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A nun reflects on her eight years in SLO County



I have heard it said that it takes a lifetime to learn how to live. How true!
In the "SLO segment- of my life, I have learned important life lessons from all of you. Now I come to a difficult moment of departure when my heart is so full that all I can possibly say is thank you.

Clearly people of SLO County are especially accepting and kind. Otherwise, how could I have arrived here, like a pilgrim, eight years ago, without family or friends and walk right into so many warm embraces? Throughout these years what you taught me is that I am loved - perhaps the most important lesson we are meant to learn in our lifetimes. Now, as I, sadly, prepare to leave, it is this reality of your love that fills me with gratitude and gives me the courage to take that next step over a threshold into a new phase of life that awaits me.

On Oct. 17 I will have packed up a few treasures and headed up the 101 to San Francisco where I will begin a ministry as pastoral associate at St. Teresa's Catholic Church. But the real treasure already packed deep inside me is the relationships that I've formed here.

I remember with fondness the students at the Newman Catholic Center whom I have mentored and who have, in a very real sense, mentored me.

Working with these young people has nurtured in me a lovely fallacy - that I am younger than "doing the math- indicates! With their many spiritual questions and with their own personal searches so earnestly embarked upon, they have helped me to articulate my own faith - ever seeking understanding.
The students in Cal Poly's Progressive Student Alliance have also inspired me. They have given me a large hope for our future because, as youth, they are concerned about their world and the injustices that rob it of the goodness, truth, peace, and justice that we all want to see there.

How tremendously enriching my relationships with my Campus Ministry and university colleagues have been! The support, the love, the shared commitment to educate the heart as well as the mind - all this has radically expanded my sense of community. Particularly during times of crisis, like the tragic deaths of Rachel Newhouse and Aundria Crawford, we upheld each other in grief and sustained one another with hope.

I look back with joy on the amazing participation of both the campus and city communities in the Social Justice Speaker's Program sponsored by the Newman Center at Cal Poly. I see that effort as a joining together of people and groups representing many different faiths and civic and educative concerns in order to bring to campus speakers like Sister Helen Prejean, Father Roy Bourgeois, Father John Dear, and others whose messages inspired us and challenged our consciences.

I know myself to have been blessed, indeed, by those with whom I share a passion for peace and justice. I've drawn immense inspiration from those in our community who are deeply committed to reaching out to the hungry and the homeless in our midst as well as those who are outraged over the preemptive war in Iraq, the incredible loss of life, and the suffering this administration has caused there. We have wept on each other's shoulders but we have also worked with a resilient vision for a peaceful world.

Over the years, I've come to be aware of the kindness of strangers.

Never was this more striking for me than at the time of President Bush's preemptive strike on Iraq, when I was so appalled by the injustice and immorality of this act that I felt conscience-bound to take a public stand against it. I did so by committing civil disobedience at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Afterward, support was rather sketchy from quarters close to home. But, amazingly enough, many in this community showed great support and even strangers at random moments and chance meetings came forward to thank me. That kind of respect was something I never would have expected. What baffled me was how many felt that I did the action for them. Actually, my motive at the time was mainly drawn from a personal commitment to peace and outrage at our administration's violation of Iraq.

But somehow they enlarged the picture for me. I realized how many, if they could, would have been there with me making a nonviolent statement of non-cooperation in the war by "crossing the line.- Yet they were grateful that I did it and identified with my action. It made me think differently about my civil disobedience and transformed my little "I- into a "We.-

I will always be grateful for the response of this community to my desire in the summer of 2002, to travel to Afghanistan as a member of an interfaith delegation sponsored by Global Exchange. It was the generosity of this community that paid my way and upon my return, it was concern for the Afghan people that extended to me so many invitations to speak about what I saw there. And support continues for Reach-Out Afghanistan, a nonprofit organization that came into being about that time which works to educate children in Afghanistan.

In closing, I want to share with you with a line from one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, who says in "Blackwater Woods-:

"Everything I have ever learned in my life time leads me back to this...

You must be able to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your own bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.-

This is where I am right now. I have learned to love a thousand things about the Central Coast. I have loved you and have been held close. And now it is time to let it go. I do so with a heart quite overwhelmed with gratitude for all that living here with you has taught me. Adieu.


Sister Mary Pat White is having a moving sale this Sunday at 2331 Lawton St. You can reach her at mwhite@rscj.org.



The tagline for Jack McCurdy's Oct. 6-13 opinion piece "Power to the people- misidentified the CAPE acronym; it stands for the Coastal Alliance on Plant Expansion, not against. Also, McCurdy's e-mail address was incorrect. He can be reached at pjmccurdy@sbcglobal.net.

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