ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (National Catholic Register) – Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry – who entered the Catholic Church on Holy Thursday – describes his library as his “sanctuary.”
It’s all that and something more. Not only is it a space where Terry can retreat from the noise of his three, soon to be four, rambunctious young boys, but it’s also where he spends time in prayer and strategizing his run for the Senate in Florida’s Eighth District. While it has been several years since his direct pro-life action work, his library décor demonstrates that he’s still out to slay dragons.
Unlike the knights of old, he doesn’t reside in a medieval castle. But his two-story stucco beach home tucked in a gated community just two blocks off Florida’s First Coast is as close as you can get.
The focal point of Terry’s library is a crucifix surrounded by various icons. There’s one of St. George slaying a dragon. There’s another of St. Demetrius. Terry also has statues of St. Michael and a Scottish warrior.
The Book of Common Prayer, which used to stand upright like the St. Joseph Daily Missal on the opposite side, has fallen down on its back.
“It’s probably fallen down because of my conversion,” Terry, 46, said with a laugh.
The steps of Terry’s journey can be traced as one walks the hallway leading to the library.
Frames reveal key points in Terry’s life.
In one framed newspaper article, Roe v. Wade’s Norma McCorvey hugs Terry during his first run for political office – a failed attempt to run for the House of Representatives in New York. In another article, written after his move to Florida, Terry stands reflectively looking out at the Atlantic Ocean, pondering his next move.
That move, joining the Catholic Church, came unexpectedly this Lent after what Terry describes as a 20-year search for truth. That journey is evident from the mementos and books found in the home. A copy of Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma sits on the bathroom counter. Luther, Aquinas, Chesterton, Belloc and the early church fathers line the bookshelves. A photograph of Terry with Pope John Paul II sits in the home’s entryway, as well as in his library.
Terry is as surprised as anyone by where his journey has led.
Terry is best known for his years spent in pro-life activism. Following a prayer meeting where a woman brought up the issue of abortion and through the example of others engaged in peaceful protest, Terry founded Operation Rescue – a group that nonviolently blocked abortion clinic entrances until police physically removed them.
Terry was first arrested with the movement in 1986.
While in prison, Terry met Father John Mikalajunas, a prison chaplain working in the Diocese of Syracuse.
“I would come in once a week for those who were incarcerated,” said Father Mikalajunas. “Although Randall wasn’t Catholic, when I had Mass, he would be present.”
That was the start of a 20-year relationship which would ultimately bring Terry into the fullness of the Christian faith.
After that, the two kept in contact through pro-life work, conferences, and luncheons.
“He was always very Catholic, but he kept fighting it,” said Father Mikalajunas.
Terry was arrested more than 40 times for his protests at abortion businesses.
In 1998, after a string of 27 lawsuits by organizations such as the National Organization for Women, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, Terry filed bankruptcy and lost his home. In 1991, he closed Operation Rescue.
“I was traveling too much,” he said. “It was hard on my children. I was burning out.”
Yet, his work has left its mark. Among others, Priests for Life founder Father Frank Pavone, former abortionist Bernard Nathanson and Norma McCorvey all have spoken positively of Operation Rescue’s impact on their own pro-life commitment.
Terry said it’s only a matter of time before the “dragon” of legal abortion on demand is slain.
“I am convinced that in my lifetime we will see the full protection of law restored to unborn babies and pregnant mothers,” Terry said. “I am certain we will dance on the grave of Roe v. Wade.”
What he couldn’t rescue
For all his success on the activism front, his travels, prison sentences, and multiple lawsuits took their toll on his three children and his first marriage, which he described as doomed from the start. After 19 years, he and his first wife were divorced.
“There were tragic problems that were inherent to the marriage,” said Terry. “According to Catholic doctrine as it has been taught to me, those problems made it an invalid sacrament.”
He still grieves the divorce.
“I recognize that decisions that I made in my 20s and 30s have lifelong implications,” Terry said. “Most of my regrets revolve around leadership decisions and personal life choices.”
In addition to his marriage, Terry was unable to salvage his New York home, his pro-life organization, his radio station – six pieces of real estate in all. Terry sold his home and property, and the equity from the home went to pay lawyers’ fees.
“I owned the name ‘Operation Rescue,’” says Terry. “This was by design. The lawsuits hit me personally rather than an entire board of people. It was a very bitter loss to me personally, but it protected other people from losing everything as well. If I had to do it all over again, I would. The lives of these children were worth the loss. It’s the cost of war.”
At the time Terry filed bankruptcy in 1998, there were 27 active lawsuits against him. Most of the suits were based upon the concept that Operation Rescue had hurt the abortionist’s business. Some dealt with interstate commerce. Some were related to a civil lawsuit stemming from trespassing. Others dealt with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
The Supreme Court later ruled that the NOW lawsuit was improper and that RICO did not apply.
Terry describes his current home as “The Alan Keyes home,” in homage to a fundraising letter signed by Keyes that resulted in enough money to purchase a new home. Keyes asked supporters to make financial donations to the Terry Family Foundation to “restore what the enemy took.”
A new life
Randall first met Andrea Kollmorgen, who became his second wife, while working on his first political campaign in 1998. They were later reunited at a religious convocation and married.
Prior to the divorce, Terry had begun searching and asking questions of Father Mikalajunas and others about the Catholic faith.
“Terry was at a Mass I had held at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on the Feast of the Assumption,” said Father Mikalajunas. “At that particular Mass, I received a Baptist person into the church.”
Terry and Andrea had independently joined the Charismatic Episcopal Church, a liturgical denomination not in union with Rome.
“I would challenge him, but he was anti-papal,” says Father Mikalajunas. “I would tell him, you are going to other churches to be liturgically Catholic, instead of coming home where you belong.”
“We didn’t stand much of a chance [of not becoming Catholic], with Pope John Paul II and Terri Schiavo praying for us,” said Terry’s wife Andrea, pointing to the photograph of him meeting the pope.
Terry now has his eyes set on new issues.
“The abortion movement, the homosexual ‘marriage’ movement or the militant Muslims who are murdering Christians, don’t care if we have seven sacraments or two. They don’t care whether we have priests or preachers or if we are in communion with Rome or Constantinople,” says Terry. “They despise us equally.”
Terry has tried to share the suffering inherent in the abortion issue by being jailed.
But he’s also taken on the sacrifice of raising two adopted and one foster child.
Some of his critics took delight in the spectacle when one of those adopted children, Jamiel, announced in 2004 that he was homosexual. Belief.net interviewed father and son for articles on the subject.
“There are three options when you find out a family member is homosexual,” Terry is quoted saying. “One is accept them and their lifestyle as if it’s normal. Two is to reject them and sever your relationship. Three is to love them unconditionally, but to tell them you do not accept their behavior as normal, and to tell them the truth. If I love my son, I can’t say to him, ‘Hey, you’re committing suicide on the installment plan. This is a great lifestyle.’”
Instead, said the interviews, he reaches out to his son by phone and in letters, telling him that he loves him. But Terry has limited in-person contact with his son while he is living in the lifestyle.
Jamiel told Belief.net that Terry was, “A phenomenal father. I could not have asked for a better father. He was my best friend. I know that my dad, even in that letter, he’s doing it out of love. He’s doing it because he feels that that’s what he has to do to ‘save me.’ So I don’t even hate him for that but it just hurts me.”
Jamiel was legally adopted at age 14, but lived with the Terrys from the time he was eight.
Terry said it was hard to decide how to treat his son’s homosexuality once he passed the stage of struggle and publicly celebrated it.
“I have to be honest with him,” said Terry. “Would you tell a drug addict, ‘I accept you. This is your choice, this is your life and I will stand by you’? The average death age of a male homosexual is 42 years old because of disease, because of suicide, because of alcoholism, because of drugs, because of violence. It’s just not a good world. It’s a self-abusive, self-destructive sexual addiction.”
After a two-year study of Islam, many of Terry’s recent writings have focused on Islamist extremism.
“If we are going to understand the Islamic mind, we must study the life of Mohammed,” he said. “‘What would Mohammed do?’ needs to be the grid through which we view Islamic culture, law and acts of terrorism.”
Terry is currently working on a book with this title.
“For example, Muslims who attack or threaten death to those who mock Mohammed are following in the footsteps of Mohammed himself,” he said.
In addition, Terry serves as president of the Society of Truth and Justice, an organization dedicated to “proclaiming Christian principles in matters of public policy.” In this role, Terry became the chief media strategist for Bob and Mary Schindler, the parents of Terri Schiavo.
As a child, Terry dreamed of attending Juilliard and becoming a musician. While he never realized the first portion of that dream, in recent years he has realized the second.
During a year in Nashville, Terry worked with professional musicians to produce two high-quality music CDs. Reviewers say his voice is reminiscent of contemporary Christian musician Michael W. Smith.
Now that he’s Catholic, he looks forward to completing some unfinished business – a formerly completing music for a Mass and finishing a book about early Christianity that he started while in Rome.
“I laid down all of the basic tracks, but could never finish the Mass,” said Terry. “Now, I can understand why.”
He’s also written a series of articles a la C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, from the perspective of a knight writing to a young apprentice. The title: Dragonslayers.
Whether facing the successes and failures of the past or all of the future endeavors before him, Terry realizes that his newfound faith has also given him new friends to call upon – the saints.
Taking the confirmation name of David Mark, Terry has frequently sought the intercession of the Old Testament’s warrior-king and giant-slayer.
“These are the ones who have fought and suffered before me,” says Terry. “They will help prepare us for the battles that lie before us through their prayers and example.”
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Tim Drake, based in St. Joseph, Minn., is a staff writer for National Catholic Register.
Copyright © 2007 Circle Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Republished with permission by Catholic Online from the Aug. 26 - Sept. 1, 2007, National Catholic Register (www.ncregister.com), a Catholic Online Preferred Publishing Partner.