On March 20, Fr. Paul Marx, OSB, passed away at the age of 89, ending a four-decade career opposing abortion and contraception.
Fr. Marx created the Human Life Center in 1971 – two years before Roe v. Wade – which a decade later became Human Life International. He traveled to all 50 states and more than 90 countries to proclaim the pro-life message. In a press release, Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, Fr. Marx’s successor as president of HLI, said: “In the more than forty-year pro-life career of Fr. Marx, and through his almost three million miles of world travel, Human Life International (HLI) saw the blossoming of the world’s conscience about the issues of life.” He added: “Father put pro-life ‘on the map’ in a literal sense and through his efforts gave the world direct and organized opposition to the culture of death.”
His activism and leadership were widely acknowledged. Pope John Paul II called him “the Apostle of Life,” and thanked him for “doing the most important work on earth.” President Ronald Reagan once wrote in a letter to Fr. Marx, “You can be proud of all you’ve done to summon this Nation and others to reflection and positive action on issues affecting the sanctity of human life. God bless you.”
Acknowledged as a mild-mannered, short (five-foot tall) and quiet priest, but he was unafraid of controversy. He proudly embraced International Planned Parenthood’s epithet for him: “Public enemy No. 1.” After violent riots by abortion activists at the Montreal HLI conference in 1995, he said “There’s the culture of death,” pointing to the rioters spitting and throwing refuse and food at pro-lifers. “They’s showing the world what it looks like.”
Many pro-lifers referred to him as “the father of the international pro-life movement” because HLI was the first international pro-life organization.
He retired from HLI in 1999 but remained active by continuing to write articles and speaking, activities he was seemingly unrelentingly engaged in. Joseph Scheidler, national director of Pro-Life Action League, recalled that returning from South Africa with Fr. Marx where they worked together to fight against attempts to legalize abortion in 1995, that all the lights were off in the airplane but one: “The light over Fr. Marx’s seat where he was writing and reading, ever diligent in his research on life issues.”
He wrote more than a dozen books, including the influential The Death Peddlers: War on the Unborn (1971), Death Without Dignity: Killing for Mercy (1982), Confessions of a Pro-Life Missionary (1988), and his autobiography, Faithful for Life (1997). There was also a collection of his pro-life quotes, The Pro-Life Wisdom of Fr. Paul Marx: The Apostle of Life
Rev. Euteneuer noted that Fr. Marx “leaves as a legacy in more than 100 countries” through his personal activism and encouragement to local pro-life groups. Sister Pilar Verzosa of Pro-Life Philippines, acknowledged his influence in her involvement in the pro-life cause after hearing “a talk given by Fr. Marx here in Manilla” after which she “decided to organize the pro-life movement in that country in 1975. She said HLI supported their efforts by giving “generously pro-life education and campaign materials.”
Scheidler has a similar story. He said that after being part of a small group that stayed after a Fr. Marx talk in Chicago, the priest asked them “if we had ever seen what a baby looks like in the womb, how absolutely beautiful it is.” He went on to show them two bottles with prematurely born babies, 12- and 18-weeks old, and Scheidler recalls “we were mesmerized at the beauty of these children.” It was “at that moment that I decided to go full-time into pro-life activism.”
Fr. Marx became Scheidler’s mentor: “We spoke frequently on the phone, I attended Human Life International Conferences and I developed a deep relationship with this saintly man.”
Fr. Frank Pavone, executive director of Priests for Life, said “Fr. Marx was, first and foremost, a priest who was not afraid to be a prophet,” adding: “He knew that his mission in bearing witness to the Gospel and in fostering love of God and neighbor compelled him to speak up for our smallest neighbors, those in the first moments and weeks of life.”