A teacher, a mother of eight and pro-life activist – Connell might become a Liberal candidate
Rosemary Connell says there are neither saints nor martyrs in her family, just ordinary people. Still, one has to wonder. In the last decade, this energetic 41 year-old wife, mother of eight children (four adopted), who is also a teacher in Port Perry (north of Toronto), has become a busy pro-life activist.
She’s housed homeless expectant mothers and babies, picketed against abortion in three different towns, and taught the pro-life message to the children at her school.
Like most women, she believes in equality, but unlike agenda feminists, she believes equally in the family. Politically astute, she thinks that solid family values have been undermined in Canada over the last twenty years, in Parliament and by politicians, and she wants that changed. That’s why she’s going into politics.
This month she’s running for the nomination as the Liberal candidate in Durham riding. Her grassroots campaign strategy is simple and direct. “I approach anyone I know who is pro-family, tell them who I am, what I believe in and ask for their support,” she says. “The worst they can do is say no.” With typical drive, she’s recruited 500 new Liberal members in three months. Her platform will emphasize family values and the economy.
Rosemary was raised in a family of 13. She says she can’t be other than pro-family. Her spft-spoken, entrepreneurial father, who owns a beet farm in nearby Lindsay, and her outgoing and generous mother expanded their own family of Rosemary, her sister Regina, and six brothers (including pro-life activist priest, Father Tom Lynch), by adopting five daughters. Like her grandmother and mother, Rosemary always wanted to be a teacher. She graduated from Trent University in Peterborough with a Bachelor of Arts degree and then earned her teacher’s certificate.
Along the way, she met Clayton whom she married twenty years ago. They have four children: Elizabeth, 19; John, 18 (both away aat school); Erin, 17; and Michael, 16 (both in high school).Ten years ago they adopted two Vietnamese teenagers, a boy, Tuan and a girl, Lien, who were among the boat people. Later they sponsored their parents and six brothers and sisters to Canada. Tuan, now 24, and Lien, now 22, live on their own and are doing well. As well, the Connells adopted two bright-eyed South American boys, Christiano, 16 and Carlos, 12, who are still living at home.
Life is never dull in the Connell home. Fifteen years ago, Rosemary’s husband, Clayton, began a new trend. A teacher at Port Perry High School, he helps in the so-op educational program and Rosemary says he “has a way with teenagers.” He’s also known as the teacher who will help a teenager who’s in trouble or a homeless student who’s been disowned by her parents because she’s pregnant. He just takes her home to Rosemary and the family and they’ll help her to plan for her baby.
Twice, recently, while picketing at Buruiani’s Toronto abortuary, Joanne Dieleman, the director of The Way Inn next door, asked Rosemary for help. On both occasions she responded by taking homeless women home with her that evening on the train to Port Perry. First came Anna and little Joseph from Dominica, who stayed two months. Then came 16 year-old Angelica, whose 15 year-old boyfriend plucked her from inside the abortuary, after Mary Burnie who was picketing with Rosemary, offered the pair, both Mexican immigrants, help from Aid to Women. That evening Rosemary took Angelica home and she stayed a few days until she reconciled with her family in Toronto. Now she’s back home awaiting the birth of her baby.
“Sometimes it takes just a little bit of help for a girl to make the right decision,” says Rosemary. Then she reflects, “A lot of what I do, I do for the sake of the children – to teach them to stand up for what’s right.” That’s one reason why she pickets.
For two years, once a month, Rosemary and a group from Port Perry Right to Life picketed outside the Port Perry Community Hospital where a family doctor did abortions. Eventually, he quit “because of those biddies outside with their signs.” For three years she picketed at the Oshawa General Hospital every Friday morning, and now when she’s in Toronto she goes to Buruiani’s. She’s inspired by other picketers like Joanne Dieleman, Linda Gibbons (just released from four months in jail for disobeying the Morgentaler injunction), and Mary Burnie. Joanne says her compassion for mothers and babies comes through to those who question her on the steps. Linda says, “She’s articulate and down to earth, and people tend to believe what she says.” Mary Burnis says Rosemary will do anything to help mothers and babies. In fact, she exclaims, “We could use 100 like her.”
Rosemary’s pace of life can e hectic. She admits, “Pro-life work can be demanding and takes its toll on the family. There are times when I feel guilty about being out so much, but then when it calms down, I can be home again.” Much of her consolation comes from the children at her school. As their teacher-librarian, she keeps plenty of pro-life material available and bags full of plastic (fetal size) baby models to give away.
“I have my own little network of children whose parents are in Port Perry RTL or in Liberals for Life who come to me. Often they’ll take home the baby models to a little brother or sister or if their mother is expecting a baby.” She finds that grade five and six girls are fascinated by the developing child in the womb. “I think that if you can inspire that kind of wonder in young children, then when they grow up they’ll always respect life.”
Recently, a little girl took home a dozen of the baby models for her family and friends. “I let her have them. She was a nice, generous sort of little girl and I felt she was spreading the pro-life message in her own special way.”
And in her own special way, Rosemary, too, spreads the pro-life message, living it by her example. Would that more pro-life women like her, with a political bent, entered politics.