History of Priests for Life, Part One
History of Priests for Life, Part Three
Priests for Life, founded in 1991, marks its 25th anniversary this year, and therefore we are providing in our newsletters some glimpses into our history as an apostolate.
When I was given permission in 1993 by Cardinal John O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, to devote myself full-time to defending the unborn, as I had told him I felt called to do, he told me that I could establish our headquarters anywhere within the Archdiocese of New York. The members of Priests for Life around the country had formally elected me to the position of President, and had also elected Fr. Jim Heyd of Chicago to a part-time position as Associate Director.
At that point, we had no staff, and the priests in San Francisco who originally founded Priests for Life had entrusted to the control of the new Board the bank account that contained about $3000. I had neither a cell phone nor a computer, and I didn’t even know how to operate a fax machine.
But I wasn’t thinking in terms of an office; I was thinking in terms of a small bedroom - because what I wanted to do was to get on the road and immerse myself in the nationwide activities of the pro-life movement.
So I approached the pastor of Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester, NY. It was my hometown, and I knew there was extra room in the rectory. He welcomed me to use one of the spare rooms, and then, on his initiative, offered me a small office in which to get started. I accepted that offer, and remember the first time I sat down at the desk. I put my head in my hands and prayed with a sense of joyful expectation, “OK, Lord, now we begin.”
And I began by going on the road, to meet systematically with every leader of national pro-life groups - by which I meant groups focused on ending abortion. I included all the different types: religious groups, non-denominational groups, educational groups, activist groups, political groups. I visited the leaders, at my own expense. I did not bother using the meager Priests for Life funds; I invested all my personal savings up to that point in my life in the startup of the full-time Priests for Life work.
And as I went to visit pro-life leaders, I told them that Cardinal O’Connor had released me to be the first full-time director of Priests for Life, and that the vision of our organization was to activate and equip the clergy - and the whole Church - to preach, teach, and mobilize people to defend the unborn.
In that context, although they had sizable offices, staff, and budgets, I was not asking them for help, but rather I asked each leader, “How can Priests for Life help you?” And the response was one of tremendous enthusiasm, as we will see in the next installment of these articles...