Deacons key to archdiocese's pro-life outreach

BRAINTREE -- Permanent deacons play a significant role in promoting pro-life causes in the archdiocese. As the U.S. adjusts to a post-Roe v. Wade landscape, they show no sign of slowing down in prayer, ministry, and advocacy for the unborn and their mothers.

Since 2011, one of the options for deacons' assignments upon ordination has been the archdiocese's Pro-Life Office. Ten permanent deacons are currently assigned to this ministry, including Deacon Chuck Rossignol of Immaculate Conception Parish in Marlborough, Deacon Bill Dwyer of Blessed Trinity Parish in Littleton and Westford, and Deacon Tim Maher of the Catholic Weymouth Collaborative.

One way that deacons, as well as priests, can explain the Gospel of Life and share information about life-affirming resources is through their preaching. Deacon Rossignol said many Gospel passages read at Sunday Mass could be connected with protecting and preserving life.

"There's never a shortage of opportunities to make the conversation, whatever you're having, intersect with the need for protecting the unborn," he said.

Deacon Dwyer recently gave a homily about confronting social evils -- such as antisemitism and racial discrimination -- within one's family, workplace, or neighborhood.

"When we hear things that are absolutely wrong, we need to be able to say, 'That's not correct,'" he said.

He added that the same goes for standing up for life.

"I want to make sure that I am pastoral, that I'm compassionate, that I'm respectful to people who have different thoughts or opinions than I might have, but at the same time to pray for them and to share with them my own beliefs," he said.

One of Deacon Maher's most moving experiences in the diaconate happened after he had preached about caring for the needy at a morning Mass. Later that day, a couple he recognized from Mass returned to the church with shopping bags of food pantry donations.

It was "an emotional experience" for Deacon Maher, who felt that "what I had said that morning as part of my preaching really touched somebody."

"Sometimes you're preaching and you wonder, 'Are people listening? Do they want to just move on with this Mass?'" he said, adding that it seemed like his message "really influenced somebody to step up and do what we're all called to do, those corporal works of mercy."

Members of Deacon Rossignol's parish, Immaculate Conception in Marlborough, are active in sharing information about pro-life issues on Beacon Hill when there is a push for people to contact their legislators. They also have a team of about a dozen people who organize signature drives, such as the one to end taxpayer funding of abortions.

"I think every opportunity that presents itself, to write to legislators or belong to groups at the parish level, is really important," Deacon Rossignol said.

He serves as a spiritual advisor for his local Knights of Columbus council. He sees the knights as "a strong vehicle and tool for helping the different pro-life initiatives," such as raising funds to purchase ultrasound machines for hospitals and pregnancy resource centers.

Deacon Rossignol said that even if someone is unable to participate in a group, they can pray for pro-life efforts across the archdiocese.

"There's always a way to do something, even if you're doing it by yourself," he said.

Deacon Maher, who is a professor emeritus at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy Health Sciences, compared the issue of abortion to physician-assisted suicide (PAS). When the Church campaigned against a ballot question that would have legalized PAS in Massachusetts, he recognized the need to support people with terminal illnesses and advocate for increased hospice and palliative care resources. In the same way, the reversal of Roe v. Wade comes with the responsibility to support pregnant women in difficult situations.

"You can't just say to women that abortion is off the table now, you're on your own. It's really a call to action on the part of people to help support women who are in difficult pregnancies," he said.

An essential part of that is making women aware of the resources available to them. This can be done, Deacon Maher said, through parish bulletins, preaching, and presentations.

He recalled that when PAS was on the ballot, he and other pro-life advocates visited parishes and gave presentations to educate people about it.

"You could do exactly the same thing with the effects of the Dobbs decision so that there's not any misunderstanding or confusion," he said, noting that secular media may misrepresent the actual impact of Dobbs v. Jackson, the Supreme Court case that reversed Roe v. Wade in June 2022, returning the issue of legal abortion to state legislatures.

The deacons are perhaps best known for organizing Holy Hours for Life each January, coinciding with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the national March for Life in Washington, D.C.

Each year, the deacons reach out to other diocesan clergy to encourage them to hold a Holy Hour in their parish, which can include guided prayers or witness talks as well as Eucharistic Adoration. Last year, 109 Holy Hours for Life were held in the archdiocese.

Deacon Maher suggested that Holy Hours for Life can be held at other times of the year besides January.

"I think this year is going to be much more on healing and hope and challenging people to step up to the plate and walk the walk instead of just talking the talk," he said.

Deacon Dwyer emphasized the necessity of praying to "change minds and hearts," that people who support abortion will see how precious life is.

"We as a community, the Archdiocese of Boston, and even Catholics around the world, will continue to pray for life," Deacon Dwyer said.

The list of parishes holding a Holy Hour for Life can be viewed at