Pro-life directors prepare for challenges, celebrate achievements
By Elisabeth Deffner
Special to the Catholic Review
ANAHEIM, Calif. – “This is a beautiful time for us to gather and get energized for a difficult year ahead,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said dryly as he began his homily at Mass Aug. 6 during the Diocesan Pro-Life Directors’ Meeting, held in the Diocese of Orange.
The 60 attendees of the meeting – organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities – laughed, and the cardinal made a wry face before going on.
Throughout the meeting – which was not open to reporters – presentation topics dealt with the challenges facing pro-life ministers and activists in the United States today. Archbishop William Lori, chairman of the USCCB Ad-Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, gave the opening keynote, touching on the HHS mandate and the impact it may have on people working in the pro-life arena.
But on the evening of Aug. 6, the focus was less on the challenges facing pro-life workers – though those challenges were certainly not ignored – and more on the joy of pro-life work.
“We in the pro-life movement – because the days can be long – there are moments ... that we may think the work is just a burden on us,” Cardinal DiNardo said in his homily.
“But Jesus carried the burden first,” he continued, reminding Massgoers that he did so with “joyful obedience.”
“We have to be joyful,” he said. “No one likes a sour pro-lifer!”
Meeting attendees laughed again.
Cardinal DiNardo was the principal celebrant at the Mass at La Purisima Church in Orange, Calif. Orange Bishop Tod Brown and more than half a dozen priests attending the conference concelebrated the Eucharist with the cardinal.
Mass preceded the celebratory high point of the meeting, the People of Life Dinner Banquet – an event that gave meeting attendees an opportunity to relax with each other, mingle with Diocese of Orange staff, and celebrate the work of the award recipients: Dr. Vincent Rue and Sister of Social Service Paula Vandegaer.
Rue, a psychotherapist who provided the first clinical evidence of post-abortion trauma, “set out to be the most ridiculed ... and vilified man among psychotherapists,” said Mary McClusky, secretariat special projects coordinator, in her introduction.
“Normally someone who made such a discovery would be greeted with acclaim, awards,” she said. “The official reaction to Vince’s research was basically to ridicule and ostracize him.”
In his acceptance speech, Rue noted that he had seen his father, the vice president of a marriage and family therapists association, suffer similarly when he spoke out against pornography long before mainstream America realized how big a problem it was.
“The only thing that matters at the end of the day is we made a difference and stood for the truth,” Rue said.
Based in the greater Los Angeles area, Sister Vandegaer worked as the editor of Heartbeat magazine, founded International Life Services and worked with agencies including Southern California’s Right to Life League, Holy Family Services and the Welfare Bureau of Los Angeles.
She came to pro-life work not so much because of the unborn, she said, “but because of my concern about what was happening to the women.
“The vision the Catholic Church has about the dignity of women is very, very important.”
Addressing herself to Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Brown, she noted that the work of church leaders in the prolife movement is vital.
“You’ve taken a beating and have kept the vision going,” she told them. “That’s very, very important for those of us who are on the grass roots.”
Concluding the awards ceremony, secretariat Executive Director Tom Grenchik presented Susan Wills – the assistant director of education and outreach – with a special award recognizing her tireless pro-life efforts.
Wills, who is planning to retire within the next year, was self-deprecating in her reception of the award. “I’m a bureaucrat in the church,” she said dryly. “I put in long hours because I’m not that organized.”
Working with pro-life directors across the country gives her both a feeling of admiration and wretchedness, she said. “I can sit in my office in Washington, D.C., read a little, write a little – and you thank me for it!”
Laughing, attendees applauded.
“See how much fun we have at work?” McClusky said afterward. “We are joyful, Cardinal DiNardo!”