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Deacon’s family keeps March for Life a tradition

Posted By February 7, 2014 | 6:47 pm | Featured Article #2
connor-kids

By Tanya Connor

Irene Connor went to the first March for Life in Washington, D.C. 41 years ago, when she was 14. Her mother took her then and for many years after that.
Then she had children of her own.
“I’d pray that there’d be something on TV,” she said. “Did a lot of praying on that day.” But it never seemed to work out for her to go to the march again. Until last year.
That’s when her son, Reuben, himself 14, pushed her and her husband, Deacon Robert Connor Jr., to go.
Reuben said he’d heard about the march and convinced his mother that after 25 years it was time to go again. His father turned out to be a harder sell; but they teamed up on him.
“He didn’t want to sleep on the floor of a basement,”  Reuben explained, because the plan was to go the night before and find somewhere to stay.
This year, despite the snowstorm that caused the cancelation of buses from the Worcester Diocese, father and son returned, taking Reuben’s sister Faith, 20, on her first March. Mom ended up staying behind with their youngest Erin, 12.
“It was my son who was really pulling Irene and I to go last year,” said Deacon Connor, who serves at his parish, Immaculate Conception in Lancaster.
They heard that St. John the Evangelist Parish in Townsend, not far from them, was going, and they joined that group from the Boston Archdiocese.
The bus leaves at 3 a.m. the day before the march to get there for the vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Deacon Connor said.
“And then we find some place to sleep,” he said, noting that last year that was a seminary basement, this year a university gym.
“It’s a pilgrimage, not a vacation,” he explains.
“As uncomfortable as it is, that should never stop anyone from going,” he says now. “When you get there, you’re not going to believe the numbers.”
He said Cardbob-connorinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities, told those at the vigil Mass that they should be thankful for the cold, because their numbers would show others their resolve.
“This year, of course, it was so bitter cold,” Deacon Connor said. “My kids were such troopers.”
He said he wanted them to go and see the number of young people “and to know, ‘I am not alone in feeling this way,’ and feel comfortable in their belief and promote it, which is the way we’re going to change hearts.”
His son knew that from last year, he said, but “it’s a recharge of the batteries; you forget just how exciting it was.”
Mrs. Connor marveled at the number of people who attended the 40th anniversary march last year, comparing it to early ones. “I don’t remember it being that huge – because it wasn’t.” She recalled being close enough to see and hear the people who spoke at the rally on the Mall – in person, not on huge screens erected because of the crowds.
Crowds didn’t prevent a re-acquaintance, however. Last year, she saw a religious sister who looked like her mother’s friend Peggy Devlin. Mrs. Devlin had said her daughter was a Sister of Life, whom Mrs. Connor now calls “the most smiliest nuns I’ve ever seen.” Mrs. Connor asked the sister if she was Margaret Devlin, now Sister Mary Gabriel.
“How do you know me?” the sister wondered.
“I used to babysit you,” Mrs. Connor replied, and they embraced.
“We found each other in all those thousands of people,” Mrs. Connor marveled, attributing this to the Holy Spirit’s work.
His intervention wasn’t over, apparently. Deacon Connor met Sister Mary Gabriel again this year. They have a photo to prove it.
The crowds impressed Faith too.
“It was probably one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever been able to experience,” she said. “Just the fact there were so many young people there. … I didn’t think there were that many of my peers that were Catholic, or at least that lived their faith the way I try to – pro-life. … It made me very hopeful for our generation, that they care about something this important.”
Speaking of going with her father and brother she said, “It was very nice to share that kind of experience with them, and I feel it brought us closer as a family.”
She said she wants to do more, but is not sure what yet.
Does she hope to return to the march?
“Definitely.”
Snow and cold and everything?
Yes.
Does Reuben plan to go next year too?
“Yeah, I hope so,” he replied. “We’ll see if we can get the youngest (Erin) to go.” And maybe also their other sister, Grace, age 21.