Evelyn Lindquist, left, and Christine Farmer, of Visitation House, pose with this year's speaker, Chris Slattery, before the dinner April 25. Catholic Free Press photo/ Tanya Connor
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WORCESTER -- In college Christopher T. Slattery was "personally pro-choice," but after his awakening he opened the first pregnancy center in New York City, blocked and prayed at abortion facilities and befriended and converted a long-time abortionist.
Slattery was the keynote speaker at the 13th Annual Visitation House Benefit Dinner, held April 25 at St. George's Orthodox Cathedral in Worcester. He is director of Expectant Mother Care-EMC FrontLine Pregnancy Centers, based in the Bronx.
Visitation House is a home in Worcester for pregnant women in crisis. At the dinner Worcester Bishop Robert McManus praised the home for reinforcing resident mothers' God-given dignity. A video of the mothers and their babies was shown and a free-will offering to support the ministry collected. A total of $75,500 was raised that evening, according to Evelyn Lindquist, executive director of the home.
Slattery talked about Dr. Bernard Nathanson performing abortions in New York City after they were legalized in the state in 1970, before they were legalized nationally through all nine months of pregnancy.
But in 1989, Slattery said, he convinced Dr. Nathanson to join him and others in blocking an abortion facility. The doctor wrote about that experience saying that he was astounded that pro-lifers who blocked the clinic prayed for babies, mothers, the police and media, but never for themselves, Slattery said. The doctor said that was the first time in his adult life that he began to entertain seriously the notion of God.
A few years later, Slattery said, he was Dr. Nathanson's confirmation sponsor when the atheist Jew "who unleashed the abortion monster" in the United States became a Catholic. Later, he was privileged to bring up the gifts at Dr. Nathanson's funeral.
"This man worked hard to be a saint after a life-time of sinning," he said. "We all can be ... converted."
Slattery indicated that God called him to be pro-life in 1973 when he was a freshman at Boston College; a priest talked to him about it.
"But I was personally pro-choice," he said. Later he had a conversion, and became a pro-life activist. In 1979 he got involved in the pro-life cause, joining a counter-demonstration against an event promoting abortion. Upset about the huge number of abortions in his city, he spoke at parishes, seeking to get others to do something. Then he realized he was talking to himself.
"I decided to open the first pregnancy center" in New York City, while continuing to work in advertising, he said. Near his center was a Planned Parenthood where abortions were performed.
Mistaking his place for an abortion facility, a man told him he wanted an appointment for his girlfriend to get an abortion. Slattery could tell that was a lie. He learned that the man was Randall Terry, who with another man, was starting Operation Rescue, a pro-life effort which involved risking arrest to block abortion sites. They recruited him.
He told about leading several hundred people, including his pregnant wife, to an abortion clinic for a "rescue," at which they were arrested. It was May 2, 1988.
"My wife went into labor on the sidewalk," and the next day gave birth, he said.
Slattery said he wasn't asking his listeners to do such things. But he called for helping women in crisis pregnancies, and told stories of ones he's worked with from different races, religions and walks of life.
"We're counseling lesbians, atheists, the 'nones' (who have no religion) and divorced couples," he said. And from that ministry children come. He said that he hoped these women would come to Jesus in time.
"We will, in the meantime, be Jesus to them ... being loving people, as the Holy Father calls us to," he said.
He decried Massachusetts voters' indifference to the pro-choice stance of politicians from the state's famed Kennedy family. Massachusetts needs to turn that around, he said.
"It's going to start right in this room," he said.
He told listeners they are living up to the legacy of local pro-life leader Ruth Pakaluk, "who you must look up to and pray to -- a regular woman amongst us," who may be canonized someday.
The Ruth V.K. Pakaluk Award was given to Roland Tremblay (posthumously), and his wife, Lucille, was also honored. They supported Visitation House and other ministries. Their son Ronald accepted the award, named for Mrs. Pakaluk, a local pro-life leader who died young and was instrumental in establishing Visitation House.
"Visitation House is a ministry that's very close to my heart," said Catherine Adair, who promoted the free-will offering for the home. She said she could attest to the fact that abortion is devastating to children and mothers because she lost a child to abortion and participated in thousands of abortions while working in an abortion facility. She said Visitation House is "all about the salvation of souls. ... Visitation House sees in each woman the face of God ... sees the whole woman."
She spoke of the commandment to love as God loves.
"And how does God love us?" she asked. "Jesus loved us to death on a cross ... humiliated ... spat upon ... brutalized."