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    A lay monastic family,  questing for  the sacred,  and advocating for children.  

Sharings - Starcross' Seasonal Newsletter

Sharings - Summer 2001


At last, here is a time for peace and solitude. The weather is warm. Puffy clouds drift by. What could disturb this opportunity for deepening our spiritual life?

Well, there are the apples that have to be picked because they are ripe NOW. Andrew has to be at his camp the same day we are picking Holly up from hers? How could that have happened? Our kids in Uganda (see page 2) are refusing to go back to their school? The deadline for getting out the newsletter was last week? The dog chewed up what? No need to go on, our life in the summer is just like yours - challenging. Add to this, planting six acres of olive trees (see page 3) With eight workmen and half-a-dozen pieces of huge equipment we can have a very stressful time (except for Andrew who loves big equipment.)

Regardless of all of the above, this is a season for finding the sacred space in our lives. The space we already have. The winter weather probably kept you out of the yard. Now, if you remember, you can sit and enjoy that little plant in a corner or in the park. And soon you will have a visitor from poetry, a bee or butterfly from Emily Dickinson, a dragonfly or frog from Issa.

My little peaceful spot is near a huckleberry bush. As a boy in the Cascade mountains I loved to eat huckleberries. A few years ago the children and I found a wild huckleberry bush here, on a shaded path behind the chapel. Each summer we see that it regularly gets a bit of water. When David was 10, he thought of combining the berries with damson plums for a pie. We only have enough for one pie a year - but what a pie! I have never tasted anything like it. When it is baked a deep reverential hush falls over the, often rowdy, gang in the kitchen. I imagine you have had some moment like that in your kitchen.

When I sit by the huckleberry bush, all these memories come in on me, my own boyhood, times with the children when they were young, glad times, sad times, people who have enriched my life. Oh yes, God comes in at some point to share the moment as well - just about the time I remember the pie.

brother Toby


Whenever sister Julie goes to Uganda, she has heart to heart talks with the older girls about being modern women in the modern world. Traditional African village society tends to put females in a subservient role. When the girls first come in from remote areas they are not used to making decisions or speaking up for themselves. They often kneel when they talk to a male in authority. Sister Julie feels it is important to encourage more equality. To serve as a loving caretaker and role model she recruited a dynamic Ugandan woman, Margaret Nanteza, as assistant director. With Margaret’s guidance our young women are blossoming. Reticence is no longer a problem. In fact, quite the opposite!

Their new-found power showed up in a recent letter. Several older girls led a group of our kids at boarding school who decided that the standards were not high enough for gifted students. The library wasn’t adequate. The lack of a lab was a real problem for those desiring a career in science. The food was bad. We took the issues seriously. Sister Julie intended to scout for a better school on her next trip in the autumn. However, they didn’t wait. A very polite, but resolute group decided not to return to school after the term break. They realize that their future depends on education. It took a great deal of negotiating by phone and fax to resolve the crisis. Another school with an excellent reputation for placing graduates in universities was found. Although we’ll have a hearty phone bill this month, we were pleased that these young people felt confident and secure enough to voice their concerns. And, that they trusted us to do something about them. We urged them to give us advanced warning next time!

As these 98 children mature it becomes necessary for us to visit more often. We are reluctant because of the expense and the time involved but the young people are in need of us at this critical time. We at Starcross and the sponsors represent hope in a pretty dismal world. Each child will take a unique path in life.

For more information contact sister Julie. We need funds, beyond the sponsorships, to meet expenses for the benefit of all the children.



 Our sponsored girls realize they have more options than did their mothers. For example there is Nagawa Mabel whose mother brought her to live at the House of Hope last fall. It was a physically difficult and painful journey as the woman was dying of AIDS. Her greatest fear was that her husband would take his 12 year old stepdaughter Mabel as a “young wife”.

This is a common practice. There still exists a myth that marrying a virgin can cure AIDS. Obviously all that does is infect another person, often at a young age. Since HIV testing is not readily available, people can be in denial about their HIV status for years until the symptoms are unmistakable.

Fortunately Mabel’s mother was able to die relieved that her daughter would be safe.


A good friend in California, who is living with AIDS, sent us this touching poem written by her teenaged daughter to an orphaned pen-pal who lives at our House of Hope.

You may live far away, But I think of you all the time.

We have different backgrounds, But one thing in common - AIDS.

I may have more material goods, But you are a lot stronger.

I know life is hard, But we have each other.


When our friend Charles Schulz died last year there was a question as to whether the Holiday Ice Show in Santa Rosa would be able to continue. It was always heavily subsidized. Fortunately, the Schulz family has decided to continue the show, but they must reorganize to decrease the financial drain, and they can no longer do a benefit for Starcross.

For the past 8 years this has been a wonderful coming together and significant support for our children’s fund. We are very grateful, and hope to plan another annual benefit to replace it.


In the near future we hope to have several people join us from time to time as long-term retreatants. They will be coming for spiritual reasons and a desire for quiet reflection. They will join with the community in the chapel services.

Housing will be in the “rustic” old farm house. They will cook for themselves and help out several hours a day with light duties. Other time is free for meditation, prayer, reading. On days when we all must be away with the children they will house sit and feed the animals.

If you are interested in connecting with us in this way, contact sister Julie.


We are planting an olive grove where once we raised Christmas trees. The idea came from Cistercian sisters in Tuscany who grow olive trees and make their own acclaimed oil. Their climate and soil are similar to ours. The sisters gave us very practical advice and sent us a bottle of their oil with a hand-drawn and colored label. Their monastery, and their oil, is called “Valserena” - “Peaceful Valley.”

We are planting our trees on a peaceful hillside. There is something very special about it. Everyone who is working on the hillside loves it. The chapel is at the top of the hill. Our “Garden of Memories” is off to the side. About a third of the way down is our house. On the western edge is a small Scotch Pine grove - much loved by the birds. At the bottom of the hill is a giant oak tree. Although it was damaged by last year’s fire it still lives, watching over the 1200 little trees we have planted.

We were able to begin this project because of the generosity of a friend who encouraged our desire to be more self-supporting. He left a bequest in his will. Our first pressing of oil will probably be in 5 years. And, we will be urging you to have a bottle of our oil on your table!

Olive trees appeal to us because they are more than just a means of self-support. An olive grove is a sign of peace and a symbol of our hopes for the future. It will be here 300 years from now. It also connects us with biblical times when an olive grove offered a place for rest and contemplation. As the sisters of Valserena tell us, “Olive trees are very good spiritual companions.”


Barn swallows started migrating to our old redwood barn when it was built in 1902. Thousands of birds have been born in nests protected by its eaves.

Then, as so often happens in life, a chain of events began in a corporate headquarters far away from our peaceful home. A power company made the decision to cut back on maintenance. This meant that a badly damaged wire was not replaced, fell to the ground, started a grass fire in 36 places, and caused our beautiful barn to burn down in July of last year.

PG&E, the utility company, recently had some financial trouble and protected itself by filing bankruptcy and raising rates. The swallows had no protection. Their exit last year was horrible. Would they trust us and come again?

They did come back. The early arrivals found the eaves of houses and sheds. Many had to be creative. One family is being raised in an outdoor fire alarm bell! Some have gone to the woods around the chapel. The chirps of the newborn can be heard as we come out of Morning Prayer. At Vespers, the adult birds glide beautifully through the evening air in search of insects.

Hopefully, the swallows will return again next year near St. Joseph=s Day (March 19) to find we will have a new barn with protective eaves. Our architect, Lamont Langworthy, is sensitive to the needs of the swallows as well as to our own.

Like the birds, we also lost some protection. Because PG&E filed for bankruptcy, our lawyers are now less confident the utility will ever be made to pay for the damage. We start construction on a new and much needed barn this autumn not knowing how far we will get. We must be prudent, but also like the birds, we must trust it will all work out.



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