Do You Know Pro-Life Heroes? Are You One in the Making?

Pro-life marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters )
A book that acknowledges, celebrates, challenges, and inspires.

‘There are heroes.” They are often, however, “suppressed or forgotten.” In Apostles of the Culture of Life, Donald T. DeMarco chronicles the lives of some of them, calling them apostles “because their acts of heroism include delivering a message to society that is as vitally important as it is politically incorrect.” They are in many walks of life and “should be inspirations for every person of good will.” To mark the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade today, he talks about some of his book and his thinking.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: How important is it to remember and acknowledge pro-life heroes the way you have?

Donald T. DeMarco: Most people, as Thoreau famously stated, lead lives of quiet desperation.  They may be underestimating themselves. Nonetheless, despite our innate proclivities to pride, we do want to look up to people. We place star athletes in halls of fame and award fine actors and actresses with awards, honors, and lavish accolades. We are less prone to look up to philosophers, theologians, and moralists. That is primarily because we do not know who they are.

In order to advance a civilization of love, we need to know who the true role models are and they are rarely depicted on the cover of Time. Time passes, but moral heroes — the saints, for example — remain. No matter how far you push the envelope, to employ a trendy slogan, it remains stationary. True heroes reflect eternal values. Defending innocent human life is surely an eternal value. It is a value that has no expiration date. As C. S. Lewis once remarked, “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.”

Lopez: Is there one common thread in the lives of all of these apostles?

DeMarco: The common thread has three strands. First, the “apostles” are courageous individuals who do not kow-tow to political pressure. Second, the abortion issue is crucial and is either underrepresented or misrepresented by the mainstream media. And third, the heroic witness of these “apostles” is critical for a world that is looking for heroes and searching for real values. I wanted to bring these three factors, which are tightly intertwined, to light. I truly enjoyed playing the role of servant and giving the “apostles,” their indefatigable dedication and the importance of what they fought for, a little more public attention.

Lopez: You met or knew some of these people. Was there something fundamentally different that made them tick?

DeMarco: I had the great fortune of meeting and getting to know many of the “apostles.” The common denominator I found was their approachability. They were easy to talk to and their company was easy to enjoy. Despite the many hardships they suffered, they did not display any bitterness. The issue to which they were dedicated transcended any ego interests. So it was easy to laugh with Mother Angelica, dine with Jérôme Lejeune, listen to classical music with Dr. John Billings, introduce Dr. Jack Willke to my family, stay overnight with Gene Diamond and his brood, enjoy a pot-luck supper with Steven Schwarz, play the piano for Helen Hitchcock, chat with Jim McFadden about our beloved Bosox, and so forth. The media, in general, miscast pro-life people as rigid, closed-minded, and on the wrong side of history. Such characterizations could not be further from the truth. If a person truly loves life, that person will be only too happy to share his life with you. Love for life does not refer to an abstract kind of love but love for a living person, however young or old that person may be. I would add to “approachable” the word “genuine.”

Lopez: If only one of these apostles could be better known, who would you advocate?

DeMarco: I would select Wanda Poltawska. She is not well known, but her life is dramatic enough to warrant a full-length movie. She suffered interment at the Ravensbrück concentration camp and witnessed unimaginable atrocities, yet she never lost hope. She survived the ordeal and became a psychiatrist allowing her to treat, among others, the deeply traumatized “Auschwitz children.” A person of unshatterable faith, she shared that faith with her close friend Saint John Paul II. It may have been though the intercession of Saint Padre Pio that she was miraculously cured of cancer, a great blessing for her, her husband, and four daughters. She is a testimony to the strength of the human character, one who can rise above the most horrible forms of injustice. Poltawska’s story integrates faith with science, love with forgiveness, and professionalism with unswerving dedication. She is surely a great lady and one who deserves broader recognition.

Lopez: What about those of us who might not be called to be giants? How can we be apostles of the culture of life? What kinds of questions should these stories prompt for people about what more we all can and should be doing?

DeMarco: The Christian does not aspire to become a “giant.” He tries to be faithful. God does not measure people according to their height but according to their heart. Shakespeare referred to man as the “quintessence of dust.” We come from and return to dust. But the “quintessence” (the “fifth essence” which was believed to be imperishable) raises the human being to a new level.  He is “immortal diamond,” in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Without having to be concerned with secular accolades, each one of us can do extraordinary things. Anyone of us can be God’s mouthpiece or a lamp. To cite Shakespeare again, “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” We should never underestimate the value of kindness, nor should we underestimate the importance of witnessing for the unborn. We are mustard seeds that can move mountains.

Lopez: Why did you include Walker Percy in your book?

DeMarco: Walker Percy was a scientist, a medical doctor, and a talented writer. His first novel, The Moviegoer, earned him the National Book Award. USA Today described him as “a dazzlingly gifted novelist.” Such a gifted individual offers a most credible witness for the unborn. As a pathologist, he knew about the suffering and demise of others. As a patient, he was twice stricken with tuberculosis. He was snubbed by the New York Times. He had no illusions about people in high places. In Love in the Ruins he writes, “Principalities and powers are everywhere victorious. Wickedness flourishes in high places.” He entered the Catholic Church and was not blind to her problems. Another of his best-sellers, The Thanatos Syndrome anticipated how euthanasia would follow abortion. And yet he maintained his cheerfulness, and his wit was a hallmark of his writing. He read the great philosophers as well as those who were not so great.  His dismissal of deconstruction is both insightful and humorous. He was a man of God and therefore a man of hope. His witness for life, particularly the life of the unborn, is most impressive.  Pro-abortionists will find no holes either in his life or in his writings to gain entrance. This “apostle” of life is fully deserving of the accolade.

Lopez: Why did you dedicate the book to Jim McFadden?

DeMarco: Jim McFadden was my mentor. More than anyone else, he introduced me to the breadth and gravity of the abortion issue. I was always pro-life and was affiliated with Birthright.  I was living in Kitchener, Ontario, during the 1970s; Jim was situated in New York City. He had sophistication and know-how. He understood the power of the word. Robert Louis Stevenson’s bon mot comes to mind: “Bright is the ring of words when the right man rings them.” Jim seemed to occupy central headquarters of the pro-life movement. He took me under his wing and showed me incredible patience as I slowly began to hone my writing skills.  He was the voice of the Human Life Review. He was also the epicenter of a galaxy of pro-life stalwarts that included several of the “apostles” I profiled in my book. He was an easy and logical choice to be the book’s dedicatee.

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