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DATELINE TEXAS 0 ne of the higher points of land on the Kenedy Ranch, which spans more than 400,000 very flat acres of South Texas coastal plain, is the sand dune where the enterprising Mifflin Kenedy chose to locate his ranch headquarters in the 1880s. On that same son John Gregory Kenedy later built a Spanish-styled stucco mansion, equipping a lookout tower at the very top with a Gatling gun to ward off invaders. By the 1950s the gun had been dispensed with, but the lookout was still in use: John Gregory’s widowed daughter Sarita Kenedy East would climb up to the tower during the evenings, her whiskey in hand, and survey the miles of mesquite and brush where once she had played cowgirl. To her, even imaginary raids must have seemed long past. Until very recently, the only assaults on this remote stretch of desert south of Corpus Christi were conducted by birdwatchers, solitude-seekers, and northbound immigrants. But invasion once again became a real prospect at the Kenedy Ranch last month, after word got out that military officials and local bureaucrats considered it a good location for the kinds of controversial military exercises conducted currently in Vieques, Puerto Rico. The “Big House,” as the mansion is called, and 1,100 surrounding acres now comprise the Lebh Shomea house of prayer, a retreat community dedicated to silence and solitude, overseen by the Oblate order of Catholic missionaries. Naturally, it is not the sort of place that wants a Navy-Marine warfare training center for a neighbor. No one speaks at Lebh Shomea \(the name except during morning mass, lunch on Sundays, and scheduled meetings. The rest of the time, the three permanent clerics and their temporary guests hear only the wind, the birds, the crickets and the cicadaswhich are sometimes very loud, but not as loud as ship-toshore shelling. Father Francis Kelly Nemeck, who has served as Lebh Shomea’s director for almost 30 years, says that after some initial experiments with other forms of retreats in the early seventies, which were poorly attended due to the ranch’s out-of-the-way location, he and others realized the facility was best suited to solitary contemplation. Now, Lebh Shomea welcomes up to 25 silence-and-solitude-seekers at a time, who may come from any walk of life and stay for as long as they wish. \(Most pay a suggested contribution of Nemeck is a lean man in his mid-sixties, quiet but not humorless, who tools around Lebh Shomea in a golf cart and counsels guests in his spartan cedar cabin. As a boy during World War II he lived on a series of military bases, and then in the proximity of military hospitals: His soldier father was severely wounded in the Pacific and spent three years recovering. The family ended up in San Antonio, where Nemeck, who at the age of 13 wanted to be a missionary, entered the Oblate junior seminary. He went on to seminary and graduate work; his doctoral thesis, on the 16th century mystic John of the Cross and 20th century theologian Teilhard de Chardin, addresses “the positive and constructive value of human suffering” and is dedicated to his father. Nemeck came to Lebh Shomea in 1973, after missionary work in South Texas and postings in Texas and Canada. He learned of the proposed bombing range on June 23, when the news first made the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. As he read that morning, the range would not include Lebh Shomea, but it would occupy 220,000 acres currently owned by two Catholic charities: the Kenedy Memorial Foundation, to which Sarita Kenedy East willed her holdings, and the John G. Kenedy Jr. Charitable Trust, named after East’s brother. \(The two entities control all of was hard to tell exactly how close the range would be to Lebh Shomea, because, says Nemeck, “Nobody who’s really moving the proposal has had the decency to come here and explain where these borders are. Judging by what’s been printed in the paper we’re within three to five miles of it.” Just who did know ahead of time about the bombing range isn’t entirely clear. Word of the plan was leaked in conjunction with a bit of Capitol intrigue, starring that intriguer-inchief, Karl Rove. Rove was reportedly a key player in the administration’s June 14 decision to end the bombing of Vieques in 2003a decision that caused some Republican hawks to gripe that political adviser Rove was exerting undue influence on military decisions. Then on June 22, The Washington Times reported that Rove had planned to meet with Pentagon officials to be briefed about Vieques, then abruptly cancelled the meeting when questioned about it. Apparently, the possibility of transferring the war games to South Texas would have been part of that briefing. In subsequent reporting, the following facts came to light: that this ingenious scheme was the brainchild of a retired Marine engineer by the name of Pat Veteto, and that it was further kindled by a representative of that distinguished institute of policy studies, the Kingsville Greater Economic Development Council, as well as by Corpus Christi Congressman Solomon Ortiz \(who was publicly critical of the the Corpus Christi Chamber of Celestial Battle In Kenedy County, a Quiet Priest Speaks Out BY KAREN OLSSON 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7/20/01