In the 82nd year of his life, on May 23, John L. Bennett passed away, but his memory lingers in the minds of those who knew him. Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, is one of these, and reminisced with The Interim about his old friend with evident warmth. In the later years of their friendship, they would meet while vacationing in Florida.
Hughes remembers, “Every time I went there, he was there and we would kibitz together.” Hughes added: “It took us hours to catch up on different people and different things and I would tell him outrageous stories which were totally fictitious and lead him down the path and then hit him with it and he would go absolutely nuts … He was noisy as hell… he had an opinion on everything, but fortunately the opinion was usually the right one.”
Their first meeting was at Neil McNeil High School in Toronto, when Bennett came in with his father, then the chief inspector of the separate school board, and Hughes gave them a tour in his capacity as president of the student council. But their friendship really took off in 1976, in the inaugural year of ShareLife. The United Way of Toronto had decided to begin funding Planned Parenthood, so the Board of Catholic Charities, under Archbishop Philip Pocock, voted unanimously to cut ties with the campaign, because it was no longer compatible with Christian principles.
Bennett was chair for the first four years of ShareLife’s existence and served concurrently as Toronto area chair of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, frequently crossing paths with Hughes, who was himself ShareLife zone chairman for the archdiocese. (Earlier this year, Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins withheld ShareLife contributions to Development and Peace following a LifeSiteNews report that D&P gave money to pro-abortion groups in the developing world. The bishops’ investigation into that scandal has yet to be made public.)
During this time, Bennett worked closely with the late Bernard McGraw, another man of whom Jim speaks with gratitude and fondness. “They were both supporters of Campaign Life, especially in the early years. They were men of integrity who understood why the ShareLife campaign was important – because it was a statement that the Catholics were not in favour of abortion and didn’t want any of their monies going to the world’s largest abortion referral agency … It was John Bennett and Bernard McGraw, and a few other key people at the time, (who) were instrumental in setting up ShareLife.”
Hughes recalls some of the lessons Bennett taught him: “He’s one of those characters who help you to be who you are and, as you’re growing, you remember, ‘How would this person deal with it? Oh, I know how he’d deal with it.’ I’d say I try not to respond to anything immediately. I try to give it 24 hours, say a few prayers and then I come out with something.”
Bennett was active in numerous organizations, later becoming president of the Toronto Archdiocese Holy Name Society and Council of Catholic Men, and a board member of the Kitchener-Waterloo Credit Union Chapter, St. Mary’s Credit Union and Newman Alumni in Kitchener. In 1981, Pope John Paul II awarded him the rare papal honour Knight of the Order of St. Sylvester, which (according to the Catholic Encyclopedia) is given to “those who have distinguished themselves in an eminent degree and, either by feat of arms or by their writings or by any other conspicuous work, have spread the Catholic faith and, by their bravery, have safeguarded, or by their learning made illustrious, the church of God.”
Bennett is survived by his children Maureen, Kevin and Brian, his sister Kathleen and his grandchildren Rachelle, Shawn, Colin, Dylan and Ivy. He was predeceased by his wife Therese Smith, his parents Dr. John and Mae Bennett and his siblings Mary and Frank.