Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Tale of Two Men

Wisdom - Chapter 3

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, 
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, 
and their departure was thought to be an affliction,

and their going from us to be their destruction; 
but they are at peace.

For though in the sight of men they were punished, 
their hope is full of immortality.

Having been disciplined a little, 
they will receive great good, 
because God tested them 
and found them worthy of himself;

like gold in the furnace he tried them, 
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.

In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, 
and will run like sparks through the stubble.

They will govern nations and rule over peoples, 
and the Lord will reign over them for ever.

Those who trust in him will understand truth, 
and the faithful will abide with him in love, 
because grace and mercy are upon his elect, 
and he watches over his holy ones.

Two men died in the last two days. Both were giants in their own right, having served the pro-life community for most of their respective lives.  They were good men and I had the privilege and pleasure of calling them friends.

I will speak of Brother Paul O'Donnell first because his passing was unexpected. The shock and surprise at his death was underscored by the fact that so many of us had just seen him at the March for Life this past January. But Thursday night he died in his sleep, so we deal with the loss of a friend, a brother, a mentor, a leader - but mostly a humble servant of God.

Paul and his close friend Mike Gaworski accepted the call from the Holy Spirit in 1982 to start another Franciscan order of brothers understanding that the special charism was to support of the gospel of life. Having been involved in the pro-life movement prior to starting the brotherhood, they knew what had to be done to save the lives of the unborn children. They also knew that in their role people might be more presupposed to do the right thing.  Helping the poor, protecting the unborn and addressing the important end of life issues became Brother Paul's life work. He was involved deeply in assisting the Schindler family in their efforts to secure the life of their daughter Terri Schiavo. And while tragically unsuccessful as to Terri, they nevertheless have been instrumental in saving and protecting other lives who were threatened with death. 

The shock of Brother Paul's death is only softened by our trust in the Lord who has called him home. He shall be greatly missed.

Dr John C Willke, M.D. was one of the original founders of the pro-life movement. An obstetrician married to Barbara Willke, they founded Ohio Right to Life  of Cincinnati, Ohio Right to Life and later with Dr. Carolyn Gerster,  Dr. Mildred Jefferson and others started the National Right ot life Committee. He served as president following  Dr. Gerster and later started the international Right to Life Federation. He co-founded the life Issues Institute and was a world wide speaker and writer.

But the Jack Willke I knew when I first got involved in the pro life effort back in 1975 was someone approachable and always ready to help make things happen.  As a college student and later poor law student, I would show up at the NRLC conference and ask the good doctor if there was anything I could do to help and was there an extra couch or bed to rest my weary bones. On both counts Jack was ready to help and thus did this pro life activist begin his calling in the movement. 

After I became a lawyer, Jack was one of the first to appreciate what this next generation of pro-life activists could do. He always encouraged us to be engaged and creative in our efforts. Not always appreciated by some in the movement, the activists could always look to encouragement from Jack.  And though we sometimes differed on strategy, we never let differences cloud that fact that we wanted the same thing - an end to the killing. 

Both Brother Paul and Dr. Willke were men of tremendous generosity.  They were never too busy to help at a moment's notice. and both were extremely modest in their work, willing to share or defer the credit when things went right.

One last story about Dr. Willke.  In 1985 after a rescue in Washington, DC during on the the NRLC conventions,  a number of por-life activists were arrested. A few of the lawyers were attempting to secure their release without great success. We learned that one woman had been injured by DC police and we were especially concerned with her well-being. Drs. Gerster and Willke were the only doctors who would come out to the jail so that we could demand the woman';s release to medical personnel.  At first the jail guards would have none of it. But persistence and the physical presence of two practicing physicians at 3:00 a.m. finally wore them down ( plus the threat of a lawsuit) and the woman was released.

We will miss these two pro-life heroes. May God grant them eternal rest and may perpetual light shine upon them. Amen.


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