Whatever happened to the Peace Abbey? ‘She went off to college’ (UMass Boston)

Statues of Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Barack Obama and his grandmother, and Emily the Sacred Cow are now permanently on display on the fifth floor of Columbia Point’s Healey Library. Original sculptures (or fiberglass copies of them) by Lado Goudjabidze, the internationally acclaimed artist from the Republic of Georgia, are part of a windfall of art and archival materials donated to UMass Boston last July as part of the recent dissolution and sale of the famous-in-some-circles Peace Abbey in Sherborn, MA.

For more than a quarter of a century, the Peace Abbey served as an interfaith crossroads and catalyst for social action. It was born on June 4, 1988, the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Robert Kennedy, when Mother Teresa visited the Life Experience School in Millis. Founded by Lewis Randa and dedicated to RFK, this animal husbandry school empowers adults with developmental disabilities. Mother Teresa inspired Randa to also found the Abbey as an international center for peace and social justice.

Over the years, the complex expanded to encompass a pacifist museum, bed-and-breakfast, barn and multi-faith chapel that welcomed visitors from around the globe. However, in recent times, donations to the center began to dry up, and the Abbey fell into deep debt.

According to Joanne Riley, university archivist at UMass Boston, the posters, artwork, furnishings, and other materials have enriched the Healey Library holdings in peace, social justice, pacifism and animal rights: “Artifacts and furniture donated by the Peace Abbey will become permanent parts of the Special Collections Research Center, and will also grace other locations in the Library and on campus.”

The Special Collections space will not be solely dedicated to the new Center and Archives for Peace, Social Action, Public Policy, and the Arts as the reincarnated Abbey is now known. But, Randa notes that being next door to the Kennedy Library allows for “much greater impact than we possibly could have had in a suburb.”

The Research Center, which is open to the public daily, offers exhibits concerning social action and conflict resolution, Riley said. One display case will likely be dedicated to the former sanctuary, but others might feature related archival selections like the papers of Dorchester pacifist poet Cid Corman.
UMass Boston owns the nine-foot fiberglass replica of the bronze Gandhi statue still in Sherborn. The copy spent several weeks in Dewey Square during the Occupy Boston days.

And Dorchester now has two sets of Goudjabidze’s life-size and half-size statutes of Mother Teresa. The Abbey’s originals at UMass now rest just a couple of miles from the copies at Blessed Mother Teresa Parish on Columbia Road, acquired through the Abbey in the late ‘90s.

To celebrate that remnants of the Abbey are preserved in Sherborn, that the school is still thriving in Millis, and that Columbia Point will grow in its Kennedy connections, Randa plans a retrospective salute at UMass sometime this spring, writing on the Abbey website:
“When people ask whatever happened to the Peace Abbey, I enjoy telling them that she went off to college and became something greater than what she was before she left home.”


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