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Families pass along pro-life values

Posted By September 26, 2014 | 12:08 pm | Lead Story #3
Photo by Patricia O’Connell
Father Kenneth Cardinale, Jesuit Father John Gavin,  Deacon Robert S. Connor Jr., and Sister Jean Marie Schildknecht, MICM, tell how having a pro-life family affected their zeal for the pro-life cause as adults. The panel of speakers kicked off the 40 Days for Life fall campaign.
Photo by Patricia O’Connell Father Kenneth Cardinale, Jesuit Father John Gavin, Deacon Robert S. Connor Jr., and Sister Jean Marie Schildknecht, MICM, tell how having a pro-life family affected their zeal for the pro-life cause as adults. The panel of speakers kicked off the 40 Days for Life fall campaign.

By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

NORTH GRAFTON – The diocesan-wide 40 Days for Life kickoff event was held Tuesday at St. Mary Parish, with a Mass celebrated by pastor Father Kenneth R. Cardinale, followed by a series of talks given by four local speakers.
40 Days for Life is an international effort to end abortion through prayer, fasting and peaceful protest. Locally, there is a prayer vigil outside of Planned Parenthood on Pleasant Street in Worcester. Individual parishes and pro-life groups may also have additional events.
This week’s speaker series in Grafton was sponsored by the St. Mary’s pro-life ministry.
Father Cardinale focused his homily on Saint Padre Pio, whose Sept. 23 feast day coincided with the 40 Days for Life kickoff. He noted that this priest was the last saint to receive the stigmata, a gift that caused many people to cast doubts upon his character, amid charges that these wounds were self inflicted, in order to draw attention to himself.
“When he received it, he suffered a passion of scorn, cynicism, skepticism and ridicule,” Father Cardinale explained.
“What a great blessing it is to have this Mass on the feast of such a great, wonderful, modern-day saint, Father Cardinale told the Mass goers, adding that, we know he was a wonderful man of unbelievable holiness and commitment.
Talking about the sufferings, and the persecutions endured by this saint, Father Cardinale reminded the pro-life workers in the pews that they, too, may face some of these same sufferings as they go about their ministry.
“Every age has its naysayers,” he added, later noting that people who pray outside abortion clinics are often the recipients of uncharitable remarks and gestures of people driving by. They may also be criticized by members of their own families.
“These are the skeptics,” he said.
Following Mass, Father Cardinale joined three other speakers, each of whom explained how they were called to work on the front lines of the pro-life movement.
Father Cardinale noted that his late mother, Dorothy, taught him to respect life, primarily through her actions as a volunteer counseling women with unplanned pregnancies. He said his mother did not think she was qualified, and doubted her ability to be able to make a difference. However, she was so driven to try to save babies that she overcame this obstacle.
Her parish priest encouraged her with the words, “We need you. You will be the first point of contact. You will learn how to direct these women to the resources.”
“I would see her going out of the house,” Father Cardinale said, referring to the times she went to counsel expectant mothers. Since he was only 11 when she started, he noted that his mother didn’t go into too much detail about what she was doing. Later, he explained, she revealed more and more what was going on there.
“The fact that my mother said ‘yes’ to this is a miracle,” he stated, noting that she was a “very, very quiet woman.”
“She put her faith in God,” he added. “How absolutely terrified she was, waiting for the first woman to come in. She stayed and prayed. It was one of the most courageous things my mother ever did.
Jesuit Father John Gavin, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, also noted that his family was ardently pro-life. As the oldest of eight, he explained that his family members considered a new baby as the greatest gift. The message of just how precious life is was driven home when his mother lost a baby, which he and his siblings were eager to meet.
“I grew up in a strong Catholic household,” he said. “Every night we prayed the rosary together.” Praying for an end to abortion was always an intention.
“My parents were involved in all facets of pro-life ministry,” he said, noting that his mother also took time away from her family to reach out to expectant mothers who had conceived during difficult circumstances.
Father Gavin also noted that he had the blessing of seeing “courageous pro-life speakers and witnesses” in his home parish.
He also spoke about the persecution some pro-life witnesses now face, especially if they work in higher education. In fact, he explained, this is so intense that tenure can be denied to a professor if word gets out that he or she supports the rights of the unborn. This is why the group, Faculty for Life, offers the option of not being publicly listed, he said.
“To be pro-life in these places, to stand out in that way takes tremendous courage and risk,” he stated.
At his campus, however, he noted, there is a strong student pro-life group, which is very involved in sponsoring lectures and other events centered on the pro-life message. “I’ve been very blessed at Holy Cross,” he said.
Deacon Robert S. Connor Jr., who is assigned to Immaculate Conception Parish in Lancaster, gave a very moving account of his conversion to the Catholic faith and to the pro-life cause.
He grew up, one of six siblings, in a nominally Methodist household. However, his wife, was a strong Catholic. He admitted that he went to Mass because she did. One day, he approached the pastor, and launched into an anti-Catholic diatribe, he admitted.
The pastor, who remained calm and patient, simply gave him some material to read, in order to understand the positions of the Church. The priest then began to slowly catechize him.
“I started to become a little bit in love with our Church,” he recalled. After attending an eight-month RCIA program, he then became a full-fledged member.
He then began to devote more time to the church, becoming a lector and teaching CCD. Eventually, in 2011, he was ordained to the diaconate.
Deacon Connor said there were also specific events that cemented his pro-life stance, including the birth of his children, and the loss of two pregnancies.
He said it’s important to be patient and loving with people who don’t yet appreciate the value of every human being, and to meet them where they’re at.
“My pastor met me where I was,” he noted. “He came to me, to my level.”
The last speaker was Sister Jean Marie Schildknecht, MICM. She is a teacher at Immaculate Heart of Mary Elementary School in Still River, as well as the leader of the school’s pro-life group.
She also grew up in a strong Catholic family very committed to the pro-life movement. She was also deeply influenced by a book she was given, “A Handbook on Abortion,” which contained graphic pictures of aborted babies.
“When I went through that book, shock waves went through me,” she remembered. “I was shocked. To look at these pictures and to see (that) the little feet were so defined.”
“Wow, this is mass murder,” she recalls saying to herself. “How can this be possible? How can this be allowable?”
Sister Jean Marie also explained that she had the “good influence of a militant Catholic in my life.”
“That person was my grandfather,” she explained.
Before entering the convent, she attended a rescue with her grandfather, who said to her, “I think I’m going to get arrested today.”
Sister Jean Marie decided to join him. In West Hartford, she joined a group of other rescuers, crawling on her knees into an abortion chamber, an act which resulted in her arrest. In total, she participated in five rescues before becoming a religious sister.
Among the rescuers, she said, were a bishop and a priest. “All of us put ourselves in Our Lady’s hands,” she said. “We didn’t know at what point police were going to start breaking down the door.”
Sister Jean Marie said she had to stop participating in rescues once she decided to join the convent. However, she continues her pro-life work in a different way.
She said it’s important to “save lives and convert hearts. This is really about the conversion of hearts.”