In September of this past year, Pax Christi USA lost one of our most spirited long-time leaders. Carol Ann Breyer passed away in her sleep at a motel, on the way to a retreat with long-time friends associated with the Sisters of Mercy, with whom she had spent a significant part of her life.
Carol Ann has been with Pax Christi USA a very long time, from her time living in and around Washington, D.C. to later life when she was the state coordinator for Pax Christi Florida, one of the regions of PCUSA.
I had first gotten to know Carol Ann and her husband Lee while a young man in my early twenties. I was new to Pax Christi, and in attending the retreats and conferences with the section in Florida, I found myself surrounded with opportunities to be mentored and taught by people who had marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., been arrested at actions protesting our nation’s nuclear weapons with Fr. Daniel Berrigan, worked alongside Dorothy Day in Catholic Worker soup kitchens, and practiced lifestyles rooted in gospel nonviolence for decades. Carol Ann was one of these people who broadened my own understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus and how to live one’s life as a witness to the peace and justice for which he had lived, died and rose.
Carol Ann is typical of many of the Pax Christi people I have met, from all parts of the United States. She was active in the civil rights movement, started continuing education programs for adults, and developed small communities focused on renewing the Church. She helped to coordinate and organize international election observers for Florida during the 2004 presidential election, turning upside down the practice of U.S. citizens undertaking such missions in countries in Africa and Latin America and shining a light on the hypocrisy of our own government’s claims to conduct free, fair elections without voter discrimination or suppression.
Carol Ann helped establish the community college system for Florida, opening up opportunities for education for millions who otherwise would not have been able to afford to continue their education after high school. She worked with the homeless and those in prison, and she was one of the first Catholics I knew to connect seriously our work for peace with the burgeoning climate justice movement of the 1990s. To that end she and Lee built Mercy-on-the- Manatee, a house that won awards for energy conservation and environmental sensitivity and served as a gathering place for activists committed to environmental justice.
In reflecting on Carol Ann’s life, it occurred to me that it is in just how typical Carol Ann is of many Pax Christi USA members that the atypical nature of Pax Christi members stands out within the larger culture of the United States. This is part of the gift and grace of Pax Christi USA within the heart of the first world, the Global North.
Carol Ann’s life, extraordinary in and of itself, is echoed by the lives of people like her who make up Pax Christi USA from New York City to Honolulu, Alaska to Florida. Carol Ann’s own life intersected personally and professionally with so many of these people, and they—like her—were emboldened and challenged and encouraged and supported in finding others who share the same heart, the same soul for creating a “more peaceful, just and sustainable world.”
I have been on staff at Pax Christi USA for 14 years now and I am proud to find myself part of a people who carry on the witness and passion—embodied every day in thousands of ways—for which Carol Ann stood. Here at the beginning of 2015, I give thanks for Carol Ann’s life and witness, and for the lives and witness of all the members of our movement here in the U.S. and throughout the world. With our partners and our friends, may we continue to strive to make a difference in a world which hungers for the peace of Christ.
Johnny Zokovitch, Pax Christi USA Director of Communications