Communities hoping to keep abortion businesses out of their cities and towns should take a lesson from Macon, Georgia.
Theresa Causey was 17 years old when an abortionist ended her life there in 1988. Hers was the last abortion performed, at least out in the open, in the city nicknamed “the heart of Georgia.” Pro-lifers have gone to great lengths to ensure their city remains abortion free.
A monument to their efforts is the St. Maximilian Kolbe Center for Life, which opened earlier this month in a new location. Dr. Richard Rowe, a physician following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, bought a building where an abortion business was about to set up shop.
“I feel a little awkward talking about it. I’m just a humble Catholic boy,” Dr. Rowe said. “But this is about the work of the Holy Spirit.”
Pro-lifers in Macon are practiced at overcoming obstacles, and the Catholic pregnancy resource center’s opening in 2014 is testament to that. The city with a population of 153,000 was already home to a pregnancy center, and some felt there was no need for another. But efforts persisted, and the first Kolbe Center opened in a borrowed space.
Pro-lifers in Macon also resurrected the annual March for Life on Jan. 22 and they participate in Life Chains every October.
When Summit Medical Center’s plan to infiltrate the community became known, even though pro-lifers were caught off-guard, “we already knew how to organize,” Dr. Rowe said.
Ann Beall, executive director of the Kolbe Center, said the Summit plan was uncovered when she received a text from a friend who was at a meeting of zoning and planning commission. She asked if Mrs. Beall had ever heard of Summit Medical Center, and said 30 people were there to speak in favor of its proposal to open a women’s health center. No one spoke out in opposition. The commission granted the conditional use permit by unanimous vote.
“I started Googling and found out who they were,” Mrs. Beall said of the abortion provider with businesses in Atlanta and Detroit. She received a copy of Summit’s application, which said chemical abortions would be among the services offered.
“That was a Monday night,” she said. “By the next Monday, we had 150 people out in front of the building on Walnut Street praying.”
Mrs. Beall never realized she had to be attentive to zoning applications before the Summit situation cropped up.
“Now,” she said, “I get them delivered to my inbox weekly.”
Dr. Rowe and his wife, Suzanne, were on their way to their daughter’s graduation from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., when they found out about Summit. From afar, they helped plan a rosary rally that became an ecumenical gathering when Protestants joined with Catholics in large numbers.
Pro-lifers turned out in front of the proposed abortion mill on a daily basis. A full-page ad was purchased in the Macon Telegraph, listing the names, phone numbers and email addresses of council members and asking residents to intervene on Summit’s approved zoning application. The city was blanketed with yellow lawn signs opposing the abortion business.
“Those were all over town,” Dr. Rowe said. “They were everywhere.”
In June 2018, pro-life activist Rev. Walter Hoye came from Oakland, California, to speak at a rally in front of City Hall. Air time was purchased on local radio stations, parking was organized and shuttle buses to take people to the rally site were arranged. Water and first aid stations were set up.
“About 600 people came,” Dr. Rowe said. “That’s a pretty good rally for Macon.”
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Owners of properties adjacent to the contested building went to court because they had not been notified that abortionists planned to set up shop in their midst. The case was thrown out on a technicality: Although attorneys were on time turning in the paperwork to appeal the zoning decision, the court clerk court didn’t register it until the next day – a day past the deadline.
“We were stunned by that,” Dr. Rowe said. “But five property owners agreed to appeal to an appellate court.” Summit’s application would be tied up for a year, at least.
“Summit had spent $50,000 in legal fees and the owner of the building was feeling lots of heat, and then word came down that he was willing to sell. Nobody wanted to be the landlord of an abortion clinic but he kept saying he could get out of the lease.”
Every day after learning the long-vacant building was to become an abortion mill, Dr. Rowe would stand outside at 6 a.m. and pray the rosary, holding a sign that read “Abortion Hurts Women.”
“Two feral cats would sit and watch me every day,” he said. He liked the building and its location, on the western edge of downtown, on a bus line and about a mile from Mercer University. One thing he didn’t like:
“Hedges reached up almost to the eaves of the building,” he said. “Every day I thought that I sure would like to trim those hedges.”
Dr. Rowe’s friend and a long-time leader in pro-life, Ned Dominick, arranged for Dr. Rowe to tour the building that had once been a radiology center. The owner met them there, and his asking price was estimated to be twice what the building was worth.
“I grew up in a family of contractors and I knew the building was not worth that much,” he said. “I drove away thinking I didn’t have to worry about buying that building.”
But it nagged at him.
“I kept hearing a voice telling me that no matter what the price the owner wants, it’s less than what a human life is worth. So the price was really a fair price.”
Dr. Rowe went home and told his wife, “I think the Holy Spirit is telling me to buy that building. And she said that if the Holy Spirit was telling me to do it, she wasn’t going to tell me not to.”
Another meeting was arranged with the owner by a commercial realtor, in a parking lot where a contract of sorts was drawn up on the only sheet of paper handy. Dr. Rowe had to come up with the purchase price in cash within two weeks, including a large “earnest money” deposit within two days.
“Someone who asked me for that kind of money might as well be asking me to help them go to the moon,” Dr. Rowe said. “But I said let’s do it. Then I’d worry about how I was going to do it.”
Using a personal line of credit, he was able to come up with 20 percent of the funds. Then he went to a former business partner and asked to borrow the 80 percent balance until he could arrange a conventional mortgage.
His friend pointed out the obvious – that Dr. Rowe was putting his family’s financial future at risk – but then went to his desk and wrote a big fat check.
Summit signed an agreement breaking the lease with the previous owner, leaving Dr. Rowe with a building that needed a new roof, new air conditioning, asbestos removal, new floors, sheetrock repairs, ceiling tiles, new plumbing, and the removal of a 23,000 pound MRI machine.
“The building was just an absolute mess,” he said. “One of the first things I did within a week was trim those hedges I’d been staring at for five months.”
Renovations began in January 2019. Mr. Dominick had a friend willing to get the MRI machine out if he could keep and sell the metal. Speir Electric did extensive electrical work free of charge. Pyles Plumbing took care of the plumbing. Financial “windfalls” Dr. Rowe had not expected covered the cost of new air conditioning and a new roof.
The plan had always been to move the existing Kolbe Center into the new space, and nine months after he bought the building, the new building was dedicated.
Mrs. Beall described the center as “amazing. It’s light and airy. A local business lent us their interior designer. We have a light-up sign in front of the building. The neighbors are delighted.”
In addition to cribs and diapers and clothes for both moms and babies, the center offers ultrasound and pregnancy tests, counseling, referrals to community agencies, adoption planning information. Post-abortion counseling also is available, as well as information on natural family planning.
Father Denise Wilde, OSA, associate director of Priests for Life, was present, along with Bishop J. Kevin Boland, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Savannah, and Catholic author and radio host Teresa Tomeo.
Father Wilde credited Dr. Rowe for his “patient persistence in keeping killing out and fostering love for life.” The Kolbe Center, he said, “is truly an inspiration, and a spiritual boon to the community of Macon.”
Ms. Tomeo, the host of television and radio shows on EWTN and a best-selling author, noted that “It’s easy to get discouraged in the pro-life battle. We are getting hit from all sides no doubt. But what I saw with my own eyes and felt with my heart the minute I walked through the doors of the amazing Kolbe Center, was that at the end of the day we keep doing what God calls us to do and He will indeed do the rest.
“Dr. Rowe is a tireless, humble, pro-life warrior and had a team of other pro-life warriors who prayed unceasingly and took on what seemed like at first, insurmountable obstacles; namely going up against a major abortion provider. To think what could have been happening in the building gives one chills. At the same time it is such a beautiful and bold example the Scripture verse ‘with God all things are possible.’ ”
Dr. Rowe was able to repay his benefactor and now holds the mortgage on the building the Kolbe center occupies. All funds raised go towards helping mothers choose life.
The feral cats who kept watch with him all those early mornings still come around.
“When I first started saying the rosary, I felt like there was a supernatural presence, like I was being watched over,” he said. “The Holy Spirit used me as a tool; I just did what I was supposed to do.”
It’s possible the Holy Spirit is not finished with Macon even now. There’s a rumor that Summit is prowling around Warner Robins, a city 30 miles south.
“We’re watching for it,” Dr. Rowe said. “We’ll be down there to help.”
Mrs. Beall, who grew up in Warner Robins, said, “We will do whatever we can to help them. Our goal is to keep all of middle Georgia abortion free.”
LifeNews Note: Leslie Palma writes for Priests for Life.