Influencers in a Pro-life Vocation
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Influencers in a Pro-life Vocation
(Part two of a two part series)
All of us who have answered the call to ministry in the Church have been influenced by others, either in helping to discern that call or in shaping our ministries.
When I asked my good friend Father Frank Pavone who had influenced him, he didn't even have to stop to think. And though he didn't say it this way, his answers helped explain how, as the national director of Priests for Life, he has become a leader in the pro-life movement not only in the U.S. but across the globe.
Who were his influencers? Two saints and a tsaddik, Hebrew for a very saintly person.
Cardinal John J. O'Connor, the late leader of the New York Archdiocese, knew Father Frank as a seminarian and ordained him to the priesthood in 1988.
"He was my mentor," Father Frank said. "He taught me how to speak about abortion, and how to have compassion for those who have had abortions and at the same time not dilute your advocacy for the legal protection of these children."
After ordination, Father Frank was assigned to St. Charles Parish on Staten Island, and he said he loved doing the parish work -- preaching, teaching, administering the sacraments, sharing life's joys and challenges with the parishioners. But his pro-life activism was growing and at four years into his first assignment, he knew he had to approach his mentor and friend, Cardinal O'Connor --himself a champion for the unborn -- and ask for permission to do full-time pro-life ministry.
In what happens next, the hand of God is plainly visible.
In 1991, Cardinal O'Connor had formed a new religious order, the Sisters of Life. One of the women joined the order after her husband died and she had a son who was a priest who had created a ministry in California called Priests for Life. Father Frank joined immediately as a member priest.Then, at the same time Fr. Frank was planning to ask Cardinal O'Connor for a meeting to ask permission to work fulltime against abortion, Father Lee Kaylor, the first President of Priests for Life, contacted Father Frank to say he was going into military chaplaincy and needed someone to take over Priests for Life.
"So I said, this is amazing timing, because I'm about to ask the Cardinal to be able to do this work full-time. That's how it happened. So in 1993 I became the first full-time director, and priest members elected me, as the first full-time director of the organization," Father Frank said.
Another person Father Frank knew personally, and who he counts as an influencer, was St. John Paul II.
Father Pavone worked at the Vatican under Pope John Paul II, at the Pontifical Council for the Family. (Because Rome is six hours ahead of New York, where Priests for Life was then headquartered, Father Pavone was able to continue to run the organization from afar, connecting with the office there as soon as he left his office at the Vatican.)
"The Council for the Family was the office that promotes pro-life activities of the church," Father Pavone explained. "I had many conversations with Pope John Paul about the pro-life work of the Church. In fact, it was in the years right after he wrote Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life, that our ministry really began to grow. So John Paul really shaped our whole approach to pro-life."
The third person who influenced Father Frank's life and ministry was St. Teresa of Calcutta.
"Mother Teresa was involved from the very beginning," Father Frank said. "Of course she was a friend of Cardinal O'Connor and of John Paul, II. But I was privileged to spend a good amount of time with her talking about Priests for Life, and asking her, how do we shape this? How do we do this? And what she did with the picking up the poor and the sick and the dying in the streets is what she did with the unborn as well. It was an absolutely consistent approach."
When I visited Priests for Life's headquarters in Titusville, Florida -- where they moved two years ago - I walked around the beautiful facility and I saw great pictures on the walls. Father Frank with Pope John Paul in the Vatican, with Cardinal O'Connor at the March for Life and with Mother Teresa in India, where he was invited to address her Sisters of Charity.
And though Father Frank was younger in these photos, his energy for fighting for the unborn has not dimmed; in fact, it burns even brighter. I have no idea that two saints and tsaddik in heaven are very happy with the man and the ministry they helped to influence.
(This is the second of a two part series. The first article tells the story of Fr. Frank's vocation to the priesthood and fulltime pro-life work.)
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