Rock Star


Leslie Palma-Simoncek


Priest for Life's new communications director, Leslie Palma-Simoncek,  spent 26 years as a reporter and editor at a New York City daily newspaper. This is  her first experience covering the March for Life.


Gilles Bioche remembers the day last year when he became active in the pro-life movement. It was May 18 at Notre Dame University, the day Father Frank Pavone led a pro-life prayer service as part of an anti-Obama graduation at the South Bend, Ill., campus. In solidarity with students who were protesting the commencement address by the pro-abortion president of the United States, Bioche and his two oldest children, Juliette, now 15, and Antoine, now 13, drove eight hours from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to hear the pro-life message.


After hearing Father Frank speak, Bioche said, “I became convinced that I had to be involved in pro-life.”


Father Frank has a memory of that day as well. Bioche, at the insistence of his wife, Jenny, gave Father Frank a book about the Basilica of St. Paul in Minneapolis.


“You gave me that book,” Father Frank reminded Bioche as he and Juliette attended the priest’s book signing Thursday at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Bioche was amazed and humbled. “You have such a good memory,” he said. “Thank you, Father.”


Nearly everyone who encountered Father Frank at the basilica had a story to tell about him.


Ernie and Mary Beth Cyr of Milton, Fla., stopped Father Frank on the way to his book signing. The couple are professed members of the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, a lay evangelistic ministry of Priests for Life, and couldn’t pass up an opportunity to meet their spiritual mentor in person. They were unabashedly thrilled as they posed for a picture with Father Frank and their four children, Jacqueline, 8, Brendan, 6, Aidan, 3, and Therese, who will celebrate her first birthday Feb. 2.


“It’s the real him,” Kelly Nagy of Kokomo, Ind., whispered to a friend when she spotted Father Frank behind a stack of his books. A volunteer for Birthright Indiana, Ms. Nagy had seen Father Frank many times on television on EWTN and on the Priests for Life web site, but she had yet to meet “the real him.” She took her place in the line that snaked its way along the signing table and deep into the bookstore.


Stephen Werenski of Buffalo, N.Y., had a similar reaction when he spotted Father Frank. “He knows how to get your attention,” said the parishioner of St. Rose of Lima Church. “He knows how to get to the point and he does it in a very passionate way. I receive very strong beliefs from him.”


As popular as he is with a mature crowd, Father Frank has the magnetism of a rock star where youth are concerned.


Wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt that read “Irish Fighting for Life,” Stephen Wandor of Midland, Mich., was in the crowd lined up and waiting for Father Frank as he arrived at the book signing. He said he grew up watching EWTN and sees Father Frank as a guiding light. “Being pro-life is my strongest political viewpoint, so naturally I look to Father Frank.”.


Earlier in the day, Dee Bennette of Michigan Right to Life visited the Priests for Life exhibit at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. She was hoping for a glimpse of Father Frank.


Explaining that she once heard Father Frank speak at a Michigan Right to Life event, she said, “he was the best speaker I ever heard. And every time I’ve heard him since then, it’s just been better. He just motivates people.”


His ability to motivate people, and his near-total recall of those he’s met in his extensive travels across the country, did not escape the attention of David Bereit.  As he introduced Father Frank at a 40 Days for Life conference at St. Anthony of Padua Church, Brereit said, “there is no one – no one – in the pro-life movement who works harder to end abortion. He’s one of the heroes of heaven, walking on Earth.”