Twenty-five years ago, I first sat down in a tiny, borrowed office in a rectory of my home town of Port Chester, N.Y. I had no staff and I didn’t even know how to turn on the computer. I sat at the desk and said to the Lord, “Now, we begin.” It was my first day as the leader of a two-year-old organization known as Priests for Life.
The founders of the organization gave me their mailing list and during a formal ceremony at the cathedral in San Francisco in October 1993, they transferred the bank account to me – all $3,000 of it.
I was an early member of Priests for Life because, like the founders, I saw the great need to empower Catholic priests to become better advocates for the unborn. I began writing articles for the Priests for Life newsletter and strategizing with Father Lee Kaylor, the founder.
When Father Kaylor asked me to take over leadership of the organization, I had already been planning to ask my bishop, Cardinal John J. O’Connor of the New York Archdiocese, to grant me permission to work full-time for the unborn. Leading Priests for Life provided the context to do precisely that.
The association was warmly received by the U.S. Bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities and by the Holy Father’s representative in the United States. Priests for Life’s relationship with the Vatican has deepened over the years, beginning with my appointment to work in Rome for the Pontifical Council for the Family, which was established by Pope John Paul II to foster the pro-life, pro-family activities of the entire Church. I also served on the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Word of the work of Priests for Life also spread to India, where Mother Teresa of Calcutta invited me to visit her and to speak to the sisters and priests in the region.
Our initial outreach was to the ordained clergy, specifically priests, deacons and seminarians, but in 2003, our ministry began to grow in new directions. The Silent No More Awareness Campaign, founded by our executive director, Janet Morana, and Anglicans for Life President Georgette Forney, came under our umbrella. Alveda King, the niece of Rev. Martin Luther King, came on board as our full-time director of African-American outreach, now known as Civil Rights for the Unborn. Rachel’s Vineyard, a post-abortion healing ministry founded by Dr. Theresa and Kevin Burke, became part of Priests for Life in 2004.
In time we would add an international outreach and receive status as a non-governmental organization at the United Nations. Long-time pro-life activist Marie Smith, the wife of congressional pro-life warrior Rep. Chris Smith, came on board with the organization she founded, the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues. Activist Bryan Kemper joined us with his youth outreach, Stand True.
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Since 1994, at the request of EWTN Foundress Mother Angelica, Priests for Life has produced a weekly pro-life television show, Defending Life; its 33rd season begins this week. In 2011, Janet Morana and two co-hosts began airing episodes of a brand new show that was conceived as an alternative to network programming for women. The Catholic View for Women also begins a new season this week. We have added a pro-life radio show, The Gospel of Life, on Radio Maria, and the End Abortion Podcast on iTunes and many similar platforms. My team and I regularly stream messages on Facebook Live and other social media. The Priests for Life team, myself included, has published numerous books, and we have now started our own publishing concern, Priests for Life Publishing.
As our political activism also has grown exponentially over the years we have never forgotten that prayer is the root of all we do. We foster prayer campaigns and novenas throughout the year, corresponding to various liturgical and secular seasons and holidays, and I have composed prayers that address every aspect of pro-life – including Stations of the Cross and meditations on the Rosary.
So much has changed since my first day on the job with Priests for Life. I learned everything I could about computers. Our budget and staff have grown along with our outreach. We spent 17 years headquartered on Staten Island, N.Y., just blocks from my first parish assignment after Cardinal O’Connor ordained me in 1988. In September 2017, we were able to purchase a building in Titusville, Florida, so our ministry expansion can continue.
I am so grateful to everyone who has helped us along the way – our generous benefactors; our supporters in the clergy and the Catholic Church; our ecumenical and interfaith relationships; our dedicated and hard-working staff. I thank you all.
Since Cardinal O’Connor ordained me and launched me into this work, I have tried to follow his example by never wavering in my faithfulness to the teachings of the Church, and by reaching out, always, in compassion to everyone. Over the years, we have succeeded because we have kept that focus.
On my anniversary this Saturday, I will sit at my desk and I will spend time in reflection and prayer. Then I will get back to work.