Vicki Thorn and Deirdre McQuade left this world during Easter week, leaving legacies of love, healing, and powerful faith.
During this week of Easter, two great women who championed the cause of life nationwide crossed over into eternity — Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, and Deirdre McQuade, former pro-life spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Both women are being remembered for their accomplishments in promoting the dignity of life, as well as for their fierce dedication to those they loved and served, their deep faith, and their courageous and exuberant way of living.
Vicki Thorn, who was 72 when she died of a heart attack on Wednesday, April 20, began serving as director of the Respect Life Office in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 1976. Noticing the need so many women had for healing from abortion, the wife and mother of six founded Project Rachel in 1984, which is now in 110 dioceses in the US and operates across the world, serving women, men, parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and others whose lives are affected by abortion. Today, the ministry is operated by the USCCB.
In 1990, Thorn also founded and served as the executive director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, which helps Project Rachel coordinate additional post-abortion services.
Those who have known and worked with Thorn over the years praise the way she changed the pro-life movement. Lydia LoCoco, director of community relations for the Office of the Archbishop of Milwaukee, worked closely with Thorn as an intern in her early 20s and told Milwaukee’s Catholic Herald:
“She was one of my dearest friends, but I know that so many people would say that about her. To me, she was a national treasure. She literally single-handedly changed the Pro-Life movement. What was amazing is that she did it with six kids and a husband and while mothering all of us. She is the face of what all women are meant to be.”
Dan Miller, state director of ProLife Wisconsin, also sang Thorn’s praises:
“Vicki Thorn brought more post-abortive women and men to a place of healing than any other human being that has walked the planet since the fatally flawed Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 … She has saved countless souls from the horror of not being able to forgive themselves for their abortion or multiple abortions. Vicki spoke of God’s deep and abiding mercy at every turn.”
In addition to receiving several awards from the Catholic Church for her dedication to healing, Thorn was the recipient of the People of Life Award from the USCCB in 2009 as well as the Evangelium Vitae medal for her lifetime of work from the de Nicola Center for Ethics and culture on behalf of the University of Notre Dame in 2021. She was an author as well as an international acclaimed speaker, who traveled to many countries speaking about the effects of abortion and the post-abortion healing process.
For all of her accomplishments, however, those who know Thorn best say that she was most proud of her husband of 50 years, Bill, her children, and her grandchildren. “They were everything,” Thorn’s good friend Fr. Gary Wegner said.
The day after Thorn’s passing, another women whose life was a testament to the dignity of human life passed away: Deirdre McQuade, 53, died on Thursday, April 21, at her home near Washington, DC, surrounded by family and close loved ones. McQuade had been undergoing treatment for stage IV metastatic breast cancer for over four years.
Like Thorn, McQuade dedicated many years of her life to upholding the dignity of life. For over 12 years, she was the primary spokeswoman on abortion and life issues for the USCCB. A New Jersey native, McQuade’s career was marked by pro-life advocacy, ecumenical bridge-building, research, and outreach to the needy.
McQuade received a bachelor of arts from Bryn Mawr College, and an M.A. in philosophy and M. Div in theology from the University of Notre Dame. While in South Bend, she counseled women at a local pregnancy center and worked as Director of Pastoral Research and Outreach in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. McQuade was also the National Program Director at Feminists for Life, where she oversaw the College Outreach Program, and went on to work at the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In more recent years as she put time and energy into her healing from cancer, McQuade worked as a photographer, art director, and visual communications consultant.
A musician and artist, she touched an enormous number of people throughout her life. She was known for her impressive gift for friendship and hospitality — extending even to furry friends that she fostered and adopted over the years. Friends and caregivers have noted the joy and gratitude she continued to radiate after her cancer diagnosis, her zest for life, and her deep faith in God, who she knew remains with us through everything.
A reflection in OSV written by friend and writer Kathryn Jean Lopez, just two days before McQuade died, sums up what so many witnessed in her life and dying:
Deirdre has been so courageously fighting cancer. And in the way we’re supposed to — understanding that we are not promised a particular length of days, or to live without suffering. She has radiated joy in the midst of chemotherapy. She has evangelized in hospital rooms.
One of the things she is known for is handing out the Litany of Trust prayer, written by one of the Sisters of Life. It’s about humble trust in God, and she doesn’t have to hand out those beautiful words, because her life has been a glorious song, an ode to her Creator in love for the life she has been given as a gift from God.
As Catholic women leaders in the prolife movement, Deirdre McQuade and Vicki Thorn had probably met each other — certainly, they would have known of each other. Those who knew each of them would no doubt agree that the two shared a fearlessness in serving others, especially those whose lives are in most need of protection, affirmation, and healing. Both left us too soon, but their lives are models for how Catholics are called to live in this world.
May Deirdre and Vicki and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.