December 18, 2014

All is calm

Museum’s mission is a kinder, gentler world

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The artifacts of war are guns, swords and cannons.

So what are the artifacts of peace?

People who have changed the world with non-violent actions, people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and yes, St. Francis of Assisi. All three are remembered and celebrated at the Dayton International Peace Museum, one of the few facilities of its kind in the country.

“Peace Heroes” is how they are identified in exhibits, in classroom projects and in community programs sponsored by the museum. “They’re our primary artifacts,” says Jerry Leggett, hired as the first full-time Executive Director of the 10-year-old museum in April. “We can tell their stories.”

On a day that is anything but serene, Jerry sits in a quiet corner of the museum, away from the noise and sawdust of construction that will create a gathering space for coffee and storytelling. He has accepted the Peace Prayer Challenge from the Franciscans (see Jeff’s column) and will attempt to work it in around wall-to-wall meetings. For now Jerry is busy explaining how such a place came to be.

Top, a young peace activist; above, Jerry Leggett, right, outside the museum with volunteers Barbara Robinson, Audrey Gee and Phyllis Stonecipher.




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Housed in a Victorian home a block from the Great Miami River in Dayton, Ohio, the peace museum grew out of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, the historic agreement that ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Proud of their community’s role in the peace talks, farmer Ralph Dull and his wife Christine, a retired teacher, proposed the idea and provided the initial funding. “A collection of people brought their own life experiences and gifts” to the project, says Jerry. The museum’s board is a rainbow of cultures, beliefs and professions: artists; attorneys; civil rights leaders; educators; business people. Among the honorary trustees are actor Martin Sheen, comedian Dick Gregory and country singer Willie Nelson.

Reaching out

With only 4,000 square feet for exhibits – permanent displays on two floors, temporary displays on one floor and an interactive children’s room – the museum is known more for what it does than what it has. For a small operation, its output and outreach are prodigious. Discussion, meditation and music groups meet regularly. The museum launched Peace-Abilities, a school curriculum on non-violence, offers a Summer Peace Camp and hosts a weekly storytelling hour for children. Annually it sponsors a Nobel Peace Prize Luncheon, mounts a Peace Walk fundraiser and promotes green energy at a farm near Brookville, Ohio. The PeaceMobile, a retrofitted RV, visits festivals, schools, faith groups and community centers.

Most of this is done by 86 volunteers who lead tours or work behind the scenes manning computers, designing flyers, taking pictures, seeking donations – whatever it takes to keep things going. “It’s the way peace really works at its best,” with people from diverse backgrounds pulling together, says Jerry, a community organizer known nationally as a “peace troubadour” akin to friar Al Mascia at the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace in Berkley, Mich. The year’s most popular exhibit at the Dayton museum vividly illustrated diversity. “Peace Labyrinth”, a collection of quilts depicting the Golden Rule in more than 17 faith- and conscience-based traditions, attracted 2,000 visitors.

The mission here is “to present and inspire a peaceful alternative to the culture of violence so prevalent in our society” through education. Cultivating inner peace is one component; providing peaceful alternatives to violence is another. The basis of cooperation is “skill building in the areas of emotional intelligence, empathy and compassion, and conflict management/resolution.” As Jerry says, “We all want peace,” but our perspective often gets in the way.

Top, Phyllis Stonecipher with a quilt from the year’s most popular exhibit; above, attendees at the annual Nobel Peace Prize Luncheon; right, Jerry with some of the

museum’s Peace Heroes




A culture of peace

“What we do best is [show that] non-violence works. That’s where we have to put our point in our message” to promote a culture of peace by providing a neutral space for all views. Last year’s major topic was America’s Gun Culture.  “We spent a year researching it. It was intended to inform and be a place where people could talk about what their concerns were. We had seven or eight different programs with the community,” sparking dialogue among soldiers, pacifists, the police chief, a judge, a member of Congress and the treasurer of the NRA.

Getting past gridlock means “being in community” with groups that may seem like polar opposites, “bringing people together on a human level to talk about peace and what it looks like for them.”  For a soldier in Afghanistan, peace is the absence of conflict. For a refugee in Syria, it’s the security of food and shelter.

But making peace isn’t easy. How do you respond to senseless, unspeakable acts like the massacre of children in Pakistan? “We live in an imperfect world. Sometimes people use violence,” Jerry says, referring to the “poisonous” headlines we read every day. “People breathe that in. How do we find the peace that allows us to breathe out and find the hope?

“Maybe it’s the Prayer of St. Francis that gets people through the day. Maybe that’s their ‘center’.”

Or maybe you focus on a Peace Hero like Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress and the only member of the House to vote against U.S. entry into both World Wars. “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake,” she explained.

Jerry seconds that. “We have eyes and hearts and minds that remind us why that’s so true.”

(See Jerry Leggett take the Peace Prayer Challenge on our YouTube channel at youtube.)

Coming soon

The next exhibit at the Dayton International Peace Museum pays tribute to the Peace Corps, launched in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy to assist communities around the world at the grassroots level. “Peace Corps Experience: 54 Years of Global Service” is on display from Jan. 31-May 31 and will include lectures, discussions and special events; check the museum’s  website for details.

If you go

The Dayton International Peace Museum is at 208 W. Monument Ave. in downtown Dayton, Ohio (phone, 937-227-3223). Normal hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Dec. 24 through Jan. 1, reopening Friday, Jan. 2. There is no admission charge, but donations are gratefully accepted. The first floor only is wheelchair accessible.


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Gabriel in the chapel at St. Anthony Shrine.

  • Sit back, relax, and enjoy a beautiful rendition of O Holy Night performed by friar Gabriel Balassone. Gabe was recorded singing in the chapel at St. Anthony Shrine by Henry Wilson, son of Marilyn Wilson of the Mission Office. Marilyn found images to accompany the performance and assembled it all into a lovely video. Susan Quirk is the pianist. You’ll find it on our YouTube channel at
  • And speaking of videos, Fr. Jeff Scheeler talks about the history and mission of Friars Club in a new video posted at Friars Director Annie Timmons, board members and Archbishop Dennis Schnurr were all interviewed. Br. Scott Obrecht makes a cameo appearance toward the end.
  • Tuesday, Vatican press announced that Pakistani friar Samson Shukardin, former Custos of the Custody of St. John Samson Shukardin,OFMthe Baptist, had been appointed Bishop of Hyderabad by Pope Francis. The Diocese has an estimated 47,242 Catholics (served by 30 priests) in a population of 22,309,840. Samson, a native of Hyderabad, was ordained in 1993. “He holds a diploma in theology from the National Catholic Institute of Theology in Karachi and a licentiate in civil law from the Sindh Law College, and has served in a number of pastoral roles, including parish vicar in Gujrat, procurator of the Franciscan province, and custodian of the Franciscan Order and president of the Conference of Major Superiors in Pakistan. He is currently parish priest of the St. Elizabeth parish in Hyderabad, diocesan director of the Commission of Justice and Peace, and vicar general of the diocese of Hyderabad. He succeeds Bishop Max John Rodrigues, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted
    by the Holy Father.”
  • Unable to help staff the mall ministry in Cincinnati, friars in Pittsburgh did the next best thing: They sent homemade cookies – a ton of them. Pastry chef Fr. David Moczulski said he is a better cook than baker, but judging by the response from the public, no one would have known.

Christmas is that the lion and the lamb will lie down together and that there will be peace on earth for men and women of good will.  We so want it to be true, but there are days when it feels so far off.  Could it possibly be true?When I feel that way, which I confess is often, I remember the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  (Mk 6: 37) The disciples wanted Jesus to dismiss the crowd so that they could go buy some food for themselves.  “Give them some food yourselves,” he responded, and they protested that they only had a little.  But the little they had was blessed and multiplied.  It was enough.  I am also intrigued by the story of the demons that the disciples could not drive out.  When the disciples complained, Jesus told them that some demons “can only come out through prayer.”  (Mk 9: 32)

This year at Northgate Mall we have been inviting people to pray the Peace Prayer of St. Francis.  In clear imitation of the past year’s ALS ice bucket challenge, we have also invited them to challenge someone else to pray the prayer.  We post the video on Facebook and invite them to do a random act of kindness in the spirit of the prayer.  Auxiliary Bishop Joe Binzer of Cincinnati did it and invited some people in the archdiocesan offices to do it.  The Catholic Telegraph posted a video.  Visitors to the mall did it.  (Check out our YouTube channel at to see them.) We hope it spreads and grows, and that people all over will be doing acts of kindness.  It is little thing, a very little thing really, in the face of the huge problems of the world.  But maybe if enough of us pray the peace prayer, invite others to do so, and most importantly live and do the peace we pray for, we can recreate the world, and help bring about the peace on earth we all so long for during this season.  Another song says it well: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!  Maybe it will be blessed, and multiplied, and somehow be enough.

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Taking one small step for peace


It is better to light one candle….

Those of us who have participated in the Northgate Project have each had our own personal and unique experiences with our visitors.  Some of us have had opportunities to share stories, but each of us, I think, has experienced anew some facet of the pain and hurt all humans carry.  These were a few of the stories I heard.  A woman asked me to pray for her son who is in the military.  Several of his friends have committed suicide because of the stress and the concern for her son’s ability to deal with the pressure of war was written all over her face.  Another woman asked to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation; she confessed something she has carried around for over 15 years. I hoped I helped lay that burden down.  A man shared the anger and loneliness he feels over the death of his only son 13 years ago.  He has not been able to go to church since then; it hurts too much.

It is not only our personal Joe Hund and Dominic Lococo greets guests at the mall.PHOTO BY JEFF SCHEELER, OFMpain, but the whole world seems weary from the darkness of sin.  Boko Haram, Sandy Hook, ISIS beheadings, Ebola victims, Mexican drug lords, Ferguson, Mo., Ukraine, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques – just to name a few that come to mind.  Perhaps we feel like putting our hands up in surrender to the darkness like Michael Brown, or cry out, “I can’t breathe,” like Eric Garner.

As a Christmas song beautifully suggests, we live in a weary world, waiting for some thrill of hope to help us carry on.  We carry desperate hopes and fears, wanting them to be “met” and somehow relieved.  The promise of