Posts in Category: Honoring Heroes

RIP Nellie Gray, Pro-Life Champion

August 14, 2012 – The National Pro-Life Center on Capitol Hill mourns the death of of Miss Nellie Gray, constitutional attorney and foundress of the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.

Father Paul C.B. Schenck, NPLC’s founding director and chair, said: “Nellie Gray lived her life well, she was devoted to the most vulnerable members of her human community, to justice and right. She remains an inspirational leader, a woman willing to stand against the currents regardless of the cost. As a champion of the right to life, human dignity and the common good, she almost single-handedly sustained the longest enduring public protest in American history, the March for Life. May God receive her now and may He bless her work to the end that all human life is respected and protected.”

Nellie said that others helped her organize the first March for Life in 1974, but they needed somewhere to gather, so she opened up her apartment for the cause. Little did she know back in 1973 that the March for Life would become America’s largest longstanding series of marches on Washington -  little did she expect it would take so long to overturn the Supreme Court’s devastating rulings.

In 2011, when WND interviewed Nellie, she said: “Why do we come out to Washington officialdom to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court declaring that our innocent pre-born brothers and sisters are not persons and some people could intentionally kill them with impunity in America? Because the killing of one innocent person is the killing of too many. But over the last 38 years, America has suffered the intentional killing of more than 50 million pre-born children.”

August 13 Obituary from the March for Life Education and Defense Fund

Nellie Gray, Pro-Life Hero – 1926-2012

Nellie Gray, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, passed away over the weekend at the age of 86. Nellie was a native of Big Spring, Texas. She served in World War II in the Women’s Army Corps. Nellie’s education included an undergraduate business degree, a master degree in economics, and ultimately a law degree.  Nellie worked for almost 30 years for the U.S. Government in the Departments of State and Labor.

After retiring from her federal career, Nellie played a key role in founding the March for Life, the peaceful pro-life demonstration held every year on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Roe v. Wade. She soon emerged as the leader of the annual event and as an outspoken, eloquent advocate for the most vulnerable members of our society, the pre-born.

In addition to her heroic work for the March for Life, Nellie will be most remembered for her passionate stance that every life, born and pre-born, aged and young, must be cherished and protected: No exception! No compromise!

Until the very last moment of her life, Nellie pressed for unity in the pro-life movement. She firmly believed that not a single pre-born life should be sacrificed for any reason, and urged all pro-life organizations to adopt the March for Life’s signature statement, the Life Principles, as the guiding light for all participants in the noble cause to which she devoted her life.

Nellie has been a giant in the pro-life movement. As we approach the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we will continue to honor Nellie’s memory by doing everything possible to protect every pre-born human person and to end the scourge of abortion in the United States.

The portrait of Nellie Gray comes from the March for Life Education and Defense Fund.

In Memory of Dr Bernard Nathanson: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

By Deacon Keith Fournier, John Paul II Fellow and Special Counsel

On Monday, February 21, 2011, Dr. Bernard “Bernie” Nathanson, a hero to the Pro-Life cause, passed into the hands of the Lord. He was also my friend. Days before I had received an email from Fr “C.J.” John McCloskey who told me Bernie would soon be going to the Lord. I immediately stopped what I was doing and prayed for this man whose example inspired me and so many others. However, when I heard the news, I wept.

I met Dr. Bernard “Bernie” Nathanson at a retreat many years ago, sponsored by Opus Dei. I will never forget the moment I first saw him. He was kneeling in the chapel, obviously deep in prayer. He seemed profoundly burdened. I had known of him for many years. However, that weekend and for years to come I would get to really know him. He was a  modern day St. Paul and his courageous story of conversion and dedication to the fundamental human rights issue of our age will be spoken of as a part of the history of this great human rights struggle.

As that weekend progressed I spoke with Bernie and we attended some teaching sessions together. We participated in the Holy Eucharist. I was struck with the genuine humility of the man. His reputation had preceded him and I already considered him a hero. As someone involved in the Pro-Life effort my entire adult life, Bernie’s witness had motivated much of my own Pro-Life work. However, on that weekend and for the years that followed, I met Bernie the penitent, pilgrim and Christian, a  man who, hiving come to see the gravity of the horror which he helped to inflict, found freedom and a new life at the Cross of the One whose death brought him and the entire world to a new beginning.

I remembered Bernie back when he considered himself a Jewish “Pro-Life Atheist”. He was one of the best examples we had back then of the truth we proclaimed that the Pro-Life position was not dependent upon any religious revelation. However, like many drawn by the truth of the humanity of the child in the womb, Bernie’s unquenchable hunger for truth led him to seek its fullness in the heart of the Catholic Church.

During the nineties I led the efforts of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a pro-life law firm,  as Executive Director. Bernie was so convinced of the need to overturn Roe and use the Courts to undue the horrid injustice inflicted upon our youngest neighbors that he was contemplating going to Law School. I remember how inspired I was that, at “his age”, he would consider such a change in his life.

In the process of his discernment we spent some wonderful times together. He had a place in Norfolk, Virginia where he did some of his writing. I learned much from this man who refused to accept the absurd notion that age actually limits our obligation to do what is right. All these years later, as I try to write a PhD dissertation in Moral Theology at the age of 57, I owe the inspiration to continue to live this way to Bernie Nathanson. he understood one of Blessed John paul’s favorite sayings, “Christ is forever young.”

Over the weeks since he died the Pro-Life world has been be filled with well deserved accolades for Bernie. I know he would not feel worthy. Over the years I knew him I came to see that the man I first met kneeling in prayer carried with him an extraordinary burden for all of the lives lost as a result of the evil of abortion.he knew he had participated in the construction of the evil “Culture of Death”. The weight I sensed upon his shoulders was that of a true penitent. He carried a deep sense of responsibility for his past. It was a burden he carried only by grace.

However, he also experienced the great joy we read of in the story of the pentient woman who annointed the Lord’s feet with expensive ointment and washed them with her hair when he entered the house of a Pharisee. Jesus  used the occasion to teach his disciples concerning the gift of forgiveness. Jesus told them:

“You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love.” (Luke 7:37 -50) Bernie knew that kind of great forgiveness and, as a result, he had great love for the One who had called him from darkness to light. Like that woman, Bernies faith saved him and he knew it. he not only turned away from death but became one of the great architects of the new “Culture of Life”.

As an obstetrician, Dr. Bernard N. Nathanson became the director of an abortion clinic where he presided over at least 60,000 abortions. He instructed others who performed 15,000 more abortions. He estimated having personally performed about 5,000 abortions. He acknowledged that he killed his own child whom he and a girlfriend had conceived in the 1960′s. Co-founder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now NARAL ProChoice America) Bernard Nathanson was a leader of the early abortion movement.

It was sonogram technology which opened his eyes to the evil of every procured abortion. His 1985 film The Silent Scream is one of the most powerful testimonies to the truth of what occurs in every abortion. His documentary film Eclipse of Reason, explains the gruesome procedures used to execute the child in the first home of the whole human race.

In 1979 he co-authored Aborting America which ripped the veneer of civility off of the beginnings of the abortion movement. Bernie told me that he helped to come up with the use of the word “choice” to hide the truth. As I came to know him it became obvious that he felt deeply responsible for the horror that sophistry unleashed. He also acknowledged that he and his abortionist colleagues lied about the number of women who died from illegal abortions in order to garner support.

In his 1996 autobiography The Hand of God, the weight of all of this is clear. He wrote, “Abortion is now a monster so unimaginably gargantuan that even to think of stuffing it back into its cage is ludicrous beyond words. Yet that is our charge – a herculean endeavor.” He openly acknowledged “I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age.”

In 1996 Bernie was baptized into Christ by Cardinal John O’Connor in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and received confirmation and first Communion. He wrote of the day, “I was in a real whirlpool of emotion, and then there was this healing, cooling water on me, and soft voices, and an inexpressible sense of peace. I had found a safe place.”

Father McCloskey concelebrated the liturgy that day. He was used – as he has been in the lives of many high profile converts – to help lead Bernie to the fullness of the Christian faith in the Catholic Church. Bernie had a deep affection and gratitude toward Father John.  He helped him find new life in the waters of rebirth, at the Baptismal font.

In an interview with the National Catholic Register Fr. CJ said of Bernie, “He saw the whole culture of death coming, and knew that abortion was just the tip of the iceberg.” He wrote an epilogue to the second edition of The Hand of God, and called the book “one of the more important autobiographies of the twentieth century.”

Standing as a sponsor for Bernie at his Baptism was Pro-Life heroine Joan Andrews Bell. She told the Register that before he died “He said he was praying for us, and I told him we love him and pray for him, too.” In that same interview Joan confirmed what I had sensed all those years ago, “he had a deep pain for what he had done in terms of abortion. I remember there were periods he was fasting; he underwent huge amounts of fasting to make up for it.”

Toward the later years, Bernie’s body grew somewhat frail with age. However, he was a man with strong shoulders. Along with Fr Paul Schenck and so many others still engaged in the work of building a culture of life, I draw great strength from his life’s example and solicit his prayers now that he has found peace in the communion of love. The greatest tribute we can give to honor this hero of the Pro-Life movement is to stand on those shoulders and continue his work.