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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Berkshire Profile: Natalie Cain

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, November 05, 2006

Natalie Cain stands near colorful paper cranes that will be used during a Thanksgiving Peace event sponsored by the Women's House of Peace. The cranes are part of a planned presentation of "Sadako and the Peace Cranes."
Welcome to Berkshire Profile, an iberkshires weekly feature appearing on Sunday. Each week, iberkshires will highlight a Berkshires resident or entity making a contribution to the Berkshires way of life.

North Adams - At 62, Natalie Cain believes she is entering a new season of her life.

"The autumn is a beautiful time," she said during a Nov. 3 interview at her home. "It's a time to gather all you have been a part of and let it shine."

Peace Is

What the autumn of her life is not is a time to slow down; Cain is very active with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, a co-founder and leader of the Women's House of Peace, a nun of the extremely active Sisters of St. Joseph order and is presently steeped in preparations for a Women's House of Peace-sponsored Thanksgiving event.

All aspects of peace - personal, spiritual, community, political and international - are priorities for Cain.

"Peace is here," she said. "All we have to do is stop. Just stop, and discover that peace is. We don't create it. Peace is."

Raising Cains

Cain was born in the city and lived with her parents at the family's Pleasant Street home. Her twin brother Neil Cain died several years ago. The household was active with youthful exuberance; "the twins" had five siblings, Richard, Joseph, Ann, Marjorie and Christopher.

"Everyone knew the Cain house," she said.

Cain attended pre-primary, kindergarten and first grade classes at the former Mark Hopkins school and when she entered second grade,she was a pupil at the St. Joseph's parochial school. Cain graduated from the high school as part of the Class of 1962.

"It was a wonderful time to grow up in [the St. Joseph's] community," Cain said. "It was vibrant, alive, St. Joe was bursting at the seams."

Cain has been a nun for 44 years; she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph convent immediately after high school graduation, she said.

Most of the order served as teachers and Cain was no exception. She became an elementary school teacher and taught at St. Mary's school in Longmeadow, mass. as well as St. Agnes school in Dalton.

"I taught first grade at both schools and third grade at St. Agnes," she said.

Teaching was apparently a family vocation as well. Joseph and Richard Cain became teachers as did Ann Cain.

And while she has been a nun for more than four decades, Cain is known as "Natalie" and not often greeted as "Sister."

"I'm not a person of labels," she said.

Cain described herself as a "people person with a deep need for solitude." The dual personality facets sometimes wrangle wit each other, but Cain said she finds ways to nourish both hungers. The Women's House of Peace, for example, sponsors numerous group activities throughout the year but also hosts regularly scheduled silent prayer or meditation sessions as well.

She stopped teaching during the early 1980s to care for her mother, who was ill. After her mother died, "I never really went back to teaching," she said.

"Everybody Has A Story"

She began working as a parish visitor for the St. Mark's Catholic church in Pittsfield. She believes that she visited over 500 people in their homes, and learned something from each one, she said. And there was an overall lesson to be learned, she added.

"I learned that everybody has a story and how important it is to listen," she said. "If we could learn to listen to each other - I've learned that listening promotes healing and understanding. Listening to someone says that they are worth your time. It's one of the most important things we can do as human beings."

And if people can open their ears, why not their hearts as well?

"I believe there are no strangers, just people we haven't met yet. When you meet new people, it can be like finding an aspect of yourself. If you see it that way, then everyone is awesome."

Peace and friendship may be better cultivated in more relaxed atmospheres, and those environments can be tough to find in modern times, she noted.

"Our society is such that we always have to go on to the next thing," Cain said. "There's no time to nurture."

Cain earned a master's degree in pastoral ministry at the St. Joseph's College, West Hartford, Conn., during the 1980s.

Connections

She shifted from parish work to an new job as a coordinator for the Berkshire Regional Office of Religious Education, and learned that she had a particular educational interest.

"I discovered that I had a passion for adult spiritual development."

Cain said that "spiritual development" isn't defined exclusively by religious affiliation.

"In trying to understand spirituality, I learned that it is not religion as such. Religion has a role and every religion has a spiritual aspect, but the spiritual doesn't always get nurtured. Spirituality is defined more as a connection, a connection to humans, a connection to nature."

Many structured religious spirituality programs focus on youth and do not speak to those who've reached adulthood, Cain said.

"And this is where spirituality really comes into play, when we are adults," she said. "What I found is that I loved developing programs for adults."

One adult-focused program Cain launched was called "Listening to God and Others."

"I saw the adults beginning to change and grow," she said.

"Religious education, and even regular education, doesn't teach us to value our own insights," she said. "We are always looking to someone else for answers."

Cain returned to the city to live and work in 1989. She worked at the Notre Dame parish in Adams and then at the St. Francis of Assisi Church in North Adams.

Times Of Change

During that era, many seeds of change were taking root in the churches and the neighborhoods, she said.

"At that period, you had some very active clergy in the city," she said. "They were socially -oriented, community-minded people."

Discussions that began as religious forums led to community involvement, such as the launch of the UNO neighborhood group founded by Shirley Davis. At that time, the NBCC was known as the Northern Berkshire Health and Human Services Center, and the agency was very involved with community as well, Cain said. The entity was seeking a "neighborhood development specialist" and Cain was hired for the task, she said.

Cain is an ovarian cancer survivor. The Women's House Of Peace began while she was recovering from surgery in 1991. Cain invited several women to explore and share spirituality at her home. The number of women who attended the sharings grew and the importance of the sessions became clear to Cain, and the Women's House Of Peace joined the community as a non-profit entity in 1996. The headquarters are at 20 Veazie St..

There are similarities between the NBCC and peace initiative, Cain said.

"The coalition had never existed before but there were many assistance groups focused on pieces of this and that," she said. "The coalition gathered all these people and brought them together. It was the same with the House of Peace. The House of Peace transcends all religions. It continues to be a place of spirituality but it is also about ways to connect with community."

Always In Awe

As someone who has visited areas of France, Italy, Guatemala and Mexico, Cain said she has been inspired by how people build a sense of community in other parts of the world.

"The stories of sharing and how people came to be in the same space are awe-inspiring," she said. " I realize just how much we are truly connected as humans and I am always in awe."

Her connection to the Sisters of St. Joseph is strong, and so is her connection to the Northern Berkshire residents.

"I think of myself as a weaver of people, a weaver of community," she said. "That's what the Sisters of St. Joseph are about and I am very much about the Sisters of St. Joseph and connecting neighbor to neighbor."

Collect The Nectar, Share The Honey

Her life may be reaching its' pinnacle in the coming years, she said.

"I feel that I am just coming into what my purpose is," she said. "I liken myself to a bumblebee who's been able to collect nectar from all these wonderful places. And I'm ready to discover and share the honey."

Susan Bush may be reached at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
Your Comments
Post Comment
I use to be a member of the Women's House of Peace and marched in the parade with them for a few years. Does anyone know of their website and how to access it? Please email me at Natalie923@gmail.com. Thank you !!
from: Natalie Cliftonon: 01-12 00:00:00-2009

Sister Natalie...An amazing woman who spreads cheer and makes fun any occasion she is involved with. She's a blessing to the young, to the elderly, to her friends. Natalie does God's work unobtrusively, quietly, but very effectively. Just knowing is a "feel good" feeling!
from: Fran Bedinion: 11-15 00:00:00-2006

Natalie was always one of my favorite people.I remember her pleaseant ways and she always had a smile on her face, along with a cheerful greeting to all of us little people.
St.Joe class of 1968
from: Sandy Sorelon: 11-15 00:00:00-2006

Sister Natalie was my first grade teacher. One day she came to school out of her "nun habit" and in her street clothes - none of us believed it was her for a while. She was a great teacher - very compassionate and obviously still is today - nice article!
from: June Roy-Martinon: 11-15 00:00:00-2006


 
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