What an experience this has been for The Life Experience School which nearly a half-century ago embarked upon an extraordinary peacemaking mission that took on greater meaning following the passing of a young student named Norman Nylund who lost his battle with cancer. Norman saw the world through the lens of autism which heightened his appreciation of animals and nature, textures, and sounds. As we spent time with him, we grew to appreciate the beauty, joy and love his world offered him, and through him, all of us at the Life Experience School. Sharing the same birthday as St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, it was decided that upon his passing in 1986, a portion of Norman’s cremation remains would be scattered at the cloistered garden of San Damiano in Assisi, Italy. Norman and St. Francis shared something quite profound which would shape the philosophy of the school, its mission, and its peacemaking programs into the next century.
My trip to Assisi with his ashes happened to coincide with the UN International Day of Prayer for Peace. Upon my return to the School, I shared the prayers with our students who found special meaning in their recitation and began, as a school project, sharing them through what they called Peace Seeds. Then on June 4, 1988, the 20th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, (the School is dedicated to RFK), Mother Teresa visited the Life Experience School in support of our peace work and the rest is history.
The contents of the library and many of the extraordinary holdings of the Peace Abbey have been donated to Harvard Divinity School, BU School of Theology, UMASS Boston, Greyhound Friends, Holy Family Church, St. Mary’s Church and numerous other schools and centers around the Boston area.
We have so many people to thank, especially Dot Walsh who gave so much of herself to the Peace Abbey, and volunteers Dan Dick, Madeline Champagne, Brian Cron, Leo Waters and many others. We are so grateful to all those who cared for the Guesthouse and our visitors from around the world, maintained and help operate the Conference Center, fed and cared for the animals in sanctuary, and all those who supported the Peace Abbey and Life Experience School, without ever being asked.
It is important to note that the memorial walls and plaques at the Pacifist Memorial, the Emily statue and plaques at the Sacred Cow Animal Rights Memorial, and the Conscientious Objector Cremation Cemetery will continue to be owned and cared for by the Life Experience School as restrictions are in place for it to remain in perpetuity. Though the land will be owned by a new entity, it will be open to the public so that others may continue to benefit from its message.
View rapid flashback Archival music video of The Peace Abbey by Joan Hill.
Lewis M. Randa
Interview about the Life Experience School.