There are many needs in the battle for life, and many heroes of the Church who have dedicated themselves to human dignity.
The fight to protect the unborn is a multifaceted one, with some pro-lifers counseling women in crisis pregnancies, others fighting for changes in the law, and others working for affordable healthcare and housing. As we seek to make abortion not just illegal but unthinkable, there are many holy men and women whose lives can inspire us as they continue to intercede.
Servant of God Jérôme Lejeune (1926-1994) was a brilliant geneticist, the scientist who discovered that Down syndrome is a result of trisomy 21. He was celebrated by the medical community until he realized that his work was being used to encourage parents to abort their children. At that, he spoke out, begging people to defend the unborn. It was career suicide and he knew it. On the night he won a prestigious award, he asked his audience to question the morality of abortion. Returning home, he told his wife, “Tonight I lost my Nobel prize.”
Servant of God Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was a convert to Catholicism and the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, an international movement of solidarity with the poor. Before that, she was a single mother. Before that, she had an abortion. She’s a beautiful witness of the healing that parents can find after abortion and the way God can work in them to make them great saints.
Blessed Augustine Thevarparambil Kunjachan (1891-1973) was a Syro-Malabar priest. Aware of the plight of the Dalits, the untouchables who lived in horrific poverty, he decided to devote his life and his priesthood to the service of those poor with whom even many Catholics refused to associate. For nearly 50 years, Blessed Thevarparambil lived with the Dalits, started schools so they could get an education, baptized them, and used any money that came his way in their service. Rather than listen to the lie that the Dalits were subhuman, he fought to honor their innate human dignity, whatever the cost.
Blessed Marianna Biernacka (1888-1943) was a Polish farm wife in World War II. When her son and his pregnant wife were arbitrarily chosen for execution, Marianna begged to take the place of her daughter-in-law so that the baby might live. Clutching her rosary, Marianna was killed; her daughter-in-law lived to be 98.
When Venerable Annie Zelikova (1924-1941) was 13, she heard her distraught mother pleading, “That’s a sin against heaven and against the infant—you can’t kill it!” Annie didn’t understand what was happening, but she knew that God was asking her to make reparation for this evil. She offered Him her life. Her spiritual director explained that she was making reparation for abortions. Within six weeks, Annie had been given three months to live. Instead, she lay dying for four years, offering her life to the Lord to console his heart and make reparation for abortions performed throughout the world. She died of tuberculosis at 17.
Blessed Francisco de Paula Victor (1827-1905) was born to a mother in crisis. A slave, unwilling or unable to name the father of her child, she might well have hoped for an easier end to her pregnancy than single motherhood. But she raised her child, in spite of the obstacles, and Blessed Francisco went on to be freed, ordained a priest, and beatified, the first Black Brazilian to be so honored.
Pope Francis explains why we must always welcome the unborn
Venerable Felix Varela (1788-1853) was a Cuban priest who advocated for the independence of Latin America and the end of slavery. His vocal convictions that Black and indigenous people had human dignity earned him a death sentence, which he avoided by fleeing to New York. There, he spent the rest of his life working for human rights, particularly those of people who were enslaved and immigrants. He fought for those whose humanity the world denied, as it denies the humanity of the unborn today.
Blessed Eustochium of Padua (1444-1469) was the result of a crisis pregnancy. Her mother was a wayward nun who had become pregnant while in the convent, and Eustochium was born under the shadow of this scandal as she grew up in the home of her father and her abusive stepmother. She then suffered from demonic possession for most of her life and was rejected and abandoned by the nuns in the community she tried to enter. Still she sought the Lord and her holiness eventually became apparent. She suffered terribly, but it was still good that she was alive. Even if she hadn’t become a saint, her life would have had value.
St. Margaret of Cortona (1247-1297) was the mistress of a rich man; when she became pregnant, she must have been afraid that this child (who couldn’t inherit his father’s money or title) would only complicate her life. But she kept the baby and raised him after his father’s death, a scorned single mother. After her conversion, she became a midwife, serving women through their pregnancies and afterward as well.
Paul VI, saint of healing unborn babies, is celebrated each May 29
Pope Francis says mothers who regret abortions should talk to babies in heaven