The “librarian’s choice” bookshelf, prominently located opposite the checkout desk in our small, impoverished library, displayed five copies of Eleanor Pelrine’s adulatory biography of abortionist Henry Morgentaler for months after its publication. Meditate on the chances of finding five copies – of finding one copy – of Grace Petrasek’s charming and heartening Silhouettes Against The Snow: Profiles of Canadian Defenders of Life on the same shelf.
Heart of gold
Silhouettes begins with “Heart of Gold,” a profile of Laura McArthur, for sixteen years president of Toronto Right to Life, one of the best-beloved people in the pro-life movement – “dear Laura,” as everyone says when her name comes up.
It ends with “Prairie Rebel,” the story of Joe Borowski, “the first person in (Canadian) public life to choose God over man,” in the words of Father Alphonse de Valk, also featured in the book. In between is a wide sample of pro-life Canadians.
Not surprisingly for a woman from a family of physicians, a number of Mrs. Petrasek’s subjects are in the field of medicine: Dr. Ray Holmes, dentist, co-founder of Brampton Right to Life, jailed after an Operation Rescue; gentle, tough family physician Dr. Carmelo (everyone calls him “Carm”) Scime, who weekly pickets the abortion-providing hospital he works in; Dr. Robert Walley, Newfoundland obstetrician, founder of a Caring Centre for Women, “to counter abortion with care and action”; Ita Venner, founder in 1971 of Nurses for Life [see obituary next page]; anti-abortion nurses Rita and Helen Burnie and their sister Mary, a clinical chemist – Mary and Helen were arrested during a Rescue; nurses Anneliese Steden and Reggie Weidinger, key figures in “The Cambridge Connection,” the pro-life group whose twelve years of picketing recently ended abortions in that town.
Illuminate the darkness
There are also clergy and religious: Sister of St. Joseph Lucille Durocher, Canadian director of Human Life International (HLI), Ottawa; Jesuit Father Tony Van Hee, whose long public fasts “illuminate the darkness on Parliament Hill”; that wittiest of Irish jailbirds, Holy Ghost Father Ted Colleton, veteran of the African mission and Operation Rescue; Reverend Ken Campbell, Baptist minister, founder of Choose Life Canada and the Way Inn; Basilian Father Alphonse de Valk, who sacrificed his academic career to become the historian of the pro-life movement.
British Columbia boasts the witty and able Heather Stilwell, three-time president of Alliance for Life, whose wry remark, “When I took the job I was 42 – now I am 107,” expresses a feeling every serious pro-lifer knows only too well. From Prince Edward Island there is Ann Marie Tomlins, president of the Right to Life group that made the Island the only abortion-free province. Coby Vandenberg, 21-year-old president of CYPLO – the Canadian Youth Pro-Life Organization – represents young pro-lifers; and Fernando Lino, retired cook, who pickets with her little grandchildren, represents grandmothers like me.
Campaign Life Coalition
Steve Jalsevac gave up his successful business to manage the affairs of Campaign Life Coalition – “one has to wonder why,” the author muses. Jim Demers, of Nelson, B.C., is a carpenter – when he isn’t in jail for widespread rescuing. Patricia Gerretsen, of Toronto, is a film-maker – remember the wonderful Two is a Crowd. Lawyer Angela Costigan “defends the pre-born child at the highest levels of the law.” Joanne Dieleman runs the Way Inn, “the pro-life coffee-house” that for five years was a thorn in the conscience of its next-door neighbor, Henry Morgentaler’s abortion hell.
Ottawa’s Frank Mountain, paralyzed from an accident suffered on his way to picket an abortion hospital, has returned to classroom teaching and to anti-abortion activism: “I can still picket from a wheelchair.” Kitchener, Ontario philosophy professor Donald DeMarco continues indefatigably to explain, to innumerable audiences, the moral and intellectual principles involved in the abortion question and in the whole controverted area of sexual morality.
This is a book about intensely committed anti-abortion activities, many of them full-time. They are a cheerful and high-hearted lot.
In a terrifying time, they maintain a boisterous commitment to the future. The ten married subjects have, amongst them, seventy-three living children – if you don’t count Joanne Dieleman’s two hundred and forty-nine foster children. Of the thirteen mentioned as having taken part in Operation Rescue, twelve were arrested, and seven jailed.
All profess deep religious faith, yet, astonishingly, a rare and true ecumenism prevails. “The only thing we argue over is who’ll pay for lunch,” says Fr. Colleton of his relations with Rev. Ken Campbell.
The book left me with a question I have pondered before. Do the people in Silhouettes Against the Snow ever lose heart, succumb to the morbidity engendered by immersion in the abortion scene, give way to despair? If so, there is no evidence in the book. Is persistence largely a matter of temperament? Do the sanguine survive where the melancholic perish? Is a survival a matter of prayer? I should like to hear from one of them, in particular from Fr. de Valk, on the problem of pro-life perseverance.
It is good to praise the valiant. The men and women in Grace Petrasek’s study are on the “wrong” side of the cultural revolution that is destroying the Judeo-Christian civilization of the West. Yet, as David Dooley (the only Canadian who has appeared in both The Canadian Forum and The Interim), says in his good preface, “They have reason and morality on their side…They are heroes and heroines of our time.”
Grace Petrasek has done them justice.