The Peace Abbey's Journey Continues
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be measured by the way its animals are treated." — Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948
For more than a quarter of a century, the Peace Abbey in Sherborn, MA, was an interfaith spiritual oasis, meeting place and catalyst for social action like no other in this region, perhaps even in the country. The Abbey was founded by Lewis Randa in 1988 after a visit by Mother Theresa to the Life Experience School, of which Randa is also the founding director. The school, which provides students with developmental disabilities over the age of 18 the chance to be actively involved in the community, sought to create a space to hold the Prayers for Peace from the twelve major faith traditions, and thus the Peace Abbey was born.
Since the beginning of The Life Experience School, which was founded in 1972, animal care and husbandry have been cornerstones in its curriculum and have guided much of the evolution of the school, and later the Peace Abbey. A well-loved animal sanctuary on the Abbey grounds housed goats, pigs, pigeons, ducks, chickens and cows, as well as the most unusual and famous cow, Emily, whose story is recounted below.
When Emily died in 2003, an animal rights memorial was commissioned by The Peace Abbey to be created by internationally acclaimed artist Lado Goudjabidze from the Republic of Georgia. It consists of a circular brick-and-granite path engraved with quotes on stone tablets from famous people about non-violence, vegetarianism and animal rights. In the center of the circle sits a granite slab under which the remains of Emily were buried, adorned with a life sized bronze statue of the peaceful bovine who inspired so much compassion, love and transformation in the thousands who pilgrimaged to see her during her 8-year stay at the Abbey. Christened The Sacred Cow Animal Rights Memorial, the statue is located just a few yards from the larger-than-life-size bronze statue of Gandhi, a memorial to pacifism on the Abbey grounds that, despite its controversial nature in the center of town, has become the iconic image representing Sherborn, MA, in mainstream media.
Funded purely by donations, the Abbey eventually faced overwhelming financial shortfalls in the wake of the 2008 recession, and regretfully had to find new homes for all the animals housed at the sanctuary by 2011. The loss of their presence onsite was palpable and tragic, as the Abbey's heartbeat faded a little more with the departure of each one. Ultimately, the remarkable center that had been continuously broadcasting a vibration of peace and non-violence 24 hours a day seven days a week for a quarter of century from Sherborn center was stilled, until a door opened at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Throughout the years, the Peace Abbey had welcomed many distinguished members of the peace movement at their events including Maya Angelou, Mother Teresa, Dan Berrigan, Mohammad Ali, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rosa Parks and many others. It had inspired and encouraged thousands of others to speak out and act on issues of peace and social justice, and housed a huge collection of archives, artwork and artifacts relating to peace, social justice and animal rights.
In July, 2012, on behalf of the Peace Abbey and Life Experience School, Lewis Randa gifted this unique collection to UMass Boston, which has established the new Center and Archives for Peace, Social Action, Public Policy and the Arts, housed on the fifth floor of the university's Healy Library, along with replicas of the Abbey's commissioned bronze statues. The original works of art will remain permanently at Memorial Park on the Abbey grounds and will be open daily to the public, maintained and cared for by The Life Experience School. The Abbey buildings — the guesthouse, chapel and barn — are currently closed and their future is uncertain. They are listed on the market for sale to retire the Abbey's debt.
It is the hope of Randa and others that the new center at UMass Boston will put the Abbey's collection and archives to good use in educating students, faculty and the general public in the ways of peacemaking and furthering the Abbey's mission to make the world a more compassionate, merciful and loving place. A celebration of the Peace Abbey and the newly opened Center and Archives for Peace, Social Action, Public Policy and the Arts will be held in Spring 2013 at 7 p.m. at the JFK Library, adjacent to UMass Boston, and is open to the public. Check www.peaceabbey.org for updates.
Carol Bedrosian is a long time Peace Abbey supporter and the publisher of Spirit of Change Magazine. Visit www.spiritofchange.org.