors from throughout the U.S. and foreign countries.
A public event, “Occupy for Change,” sponsored by the New England Peace Studies Association, was held Saturday. Although in a rather financially precarious position, the Abbey conference center and guesthouse will remain open for weddings, retreats, meditation, and other activities.
ORIGIN AND OUTREACH
Inspired by his participation in the Day of Prayer for World Peace during the UN International Year of Peace in 1986, at the Basilica of St. Francis, in Assisi, Lewis Randa brought back Prayers for Peace to the Life Experience School for special needs students, which he founded as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.
After Mother Teresa visited the school and students in 1988, the Abbey compound, in the town’s historical district, was expanded to include a guesthouse and multi-faith chapel, with artifacts of the world’s religions,
Central to the peace movement in New England, its programs have involved local citizens, volunteers and interns from Wellesley College, Andover Newton Theological School, Clark and Brandeis universities, among others. Abbey staff have taught peace studies courses at Stonehill College and in area schools, focusing on successful nonviolent movements around the world. Musical and theatrical events, and protests have also involved a community of talented and committed persons of all ages.
The nine-foot statue of Mohandas Gandhi is a focus point of the Pacifist Memorial surrounded by plaques with quotations from ninety peacemakers, from the Buddha to Dorothy Day. Well-known visitors over the past three decades include, Howard Zinn, Elise Boulding, Maya Angelou, and Father Daniel Berrigan. The 150 peacemakers honored by the Abbey with its Courage of Conscience Award include the late Stanley Kunitz, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
Since it was initiated, Worcester residents have benefited from and contributed to the life and outreach of the Abbey in numerous ways. The New England Peace Studies Association, founded by Glen Gersmehl at Clark University in the 1980s, has its home base there, for regular meetings and annual conferences.
Students and faculty in the peace studies programs at Clark, Assumption, and Holy Cross gather there each semester, some helping with the Registry for Conscientious objectors, housed at the Abbey. A Clark student, Emily Luhrs, has prepared a Resource Packet on the significance and content of the Registry, available on the internet.
One of the memorial plaques honors peacemaker Annabel Wolfson, co-founder of the Inter-faith Center for Draft Information, Worcester. Joseph de- Rivera, emeritus professor, at Clark, is one of several Worcester benefactors who have helped to sustain the Abbey over the years.
The Abbey’s staff and compatriots have engaged in a variety of events involving peacemakers over the years. They include major events in Boston involving well-known activists and STONEWALK, a series of pilgrimages across hundreds of miles in Asia an Western Europe, as well as United States.
Initially, the Abbey consecrated a Memorial for Unknown Civilians Killed in War in Sherborn on May 14, 1994. Calling attention to the 2,174 victims of war daily, none out of ten civilians and half of them children, the stone was placed on private grounds adjoining the town’ÿs Vetera’∞ÿs Memorial.
Then from 2000 to 2005, members and friends of the Abbey pulled a similar memorial stone on a caisson from Dublin to Belfast, in Ireland; from Liverpool to Coventry in England, and from Boston to New York City, and from Sherborn to Cambridge, and another to Arlington Cemetery, Washington D.C. Each journey highlighted the human cost of war, particularly victims and conscientious objectors, with a message of healing and remembrance.
During Stonewalk USA 2004, Bruce Nichols, described his experience, as he and others “propelled the stone on its journey toward a peaceful tomorrow.” It represented, he added, the many hearts silenced by the untimely intervention of conflict and war“_ Hearts full of hope and aspiration. Millions of hearts and their stories, now mostly unknown and lost when they were prematurely stilled.”
In 2005, the Japan pilgrimage included members of Families for Peaceful Tomorrow, relatives of residents killed in the September 2001 terrorist attacks. After flying to Tokyo, they walked 280 miles to mark the 60th anniversary of the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Warmly welcomed by Japanese officials and the Hibakusha, survivors of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, who shared their goal of eliminating nuclear weapons and their message, “War is not the answer.”
In 2007, the Japanese built their own caisson and cut a stone with the same message to bring to Korea to apologize for the occupation and the war. Peace Abbey members joined this journey.
EMILY AND ANIMAL RIGHTS
The Abbey’ÿs commitment to animal rights was responsible for one of its most widely publicized activities. Having rescued a cowfrom the slaugherhouse the staff gave sanctuary to the animal until her death as a result of cancer.
Over the next two years, hundreds of visitors visited Emily the Cow and her barnyard buddies at the Abbey. She reserved a special greeting for the many children who came to have their picture taken. Howard Lyman, “the Mad Cowboy” and former Nationafarmers Union staff member paid homage to Emily while barnstorming across Massachusetts to educate people about Mad Cow Disease and the benefits of sustainable farming, with an appearance also at Tufts College of Veterinarian Science in North Grafton and on WCCA-TV 13, Worcester.
As he unveiled the Sacred Cow Animal Rights Memorial, Lewis Randa acknowledged the Life Experience School and the Peace Abbey’ÿs long dedication to animal rights. Today, a statue of Emiliy the Cow, by an internationally known Georgian sculptor, Lado Gudjabidze, stands near the bronze plaques honoring the world’ÿs pecemakers.
In the most recent initiative, in support of activists addressing injustice, the Abbey took the Gandhi to join hundreds of protestors at the Occupy Boston camp in Dewey Square, Boston. For nine weeks, it served as a focal point for the demonstration.
Fulfilling Lewis Randa’ÿs faith in the crowd, the unsupervised statue remained safe,“except for the temporary displacement of Gandhi’s eye glasses and a broken thu”b,∞± according to Wicked Local Dover-Sherborn newspaper. In addition, “Gandh’∞ÿs likeness was used to block the entrance to the nearby Goldman Sachs offices, which Randa regarded as a more appropriate place for the protest.”
The potential sale of the Peace Abbey comes at a time when it faces a large debt and a monthly payment of $3,000. According to Dot Walsh, program coordinator and chaplain, the Middlesex Savings Bank has been generous in extending various deadlines, since it was first put up for sale. Although the asking price for the total property is $999,000, buildings on the two-and-a half-acres, including the guest house, the conference center, and the barn can be purchased separately.
Recent plans suggest that University of Massachusetts, Boston, will be the beneficiary of artifacts, personal papers, conscientious objector files, and books, to be archived with its social justice collection. A peacemakers table, which serves as a focal point for an introductory ceremony for visitors to the Abbey, will be housed on the fifth floor of the library.
The statue of Gandhi, a bronze statue of Emily the cow, and Conscientious Objectors Hill of Remembrance will be retained at the present site. Meanwhile, a physician affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester, has expressed interested in exploring the relationship between nonviolence and healing, in courses and programs on peacemaking, health and well being.
Whatever its future manifestation, the Peace Abbey will undoubtedly continue its imaginative witness and faithful commitment to building a peace culture and cultivating a just social order.