"For the Common Good": Reflections on Community-Building from Sister Pat Farrell of Santa Sabina Center


“I believe that the community—in the fullest sense: a place and all its creatures—is the smallest unit of health and that to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a contradiction in terms.” 

― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays


“Community is learned.”

―Sister Pat Farrell, OP


Most of us like the idea of community. Are we willing to work for it, though? 

We want to surround ourselves with people who share our values, folks we can count on through thick and thin. Yet we struggle to coexist with family, neighbors, and coworkers, striving to compromise while also letting our own deepest truth shine. And we realize, sometimes painfully, that the quest for community is never finished, but is an ongoing challenge. 

In her remarkable career, Dominican Sister Pat Farrell, OP, has faced such challenges over and again. As she prepares to celebrate her 25th jubilee (or holy year) with the Catholic Church, Sister Pat has not only dedicated her life to serving the community around her, but has lived closely in community with fellow sisters along the way. A friend of iRest Institute, Sister Pat serves as hosting manager at Santa Sabina Center in San Rafael, California, where she has helped organize countless iRest retreats. In her role at Santa Sabina, she works with a wide range of groups to “hold space in a way that promotes contemplative ways of being”. 

According to Sister Pat, hard work is required if we want the benefit of community. “It’s a lot of give and take. A lot of kindness. A lot of forgiveness.”

Kindness is important, she says, but it is not enough to edify a community. “If we are faith-filled people walking some kind of spiritual path, do I not want to be kind? ...but that’s where the rubber hits the road.”  Flexibility and a willingness to compromise, she emphasizes, is also required. “All must be negotiated… for the common good.

To know how to live in community—locally or globally—is an increasingly valued skill.  While loneliness and isolation certainly existed prior to the pandemic, says Sister Pat, the health crisis has exacerbated the divide we often feel between one another. To improve our capacity to build community, we must look at its basic building blocks:

  • Rituals: holding sacred time together
  • Chores: sharing work
  • Meetings: communicating openly
  • Celebrations: cutting loose together

Also crucial? A rock-solid sense of our individual selves. “As human beings, we’re geared to be in relationship with one another,” says Sister Pat, “but also connected to ourselves.”

We at iRest Institute are honored to host a conversation on the theme of “community” with Sister Pat Farrell in our upcoming Sangha Session with Richard Miller on Tuesday, November 17. Register for the 11/17 Sangha Session>

Meanwhile, we celebrate the rare and beautiful treasure of community you all have helped create, with gratitude to Sister Pat for her years of work, and to each and every one of you who mindfully and skillfully works to build togetherness in the iRest community. Thank you!


Join the conversation

Old-man-way Schnell

Permalink November 14, 2020 at 9:52am

I just re-read Pema Chodron's *Six Kinds of Loneliness*. While I'm never sure I understand anything it seems she is saying not to to run from isolation or being alone. Do not try to cover it up with eating or drinking or watching TV or thinking or doing anything else in particular. She says to just sit and be "content" with isolation. Having endured 7 or 8 months of partial isolation what she says is beginning to get through to me. Does way of looking at things conflict with the formation of Community?

Many Thanks

Yao t

Permalink November 15, 2020 at 9:52am

Thanks for the awesome recommendation of Pema Chrodon's!

After reading, I feel ultimately it won't conflict although it may seem to conflict from time to time.

I also feel you're a young person although your nickname is old-man-way haha.

Many thanks,

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