Kate O’Beirne, Christ, and the Catholic Church

Remembering a great woman as we confront the current scene.

On Thursday night at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., Mary Rice Hasson hosted the inaugural Kate O’Beirne Event, in honor of our late National Review and National Review Institute colleague. The event was entitled “The Future of the Church: Synod, Scandal, and Solace,” sponsored by the Catholic Women’s Forum, a program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. I was honored to say a few words at the start of the program about my beloved friend. The following piece has been adapted from my remarks.


There’s so much I can and want to say about Kate O’Beirne, but I hope these brief remarks help us all a little.

I first met Kate O’Beirne when I was an undergraduate at the Catholic University of America. I was an intern at the Heritage Foundation, and she was the vice president of government relations there. I looked up to her, even before I knew her. When I got to know her, my gratitude to her, and to God for her, only ever grew. It only ever has.

She was wise and fun. She was smart and bold.

As many of you know, she was a longtime presence on CNN’s Capital Gang and Washington editor at National Review, among many other things. But as the tributes testified when she died, she was above all a wife, mother, sister, friend, and mentor. She was godmother to Bob Novak, Judge Bork, and our beloved colleague Ramesh Ponnuru. She was a Marian presence in the Washington halls of power.

I often associate Kate with Mary. One dear reason was just a cute little story from her later years, when she gave me a bracelet for my birthday with various images of Mary — Our Lady of Lourdes and of Fatima, and the Immaculate Conception. She had told me of a few other people to whom she had given the same bracelet and said we were in “the Mary Club.” She wanted us to remember Mary always. She wanted to keep her close. And she wanted that for others.

I remember another time when the conflict with the Obama White House over the Health and Human Services mandate and religious liberty had begun, and all Kate really wanted was for all Catholics to pray a “Hail Mary” for religious liberty after mass. Sure, she had lots of political and policy insights, and she spent her days addressing those, but she also knew where the real power was.

One of the last times she was on TV, it was in Rome, with some of our friends. It was only one of a few times when we got to be on television together, which was always great, because she would make me sound better than I would ever be on my own. We were there with Mary Matalin and Peggy Noonan — with whom we especially loved to be in Rome, and were blessed to be more than once — on Raymond Arroyo’s show at the time of the canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII. Kate told the story of one of John Paul II’s miracles, when she met him with her husband, Jim, and their sons Phil and John, in his private chapel after mass. She said that she was actually speechless upon meeting him — which was the miracle. If you knew her, you heard her — she did have the gift for saying the funniest and cleverest and wisest things. And you wanted to hear more. You also enjoyed when she repeated something you said, making you feel so much smarter than you had ever felt on your own. She lifted people up and helped us be better and enjoy life more and be holier in some of the most attractive ways, drawing others to the same.

But I also have to tell you that speechlessness that day wasn’t actually a miracle of Saint John Paul II. Sanctity filled her with wonder. I traveled the world with Kate O’Beirne, and I saw her silent many times. She was a beloved and loving daughter of God at mass. I remember being with her in the house where it is believed that St. John and the Blessed Mother lived in Ephesus. The heart of the place seemed to clear out for us, and God was so present. I saw her struck by wonder at moments like that. I saw a window into her deep and rich interior life. And she loved John Paul and Mother Teresa and St. Francis of Assisi. And we had a particular fun love for St. Clare based on one of our adventures together in Assisi one year.

I remember sitting at a table more than once with her and young priests, and she had such a look of joy on her face. She was so grateful for young men who answered the call to the priesthood in love and obedience to God. And she believed we had a responsibility to help and encourage them. She also felt very strongly that they should all get to go to Rome, and she and Jim arranged for a number to go there on pilgrimages.

I was over at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception earlier today. It’s one of the many places in the world where I think of Kate. I realized today that it was one of the last places I saw her out and about — at Justice Scalia’s funeral. I thought of that day and what a powerful witness it was to the world about Christian fatherhood and the priesthood. I thought about how much Kate valued those things.

Kate used to tease me about the time I was called to Rome to receive a message for all the women in the world — that’s what the invitation said — from Pope Benedict. It said in part:

And now it is to you that we address ourselves, women of all states — girls, wives, mothers and widows, to you also, consecrated virgins and women living alone — you constitute half of the immense human family. As you know, the Church is proud to have glorified and liberated woman, and in the course of the centuries, in diversity of characters, to have brought into relief her basic equality with man. But the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling. . . .

Women, you do know how to make truth sweet, tender and accessible. . . . Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.

She would tease me that I never talked enough about it around her — when I was asked by the pope to repeat it to all the women of the world. I, of course, didn’t have to. She was showing us, in so many ways more powerful than talking, how to save the peace of the world, by the way she lived.

I know some of you were blessed to know Kate. For those of you who didn’t, I keep expecting her to walk in the room so I can introduce her. But I know our Redeemer lives, and she’s been called to the greater glory that she helped so many of us know and love. I’m so happy that there is a program and a series in her name now at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. I also am fairly certain that anyone looking to be a wise and prudent and clever and generous Catholic witness in the world — and maybe especially in this town — has an intercessor among the cloud of witnesses in heaven in Kate O’Beirne.

And about what’s going on in the Church today, I know she’d say: pray. Of course, she would be on the phone advising. She would be respectful but also direct. She’d be nudging us all through her commentary. But most importantly, she’d be imploring us to keep our eyes on Christ. There’s a homily of St. Paul VI that is in the Office of Readings every year where he insists on proclaiming Christ by name and often. She’d be there. She lived there. And not only by talking about Him, but by radiating Him. She could be a beacon in otherwise typical Washington rooms, caring for the least noticed, and making us all better for her presence, coming to know the nature of God better by the encounter.

Christ calls us to live differently, to let Christ transform us. This is what she strived to do, even amidst all the human weaknesses and temptations we all have. And through her final hours, God could be seen. She died on Divine Mercy Sunday, and that was no coincidence. Her last message to us seemed to be exactly that: to trust in Divine Mercy more, and live Divine Mercy. She did powerful and pious things such as go to Confession. We must get ourselves there and maybe even more often, too.

For every word you speak commenting on the situation in the Church — or distressing about it — triple the time you spend in prayer. I was at mass at the Basilica at the hour of Kate’s death, and it was the Sunday after Easter, so there were so many sung Alleluias. That’s what I associate with Kate and her life. Real belief in the Risen Christ, lived out in the world. And this we must do and show the world.

Thank you and God bless you and this conversation tonight — and all conversations about Holy Mother Church.


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