For a quarter of a century, The Peace Abbey in Sherborn has been a refuge, interfaith sanctuary, meeting place, and sacred space for thousands of people who seek peace for themselves, their loved ones, and the world. Offering a variety of programs and resources that teach, inspire, and encourage one to speak out and act on issues of peace and social justice and serving as a model for those who would do so, the Abbey is the only multi-faith peace center in New England and one of few in the country.
Such venerable public figures as Mother Teresa, Daniel Berrigan, Muhammad Ali, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rosa Parks and Maya Angelou, among others, have attended our events. The Peace Abbey has served as a gathering place for people throughout the region who tour the Pacifist Memorial and Peace Museum, stay in the guesthouse, take a moment at the Animal Rights Memorial, hold meetings, intern at the Abbey through college and university programs, and attend the inspiring presentations of the Courage of Conscience Awards (which have been given to over 150 exemplary peacemakers from around the world). Many come to offer prayers or light a candle in the interfaith chapel, or just to de-stress and treasure the universal message of peace that the Abbey embodies.
Those who have visited the Abbey over the years know that it is a place like no other, an oasis of peace in a world yet to hear its message.
This dream we call The Peace Abbey has meant so much to so many … and as we transition into the University of Massachusetts Boston, we remember and appreciate all that we have experienced together on this odyssey that began in Assisi, Italy on October 27, 1986. There, I witnessed the leaders of the major faith traditions pray together for the first time in history as they gathered at the Basilica of St. Francis in the spirit of peace … and there the journey of the Peace Abbey began.
The Peace Abbey, as most know, is the creation and spiritual home of The Life Experience School that established it to celebrate that of nonviolence and peace in each faith tradition and to honor Norman Nylund, a young student with autism who died of cancer in 1986. Norman’s cremation ashes I first spread in Assisi, then buried on the grounds of the Life Experience School upon my return from the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi. The school buildings and grounds would later become The Peace Abbey Conference Center, Guesthouse and Peace Memorials which were programs of The Life Experience School and continued under its ownership.
What an amazing journey this has been — and continues to be — for as with everything in life — changes are inevitable and what we have come to know as The Peace Abbey will be a new center at UMB, and its previous location in Sherborn will be limited to the Memorial Park: the Pacifist Memorial, Emily’s Sacred Cow Animal Rights Memorial and CO Hill with the Remembrance Cabin. This portion of the Peace Abbey grounds will remain open daily to the public and will be maintained and cared for by The Life Experience School. Both buildings and the barn will be sold to retire the Abbey’s debt, which is the responsibility of the Life Experience School, its parent organization.
This transition has not been without its challenges — but we are thankful that what we treasured at the Abbey Museum and Conference Center has become part of a nationally recognized urban public university that has welcomed the holdings of The Peace Abbey to create a new, on-campus center that will educate, inspire and motive all who visit and participate in its programs.
Now that the transition of The Peace Abbey’s educational materials and holdings to the Healy Library is complete — and its incorporation into the University of Massachusetts Boston has been finalized, its rich history and multi-faceted peace witness will be central to the newly created Center and Archives for Peace, Social Action, Public Policy and the Arts.
The Abbey multi-faith chapel and all the religious sculptures and texts will either remain with the new owners, be relocated to a theological school or will become a traveling religious art exhibit, much like the Gandhi statue and exhibit. As for now, all Chapel items are safely placed in a POD in front of the Abbey as we determine their placement.
This evolution was the dream of our late friend and supporter, Howard Willard who so wanted the Abbey’s unique contribution to the peace movement to continue on into the future. Through UMASS Boston, it will. To those who have supported and assisted in the transition, we wish to express our deep appreciation as without your encouragement and involvement, such a bright future would not have been possible.
The Peace Abbey property remains on the market as we have set as our immediate goal the repayment of all our wonderful shareholders and the bank mortgage on the property.
The incorporation of the Peace Abbey into the University of Massachusetts Boston is a wonderful opportunity to further the Abbey’s mission to activate peace activism on a larger scale.
We will be holding an open house in mid September. Check our website and continue on our email list as we enter into a new chapter of peace work.
UMB SIGNING CEREMONY SPEECH DELIVERED ON JULY 9, 2012
What do you get when you incorporate the Peace Abbey history and holdings into the University of Massachusetts Boston? You get an expression of its long journey for Peace, Social Action, Public Policy and the Arts! So what exactly are we gifting the Healey Library at UMB?
For over a quarter of a century, The Peace Abbey has been a major center for the promotion of peace and social justice for metropolitan Boston and entire New England area and is recognized internationally for its work. Like its parent organization the Life Experience School, it was inspired by the life and times of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr, so it is most fitting that it now finds its new home next to the Kennedy Presidential Library and the soon to be completed Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. It was Ted Kennedy’s congressional inquiry into my case as a conscientious objector while a member of the 114th Medical battalion of the Massachusetts Army National Guard in 1971 that led to my discharge. And the Life Experience School and later the Peace Abbey would become, not simply alternative service, but “my alternative service”. So these gifts that we bestow on the University of Massachusetts Boston today are much more than they appear, for they are the outward and physical representation of a journey of empowering people to say no to violence and to war and all that is deemed unacceptable by conscience.
Thus, the Peace Abbey served as the Founding headquarters for the National Registry for Conscientious Objection, stored archival material from the Vietnam War to the present wars in the Middle East, sought to demonstrate opposition to militarism through numerous, high profile peaceful acts of civil disobedience to prevent, then end armed conflict; endeavored to influence public policy through the recognition of unknown civilian casualties of war at Arlington National Cemetery through STONEWALK, USA which became a global requiem pilgrimage through the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Japan and South Korea which ended at the DMZ. The Abbey and the Life Experience School helped draw attention to the need to change the name of the state department here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that provides services to developmentally disabled individuals. We helped get the R word removed from the agency name, once and for all. The Peace Abbey commissioned great works of peace art through a collaboration with Georgian Artists, Lado and Shake Goudjabidze which included acclaimed sculptures of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Oscar Romero of El Salvador, Samantha Smith, President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Emily the Cow and the peace dove in out reached hands which is the Courage of Conscience Award which has been presented to extraordinary practitioners of nonviolent social change throughout the world. In the course of these twenty-five years, the Peace Abbey sought to reduce misunderstanding and its consequential violence by bringing religions, one of the major causes of war, hatred and societal dysfunction, together under one roof in the Abbey Chapel of Change.
So today, July 9, 2012, we are formally gifting to the University of Massachusetts Boston, the Peacemakers Table, around which Mother Teresa, Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou and many other peacemakers sat, the Abbey Grandfather Clock, which was donated by my father in honor of my mother Helen Randa, its display cases with artifacts of this extraordinary journey of peacemaking that the Life Experience School began in 1972, and gifting replicas of the original bronze statues belonging to the Life Experience School and the Peace Abbey along with the entire peace, social justice, pacifism and animal rights library. May the new Center and Archives for Peace, Social Action, Public Policy and the Arts put them to good use in educating students, faculty and the general public in the ways of peacemaking and the power and moral authority of nonviolence.
This gift is being made in honor of Howard Willard, late Board Member of the Peace Abbey, friend and consultant to the Life Experience School and its students and life long comrade in social justice causes, Steve Crosby, founding dean of the John McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies.
As we look from the windows of the 5th floor of Healey Library and see tall ships and smaller ones drift by this beautiful campus, may we always remember that the most important ship of all, as Howie Willard would say, quoting, an unknown author, are friendships. Today we sign the Deed of Gift to the University of Massachusetts Boston as a form of friendship, with every hope for the future and a desire that the Life Experience School and Peace Abbey’s mission to make the world more compassionate and understanding, merciful and loving finds expression here in this newly created center and archives for peace, social justice, public policy and the arts. May this gift promote this dream of peace, which is ours and yours and everyone who shares this delicate, beautiful planet we all call home.
We are profoundly honored to have these gifts here at UMASS Boston. There is no better place.
Lewis M. Randa
Founder / Director
The Life Experience School / Peace Abbey