What Is the Agape Community?

Community gardening volunteers!

Community gardening volunteers!

Co-founded in 1982, The Agape Community is a lay Catholic residential community, ecumenical and interfaith in outreach and practice, with a focus on daily prayer, evangelical simplicity (eco-spirituality, sustainability, organic garden, vegetable oil fueled car, straw bale house, compost toilet, solar energy, wood stoves for cooking and heat) and nonviolent witness in the world, including actions against war, peace vigils, tax resistance and civil disobedience when called, as we attempt to build a nonviolent world.

How It All Began…

In 1987, co-founders, Suzanne and Brayton Shanley and their daughter, Teresa, moved to 32 acres of land in the Quabbin Reservoir watershed, where, together with hundreds of volunteers, they built the first community building, Francis House, with interest free loans, donations and generous donations from donors who supported the Franciscan charism of:

  • Simple living
  • Healing power of nature and solitude
  • Education in gospel-based nonviolence and mindful listening, conflict resolution and mediation as a solution to personal, societal and world problems
  • Sustainability with Agape’s large organic garden providing about 60% of the vegetarian diet for the community

In 1997, Agape launched its second building project, a straw bale house, with solar energy, compost toilet, wood cook and wood heating stoves, named after the Celtic saint, St. Brigid of Ireland, patroness of the Arts and Hospitality.  The sustainable community model is designed to inspire people to live a more simple, creative lifestyle, in a theology grounded in ecology, rather than consumption.  Agape members drive the Agape “vegetable” car, which uses fuel from friolator grease from a local Restaurant 99.

Interfaith Service--Francis Day

Who Lives at the Agape Community?

Permanent residents, co-founders Brayton Shanley and Suzanne Belote Shanley, join with those who reside for short or long periods including interns (long-term), volunteers (short-term), guests and retreatants in the Agape Hermitage.

Over the years, our interns have included: a married couple on sabbatical from Ithaca, New York; a family of six from Minnesota; students from colleges in Marlboro, Amherst and Boston. Agape has also welcomed interns from The School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College (Contextual Education) who have earned course credit here, as have students from Holy Cross and Worcester State College.

On occasion, Agape is able to offer hospitality and short-term housing for those in need of immediate housing or at risk for violence.

What Is the Agape Education Ministry?

Our ministry in education is an effort at “right livelihood,” which includes education in nonviolence, sustainability, and gospel-based witness.  We teach at universities, colleges, and parishes offering workshops and retreats at host sites as well as on the Agape homestead.

Veterans for Peace Alternative Parade

How We Make a Difference

A Glance Back

  • Hundreds of city youth have come to Agape, including Latino and African-American youth groups from New York, Boston and Springfield MA, including the homeless and those who serve the homeless.
  • Agape has launched initiatives against war, such as the national Catholic Call to Peacemaking urging nonviolent solutions to 9/11, signed by over a thousand people, urging the Bishops to turn from their endorsement of the bombing of Afghanistan.
  • We vigil in our town square, joining with others nationally in opposition to torture and racial in justice, including the arrests of some in the community during the early days of the Iraq War.
  • Agape’s 20th Anniversary we hosted an anniversary event at Holy Cross College, with the sponsorship of then Bishop Daniel Reilly and Prof. David O’Brien, chair of the Center for the Study of Ethics and Culture, with a keynote address by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, Michigan.
  • Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi was our keynote speaker for our 25th anniversary in 2007, featuring an interfaith service.
  • Other keynoters have included Sr. Miriam Therese McGillis; Juanita Nelson; Vincent Harding; Dave Dellinger.

In the Present

  • Agape has become a beacon for college campus ministries, environmental and ecological groups seeking to understand simple living and its connection to nonviolence. Groups such as Springfield College and Fairfield University, bring students for a day, a weekend, and an overnight to experience homesteading, silence and the beauty of the Quabbin Reservoir as well as to fulfill community service requirements.
  • Interracial and interfaith college and university groups find a home in our midst where cultural and ethnic diversity is a given.
  • Christian groups come to Agape to learn about gospel-based nonviolence through the life and teachings of Jesus; the tenets of the Just War and Nonviolence, as well as the theology of environment and ecology.

Who Supports Agape?

Support for the ministry comes at various times from 300 benefactors, individuals, and peace organizations, as well as from the various Catholic Dioceses in Massachusetts and New England for whom Agape offers programs in parishes, schools and colleges, as well as hosting programs on site.

Agape has been the recipient of grants from religious orders over the years including Dominican Sisters of Illinois; Sisters of St. Joseph, School Sisters of St. Joseph, Notre Dame Sisters in Massachusetts, to mention a few.

Donations and grants have sustained the community in its outreach to inner city youth, including successive years of youth retreats at Agape, which now focus on college age youth, adults in a variety of contexts from peace and justice organizations, to parish, Just Faith groups and others.  Individual support of the community is the lifeblood of its work. Friends of Agape choose to support us with prayer, shared labor, financial sustenance monthly and annually, as well as through outreach and education on life at Agape.

Our sustenance consists of donations for hospitality, intern ministry, retreats, workshops, day or week long community service days with colleges, and use of the Hermitage.

Agape Co-Founders

Agape was co-founded in 1982 with Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy. Agape’s first home was in Brockton, MA. Suzanne, Brayton and Teresa Shanley moved to Hardwick in 1987, to begin the building project which was to become Francis House, with architect Robert Wegener and carpenter, Daniel Lawrence, along with hundreds of volunteers.

Suzanne Belote Shanley and Brayton Shanley, Agape Co-Founders

Suzanne Belote Shanley and Brayton Shanley, Agape Co-Founders


Brayton Shanley earned his BA from St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire and an MA in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College. Brayton has taught college courses on the Philosophy of Nonviolence at Worcester State and as an adjunct professor at Anna Maria College in Paxton, MA& and has been leading workshops, retreats and seminars on Prophecy and Peace, Gospel Nonviolence and Sustainability, simplicity and Resistance since the early 80’s.


Suzanne Belote Shanley completed her MA in English at the State University of New York at Buffalo and a post-Masters Degree (MPhil) in English at Simmons College in Boston, MA.

Suzanne and Brayton have lived in community as a marriage vow, committing themselves to a simple lifestyle, including living under taxable income threshold, with their daughter, Teresa, who grew up at the community, bonding with children from the Catholic Worker and other faith-based nonviolent families in the area.

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 Questions? Email us at [email protected] or call us at (413) 967-9369