University of Massachusetts Boston Peace Abbey

This profile was last updated in 2014

History

In 1986, Lewis Randa attended the Day of Prayer for World Peace, which took place at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, Italy during the UN International Year of Peace. There, leaders of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, Sikh, Baha’i, Shinto, Native African and American, Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian communities gathered to pray for peace on earth. Inspired by the interfaith prayers known as the Sacred Office of Peace, Randa introduced the prayers to the students at the Life Experience School (now called the Strawberry Fields Alternative High School), a program for handicapped and terminally ill children that he started in 1972. Mother Teresa heard that the students were saying the prayers and pledged to visit the school. After her trip, Randa and Dot Walsh started the Peace Abbey on Mother’s Day in 1988. As a program of the school, the Peace Abbey was established to provide a sacred environment where the Sacred Office of Peace is prayed. Since then, the Peace Abbey has encouraged its members and visitors to discover resources within the world’s religious traditions that will facilitate their journey as instruments of peace and examples of compassionate living. For their mission statement, refer to their webpage.

Description

The Peace Abbey is located on three acres of forest and pasture land in Sherborn, Mass. A cluster of small, homey buildings greet visitors who pull into their driveway. Each of the buildings is decorated with posters, photographs, banners, and other memorabilia gathered over several decades of peace activism. The main building houses the Multi-Faith Chapel and candle room, where plants, candles, and Tibetan prayer flags frame a room that is filled with symbols of the twelve major world religions. Behind each row of pews in the chapel is a collection of sacred books from different religions. Other buildings contain the Greater Boston Vegetarian Resource Center, the Greenhouse Cafe, a performance space called the Peace Abbey Coffeehouse, The Pacifist Living History Museum and the Quaker Room, where weekly interfaith services are held. Outside, the Abbey maintains the Pacifist Memorial, a bronze statue of Gandhi that is surrounded by inspiring quotes from pacifists around the world. Close by is the Sacred Cow Animal Rights Memorial. On a small, sloping hill beyond the memorials is Conscientious Objector Hill with a retreat space called the Remembrance Cabin and a Memorial Stone where cremation ashes of conscientious objectors are buried. Additionally, The Peace Abbey administers the National Registry for Conscientious Objection and sponsors the Courage of Conscience Award. Throughout the grounds, there are fields and pens for the cows, goats, sheep, and pigs that were purchased from slaughterhouses as part of their Veganpeace Animal Sanctuary Program.

Stonewalk

Stonewalk was created as part of the Peace Abbey’s commitment to remember innocent victims of war. In 1994, the organization purchased a one-ton granite memorial stone and inscribed on it the words “Unknown Civilians Killed In War.” Mohammad Ali participated in the ceremony to unveil the memorial stone, which has since received 5,000 visitors. In 1999, the Stonewalk tradition began when the Peace Abbey created a similar memorial stone and transported it to Washington, D.C. with the intention of having it placed in Arlington Cemetery. When Congress did not accept the stone, the Peace Abbey decided to send it around the world, and the stone became a centerpiece of peace and reconciliation events in Ireland, England, and Japan. In 2004, the organization September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows requested to transport the original stone from Boston to New York City as a statement for peace during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. In 2007 the Japanese commissioned a Memorial stone with the same inscription written in English, Japanese, and Korean. Their journey through South Korea was a pilgrimage to apologize for the occupation and war with a special message for the comfort women.

Activities and Schedule

Visitors are welcome to visit the grounds during pre-set visiting hours, which are listed on their website. Five times a day, the Abbey broadcasts the adhan (Islamic call to prayer) out into the community of Sherborn. The call is sung by former pop singer Cat Stevens, who changed his name to Yusuf Islam after converting to Islam. Each Sunday, members, residents, and visitors participate in an hour-long Pacifist Service. Worship is conducted in the spirit and style of a Friends (Quaker) Meeting, beginning with a recitation of the Peace Seeds prayers, the shortened version of the Sacred Office of Peace, followed by a period of silence. Please refer to the Peace Abbey’s Calendar for a full monthly listing of activities and services.

Challenges

Since 2004, the center has experienced a sharp decline in donations and other financial support, a drop that Randa attributes to the Abbey’s visible protest against the Iraq War. Because of this and the expenses accrued with the addition of the Sacred Cow Animal Rights Memorial, the Abbey has gone deeply into debt. In order to keep the organization alive, they are looking for a benefactor to buy the two buildings and three acres of land, establishing what they call the Abbey Legacy Endowment Trust. In 2007, a local teen named Vani Manchanda founded the Gandhi Shanti Foundation to prevent the seizure of the Abbey’s Gandhi statue. More information is available on their website. Information for this profile was obtained from the organization’s webpage and from correspondence with Dot Walsh, Program Coordinator of The Peace Abbey.