Interview with Dr. Marilyn Leo
Part Two—In a Three-Part Interview with Dr. Marilyn Leo, Founder of the SOM Archives and Library
YOU MET YOUR HUSBAND IN THE 1950S AND DATED BRIEFLY. WHEN YOU CONTACTED HIM IN 1980, DID YOU WANT TO RE-ESTABLISH A DATING CONNECTION, OR DID YOU JUST WANT TO REACH OUT TO AN OLD FRIEND? WERE YOU HAPPY THAT, HE, TOO, WAS PART OF SCIENCE OF MIND? WHEN YOU MET HIM IN THE 1950S DID IT HELP OR HURT THAT HE WAS SO DEEPLY CONNECTED TO THE CHURCH OR DID THAT NOT MATTER TO YOU AT THE TIME?
“Richard and I met at a private club dance near the Institute in Los Angeles in the mid-1950s. It was a private function totally unrelated to Science of Mind. While we were at the dance, he told me about his involvement with the youth at the Institute of Religious Science. Richard had just come out of the Navy, and he had found Science of Mind and was really interested in organizing the youth of the Church in a deeper way. Of course, Richard was surprised when I let him know I was familiar with The Institute and Ernest Holmes. He deeply admired Ernest and my step-dad, Reg, and he always admired my parent’s affectionate relationship. Richard and I dated a couple of times after the dance. He loved to meet my Mom and Dad as they appeared to have the kind of marriage he was looking for; they still held hands and sat close to each other on the couch. But he and I were not right for each other at that time, so after dating for a while—I broke it off. Then I married another man, and soon after he married someone else as well. But while Richard and I were first dating–much to my mother’s amazement—I made an announcement for an upcoming youth fundraiser from the Wiltern Theater stage. I also helped with the youth on a bus ride to Asilomarthat Richard and I chaperoned and led. My mom always liked Richard, and throughout the years she kept me apprised of what was happening in his life: that he had married, that he had become a minister, that he had divorced. She was always trying to keep alive my interest in Richard.
“Anyway, our personalities were very different in the 1950’s and the time was not right. He went on to marry and divorce, as did I, and in 1980, close to Thanksgiving, I wrote him a note at the Santa Rosa Church. He was not aware, but I had been going to the Santa Rosa, Healdsburg area since childhood. I had family there, who had a ranch since 1943. By 1980 the ranch had become a vineyard. I was planning to visit that family for Thanksgiving weekend. In fact, a soloist at Richard’s church was my cousin whom I was visiting. And, the Santa Rosa area was where Richard’s new church appointment was. So, then, in 1980 a romance blossomed. Richard came out to the ranch after having Thanksgiving dinner and visiting with a couple from his congregation. We talked into the wee hours. Finally, on Friday, March 13, 1982 we were married in the Santa Rosa Church of Religious Science with Dr. Robert Scott of the San Jose church officiating.”
DR. LEO, FOR PEOPLE UNFAMILIAR WITH YOUR BACKGROUND OR YOUR LONG RELATIONSHIP TO SCIENCE OF MIND, WHAT ROLES HAVE YOU PLAYED IN THE CHURCH AND THE ORGANIZATION. WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP NOW TO SOM AND THE SOM ARCHIVES?
“In 1985 I entered the school of ministry—what is now the Holmes Institute. Richard and I moved to Oregon in 1982, and started a church in Medford, Oregon. I would come to Southern California for special classes or workshops that were required. I also attended college courses at Rogue River College. With the help of the former president of United Church of Religious Science, Bill Colson, I had created a large book of personal life experiences, which was about two inches thick to document experience in place of a Bachelor’s Degree. Dean Kojoi Nakata, then head of Education with the Ernest Holmes School of Ministry, approved of it as “Life Experiences” in place of a Bachelor’s Degree, which allowed me to proceed with ministry school. I would come to Southern California for special classes or workshops that were required. I also attended college courses at Rogue River College.
“Almost immediately upon being approved to enter the school of ministry, Richard became very ill and was paralyzed for a time. I was given a novitiate license so that I could carry on the ministerial duties that Richard could not—performing weddings, writing and performing on TV in Medford, being a chaplain for a couple of the local hospitals, and, of course, still seeing clients as a practitioner.
“Over the years I have served on many committees for United Church. I think the first one was the nominating committee for United Church, nominating the board members and leaders of the church. In Medford I organized the New Thought ministers of Southern Oregon; there were many of us, and we met once a month. We would travel together for the International New Thought Alliance (INTA) meetings held in Portland, Salem, or Eugene, Oregon. We put on the first Universal Hour of Peace in the Medford area. Around the world on December 31st at noon Greenwich Mean Time, this was 4:00 a.m. in Oregon, people came together to start the year off with one hour dedicated to peace, so that it would expand throughout the year. Ministers of New Thought including Richard and I would do readings and lead meditations. People were coming from around the area including newspaper reporters. Because of the weather, which was ice and snow that day, Richard and I got a few hours of sleep in the building where we held church, rather than drive the icy roads to our home in the hills above Medford. At 3:00 a.m. when we went to the Armory in Medford, where the event was being held, it was estimated that there were 200 people in attendance. We had several of the New Thought Ministers participate with readings and music. During that hour we produced a meditation tape that many people used for a number of years. That was a moment of our ministry that really stands out for me.”
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU LEAVE MEDFORD? IS YOUR HUSBAND STILL ALIVE? AT WHAT POINT DID YOU LOSE HIM?
“Richard and I decided we wanted to be back nearer to Los Angeles; Richard wanted to teach at the Institute. We let it be know that we were interested in a new church ministry. We met with a couple of churches. The minister in Lancaster was retiring, and they had a beautiful new church, so we chose that as our new church home. Richard and I were co-ministers.
I gave up that ministry to live, during the week in Los Angeles. For about a year and a half, I was the Director of the Ministry of Prayer, which I renamed to the World Ministry of Prayer (actually that had once been the name, so I just changed the name back.) I rented an apartment close to the Holmes Center, and would come to the Ministry of Prayer in the middle of the night when needed. Occasionally, one of the volunteers would be absent, and I would fill in.
“The office of ecclesiastical representative (ER) was, perhaps, the most challenging position that I had. When churches or ministers are having difficulty, we, the ERs, are called onto help disperse the fear and anger. Our role is one of support, neutrality and peace giving. Also, during that term, I became very interested in supporting our global centers. Among four others covering the world, my district was the Southern California district and the global centers except for Canada. When my term was complete, the global communities were separated into their own district as far was representation was concerned.
“When that took place, Rev. Nirvana Gayle invited me to be on a committee to enhance the creation and recognition of our global community. When Rev. Gayle resigned from that post, I was elected to head up the group. This committee consisted of ministers, practitioners, and lay members whose main interest was international affairs. We met regularly and increased the global community by leaps and bounds. Today, there are 63 global centers, excluding Canada, listed in the SOM magazine directory. Now that United and International Centers are one—there will be many more. In fact Centers for Spiritual Living has over 450 worldwide in over 30 different countries. There are 79 Centers or Study Groups worldwide!
“Then in 1997 I retired as a minister; my husband, Richard, passed in 2004.
“I have been on the Wisdom Council for many years, since its inception by Devona Cox. The Wisdom Council is a group of retired Ministers that offered their services for things like Panels for Practitioners and Ministerial Candidates, for guest speakers, or interim ministers. We were in charge of handling the voting at conventions. I served in all the officer capacities of that organization at one time or another. It was through the Wisdom Council that Bob Gale, who was the Chief Operating Officer of United Church at the time, approached us and asked the members of the Council if they would like to take the many files, books, and records and create an office archive of the organization. Richard and I had both known Ernest Holmes, so we volunteered to start the Archives project. “
DR. LEO, WHEN YOU FIRST SAW THE MATERIALS THAT WERE TO MAKE UP THE ARCHIVES, WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION? DID IT SEEM OVERWHELMING? EXCITING? IMPOSSIBLE? WHAT SEEMED LIKE THE MOST CHALLENGING PROBLEM WHEN YOU FIRST GOT STARTED?
“When I first saw the tiny little room in the basement of the garage in Holmes Center in Los Angeles, I was very surprised. It was crammed full of metal file cabinets and wooden bookcases and some shelving. It was ceiling to floor all around the outer wall with an island set-up in the center. I was excited to find out what treasures were stored there.
Dr. Leo and her husband, Richard, both sought education about what to do with all the material.
“My husband, Richard Leo and I attended, through Elderhostel, a week-long class on archiving at Colorado State University in Durango, Colorado. At that class, we learned how to separate and organize the documents to be preserved. We learned about containers and the need for acid-free folders and boxes. We learned how to label the boxes once they are complete. That, however, has not been completely accomplished as of yet because there is still so much work in organizing that needs to be done.
“The papers in the ‘storage room’ were from staff desks when they left. For instance, we have papers on all the business that was to take place at a particular board meeting. We have all the financials from the treasurer. So there are duplicates of these papers that came from several different people’s desks when they left. When we first began the clearing of papers, we would go into a folder, find the subject, place those papers into an acid-free folder, label it as best we could, and put it into a box. We would continue until that box was full. Then we began a new box. At some point, we knew we had to separate items mostly by subject rather than by author, as archives are supposed to be filed. At this time, we STILL have in boxes duplicates of papers that have not been sorted out.”
In the third and final part of our interview with Dr. Marilyn Leo—she details all of the hard work, highlights key volunteers, that aided her throughout the years, what kinds of materials they discovered in the old files, the publication of books with “NEW” old material, and the main problem facing the Archives and Library today—RELIABLE FUNDING FROM DONORS AND SUPPORTERS OF SCIENCE OF MIND. Please come back and read the rest of this great interview! Part 3 will be posted on Friday, January 4th.
Rev. Dr. Marilyn Leo