Volume XII:1 January - June 2022
Sister Pascaline (on the right) with Fr Bede Griffiths
Sister Pascaline (on the right) with Fr Bede Griffiths
Sister Pascaline Coff, OSB (1927-2021)
A Testimonial
Anyone who has already read the brief account of Sister Mary Pascaline Coff’s life that was published by her monastic community on the occasion of her death on December 16, 2021 is aware of the many different ways in which she was of great service to others.  In her own Benedictine community, she was at various times the postulant director, novice director, subprioress, prioress, and even prioress general of her entire congregation, not to mention being foundress and first superior of Osage Monastery+Forest of Peace in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.  In this testimonial, I will focus simply on Pascaline’s outstanding work in promoting interreligious dialogue. 
How, you might ask, did she become so heavily involved in such dialogue?  It actually came as a result of her having served for six years as prioress general, for the late 1960s and early 1970s were tumultuous years of rapid change in the Catholic Church in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council.  As her fellow Sisters have written of Pascaline, during this time of rapid change “she showed a deep love for the congregation struggling with difficult changes that she courageously initiated.”  That deep love was understandably taxing, even exhausting, so after serving that six-year term as head of her congregation, Pascaline felt the need for personal renewal and received permission for what she herself called “the life-changing experience” of living a year in Bede Griffiths’ ashram in South India. 
Why that?  Why go halfway around the world from the motherhouse in Clyde, Missouri?  Pascaline herself gave the reason:  “I looked to the East … not for God's power so much as for consciousness of his presence, for deeper levels of consciousness of divine love.”  During that year she experienced first-hand how the riches of spiritual life are to be found not only within Christianity, whose mystical tradition she already knew and revered, but also in other religions, so upon returning to the States she took a leading role in helping found the North American Board for East-West Dialogue in 1978, for which she was the first executive secretary.  When I later joined that board (later called Monastic Interreligious Dialogue) and was eventually chosen to be its chair, four of us Benedictines were invited to visit Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in both Tibet and India in 1995.  Sister Mary Margaret Funk, who was then our executive secretary, and I readily agreed that one of the other two in our group should be Pascaline.  For us, this was a no-brainer, for she was already familiar with some of those monasteries from earlier trips to that part of the world, and beyond that expertise she had the personal warmth and sensitivity that would foster not merely communication but communion. 
Pascaline’s loving personality helped make this a very enriching experience not only for the other three of us Benedictines but also for every Buddhist nun and monk we met while abroad, including a memorable hour with the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamsala in northern India.  The next year, 1996, we were all together again at the first Gethsemani Encounter, where Pascaline gave an opening address titled “How We Reached This Point,” a survey of all the major events in East-West dialogue that had paved the way for that encounter, which has itself now become a reference point for all that has evolved in interreligious dialogue over the subsequent twenty-five years.  Looking back on her life of dialogue, Pascaline concluded an article in 2018 with the following words, which are a beautiful summary of what she modeled for all of us:  “When irritation and inconvenience turn into sacrament from sacrifice, when all our stages of consciousness are completely transformed by the purifying fires of divine love, each blossoms into a gift of surpassing wisdom with which we in turn are sacraments of divine compassion in this our day, awakened and over-flowing.”  May this wonderful woman now rest in the presence of the Lord whom she served all her life.  
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