Some months ago I was surprised to see that the area beside the Shawsheen River that lies between the upper and lower soccer fields in the Shawsheen neighborhood had been made into a reservation. I was pleased that the land would be protected.
What displeased me was the name: The Sacred Heart Reservation, a name referencing the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I am Jewish, I am secular, and I am an atheist. Suddenly, a place of natural beauty that had welcomed me for the 30 years I've lived here made me feel excluded.
I, along with another neighborhood resident, recently contacted the director of the Andover Conservation Commission to express our objection to the name. The director referred us to an unofficial historian who informed us that the name was a reference to the Brothers of the Sacred Heart who had previously owned the land and ran what was the Sacred Heart School on Balmoral Street, now the Balmoral Condominiums.
This was supposed to give the name historic credence. But what does this prior owner have to do with Andover’s history? Had the owner been Joe Shmoe, the Nation of Islam or Chabad, how would the commission have voted? Would it give the same name in today's context?
This country is predominantly Christian. And I understand that it’s likely that the voting members of the Andover Conservation Commission did not give the name of Sacred Heart a second thought.
But this is also the age of #MeToo and the Black Lives Matter movements, a time that insists we respect the rights and hear the voices of all.
Therefore, it is time our town demonstrate its awareness that names with religious connotations should not be given to public spaces.
Thus far, The Andover Conservation Commission has not offered my neighbor nor I a reply that states its intention to rethink the name and take a new vote. That is why I am making my request public.
I will even make the following suggestions -- that the commission entertain names offered by Andover residents and/or adopt the policy of Burnside, Australia that is as follows:
1. A name that “recognizes an individual who has provided outstanding service to the community for a period in excess of 10 years and either the individual or relatives of the individual approve the use of the name”;
2. A name that “reflects the character, landscape, function or (valid) history of the area or the site”;
3. A name that is an Aboriginal (Native American) name of relevance to the area and has the approval of the Kaurna people (tribe) it comes from;
One way or the other, the Andover Conservation Commission must rename the Sacred Heart reservation and future reservations with a name that unites and welcomes all who walk there.