October 25, 2006
Honoring Mary Kenny
photographs by Michael Fusco
WELCOME, everyone—old friends and new,
From near and far,
especially the two
from across the pond,
of whom my husband was extremely fond.
(I didn’t mean to rhyme; it just came out that way.)
If Jim were here today,
he’d be delighted to see—in the same room—
both Lynette and Mary,
with whom FAX correspondence
More about that, later: Now I’d like
to give Maria the mike.
Thank you, Mom.
It gives me great joy to welcome you all this evening. A warm welcome to our guests of honor, Mary Kenny and Lynette Burrows. We are also honored tonight by the presence of His Excellency, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio to the United Nations.
As we begin this special evening, I would like to thank you all for coming, for supporting this event, and for supporting the Foundation. A special thank you to this dinner’s generous benefactors and sponsors, and for all who have made this evening possible. We have quite a guest list tonight: readers of the Review of course; as well as several of our authors; we also have representatives from crisis pregnancy centers, both from the New York City area and as far away as New Orleans . . . and tonight we have with us Sister Dorothy Rothar, of Bright Dawn Ministry, who was introduced to us by our good friends Ambassador and Mrs. Gerald Scott—they tell me that last year, through her sidewalk counseling, she had almost 1,000 turn-arounds! [APPLAUSE]
I am especially pleased to report that, thanks to the great generosity of many of our donors who bought “student tickets,” we have over 30 students here tonight, including seminarians! Welcome young people! (Never thought I would say “welcome young people”!) We are thrilled you are here and hope that this evening will inspire and encourage you; we are counting on you to fight the good fight on into the future.
This is our fourth annual Great Defender of Life Dinner; and we have just marked the eighth anniversary of the death of our founder and my father, James P. McFadden. Mary Kenny was a great friend and inspiration to him, as she is to us, and I am certain he would be so pleased with our decision to honor her this evening.
This year we award our first woman Great Defender of Life; and we thought it fitting to publish a book, which we premiere tonight, saluting the women of the Human Life Review. Our new book, Having Her Say, which is in your gift bags, is a collection of Review articles by women from the year 1977 to 2005, and several of the authors are also here tonight. It is dedicated to our friend Sandi Merle, a Review contributor who, sadly, we lost last July. Sandi was a founder of STOP, Standing Together to Oppose Partial Birth—an organization of Jewish women in the arts who opposed the gruesome procedure— and the co-author of From the Hunter’s Net: Excerpts from a Jewish/ Catholic Dialogue on Partial-birth Abortion. She was a dear friend of the late Cardinal John O’Connor, and to Mary O’Connor Ward, who is with us this evening. You can read more about Sandi in the Introduction to Having Her Say, as well as read her included essay.
We are also pleased to present to you a special Summer/Fall issue of the Review. Several of the authors are present tonight—George McKenna, Patrick Mullaney, Mary Meehan, Edward Short, and John Burger, as well as Mary Kenny and Lynette Burrows.
You will also find in your gift bags a sweet little face in a frame. As you know, the Human Life Foundation has a two-part program. We aim to educate and sway minds by publishing the Review; we also offer practical help to mothers and babies, through our matching-grant program for crisis pregnancy centers. We thought it would be a nice reminder of that part of our program, and an essential reminder of what we mean when we say we are anti-abortion—for you to see the faces of some babies rescued at some of the centers. This program too is of course made possible only by you and thanks to you—we couldn’t do any of this without our supporters. And now I would like to introduce Father George Rutler, Pastor of The Church of Our Saviour, which is across the street, to give the Invocation.
FR. GEORGE W. RUTLER:
Most of us are aware that today is the 491st anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. On this same date in 1854 the Light Brigade charged at Balaklava. Agincourt was a great day for those on the winning side. Of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the French Marshal in the Crimea, Pierre Bosquet, said, “It is magnificent but it is not war.” The job of pro-life forces is to have an Agincourt, despite all odds, and to avoid the miscalculated valor of Balaklava.
For these many years, the Human Life Review has had a strong following among its focus group—live humans. Happily, the Human Life Review dinner comes just before a general election, reminding all of us that the right to vote and the right to life are an economy. While the right to life pertains to natural law, it is secured by the ballot; and while the right to vote is a political principle, it can only be exercised by living people. I know that Chesterton called tradition the democracy of the dead, but the dead do not get to vote in our system, except in some precincts I shall not name. This brings to mind the words of a beauty queen in the Miss Universe pageant who said, “I would not want to live forever because I don’t believe that one can live forever. And so, I don’t think I would want to live forever.”
The approaching election is about life, and general political discourse has not been elevated. Sometimes it is confused. The governor of California, for instance, has supported legalized abortion while opposing the sale of guns. He has also said, “I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman.”
When it comes to predicting the course of culture, one might invoke the unhelpful advice of the Mother Superior who told her nuns, “Never predict unless you know.” In 1876 Western Union predicted that the telephone would never be taken seriously as a means of communication. In 1899 the Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents said “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” In 1912 Marshal Foch said that airplanes were “interesting toys but of no military value.” In 1927 Mr. Warner of Warner Brothers predicted that no one would want talking pictures. In 1932 Albert Einstein wrote, “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable.” In 1943 the chairman of IBM said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” In 1946 Darryl F. Zanuck predicted that people would soon get tired of television. In 1949 Popular Mechanics forecast that “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” In 1975, the same Newsweek magazine which now warns about a global warming threat, predicted world starvation because of a coming Ice Age. More to our purposes, in 1968 Paul Ehrlich predicted, in The Population Bomb, social chaos due to irreversible birth rates. Recently, in proof that being a eugenicist means never having to say you are sorry, the Heinz Foundation gave Mr. Ehrlich a $250,000 lifetime achievement award.
I lay before you this remarkable fact: over the years the Human Life Review has published many warnings, some heeded and some not, but in matters of human life and the consequences of contempt for natural law, it has never made a wrong prediction. There is, you see, an advantage to being on the side of Mother Nature, and the disorder in Western Civilization today is negative proof of that.
Over a century and a half ago, John Henry Newman preached this on the crucifixion of Innocence:
How overpowered should we be, nay not at the sight only, but at the very hearing of cruelties shown to a little child, and why so? . . . because it was so innocent, and because it was so unable to defend itself. I do not like to go into the details of such cruelty, they would be so heart-rending. What if wicked men took and crucified a young child? What if they deliberately seized its poor little frame, and stretched out its arms, nailed them to a cross bar of wood, drove a stake through its two feet, and fastened them to a beam, and so left it to die? It is almost too shocking to say; perhaps, you will actually say it is too shocking, and ought not to be said. O, my brethren, you feel the horror of this, and yet you can bear to read of Christ’s sufferings without horror; for what is that little child’s agony to His? and which deserved it more? which is the more innocent? which the holier? was He not gentler, sweeter, meeker, more tender, more loving, than any little child? Why are you shocked at the one, why are you not shocked at the other? (Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. VII. Sermon 10)
Today there are those shocked at neither the crucifixion of babies nor the crucifixion of Christ. May Newman very soon produce the miracle needed for his beatification. His words already are miraculous.
I bid you pray these other words of one already beatified, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and to her prayer we add a blessing upon the food we are about to receive and for the work of the Human Life Review:
Heavenly Father, you have given us a model of life in the Holy Family of Nazareth. Help us, O loving Father, to make our family another Nazareth where love, peace and joy reign. May it be deeply contemplative, intensely Eucharistic and vibrant with joy. Help us to stay together in joy and sorrow through family prayer. Teach us to see Jesus in the members of our family especially in their distressing disguise. May the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus make our hearts meek and humble like His and help us to carry out our family duties in a holy way. May we love one another as God loves each one of us more and more each day, and forgive each other’s faults as You forgive our sins. Help us, O loving Father, to take whatever You give and to give whatever You take with a big smile. Immaculate Heart of Mary, cause of our joy, pray for us. St. Joseph, pray for us. Holy Guardian Angels be always with us, guide and protect us. Amen.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to briefly introduce our staff. In addition to my mother and me, we are: Anne Conlon, Managing Editor of the Review and Editor of the monthly newsletter catholic eye; Rose Flynn, our financial manager; Christina Angelopoulos, née McFadden, our production manager; and Patricia O’Brien, our amazing volunteer. These titles don’t truly do justice, because each one of us has to be a jack-of-all-trades. We do just about everything “in-house”—from discussing article ideas to maintaining subscriber lists; from desktop publishing to wrapping up the delicious chocolates (thanks again to Pat) in your bags, from painstaking proofreading to ooohing and aahing over baby photos. The truth is, we also have a lot of fun. And now . . . Faith?
Mary Kenny is no stranger to New York, but Lynette Burrows—frequent contributor to our Human Life Review, well-known English journalist and broadcaster—was here just once before, in 1997. And she got mugged. (Such things don’t happen anymore . . . ) Now, the reason for all the fax correspondence: Jim’s surgeries had taken his voice, but he “talked” via his trusty old Royal typewriter—he needed the feel of fingers on keys to transmit his thoughts. Had e-mail been around then, he’d not have used it—it would restrict his flow. The fax machine was as electronic as he’d go. It was Lynette who wrote Jim’s obituary for the London Telegraph: when it ran, on October 28, 1998, one typically Lynette paragraph had been cut—maybe too “subjective” or something—but here’s how it ended: “Even though the cancer which had ravaged him had robbed him of his voice years ago, his faxes crammed with ideas and exhortations to action, fairly bristled with energy and encouragement. His tone of voice, even to those who never actually heard it, was unmistakable.”
The huge volume of faxes to Lynette and Mary were indeed crammed with ideas, shared information, ideas about future articles, but—above all— humor. There wasn’t quite as much correspondence with Mary, because she seemed always to be moving to another house: one of Jim’s faxes began “Dear Bouncing Mary.” As for Lynette: she addressed Jim variously as “Lord Jim,” “Sir James,” “Honey-Lamb,” “Very perfick knight,” “Very dear pest,” “Dearest Lordy-pots”; his faxes were addressed to such as “Pulchritudinous Pundit,” “La Belle Lynette,” “Fair Loquatia,” “Languid Lynette,” “Lynette La Magnifica,” and “MZ Speedy” (which began “Wow, your article not only early but your best . . .”); and Lord Jim often signed according to the state of his declining health . . . one fax, in which he mentioned an upcoming colonoscopy, was signed “Lord Letempeek.” When about to begin more radiation, he was “Lord Glowing of Voltz,” and when radiation reaction set in he was “Lord Woosy of Headsend, Cornwall.” In July ’98 he wrote, “It is odd to sit around waiting to get worse—but funny too, almost daily we have stories about the coming Computer Disaster 2000—not my worry!” Signed, “Lord Tassit of Turn.” Once he was “Lord Short of Breath” and once, simply “Frustratio.”
So perhaps now you have the flavor of their friendship. But punning aside, in May of 1998 Jim faxed Lynette that “The thought crossed my mind that, indeed, you may be the nicest friend I’ve never met. (And in my ‘business’ I’ve come to know literally hundreds of people I’ve never actually met.”) Now we have finally met the Fair Lynette: Here she is.
Maria—Faith—Ladies & Gentlemen—the first sign that I am in America rather than at home, is that I can dispense with, “My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen” and the agonised juggling between who comes first—a newly knighted Birmingham gambler, a Papal Nuncio, a Cardinal, or someone wellknown as a Saint. Such are the niceties of English formality that even a collection of butlers provides endless scope for whose boss is more important in the scale of things. I was fascinated to discover, only last Sunday, that my son-in-law who has recently moved to the country, has taken up “beating” for the local huntsmen, and a man whom he employs, is a “gun” in the same syndicate. So my son-in-law drinks in the kitchen with the other beaters and the man he employs drinks in the drawing room with the other guns. All are happy, he told me, because the presence of hierarchy indicates true equality because it is an artificial distinction between equals. Since they cannot all drink in either the kitchen or the drawing room, a practical hierarchy is formed which offers the freedom of the kitchen against the formality of the drawing room. (Curious but enjoyable—or it wouldn’t have endured.) I cannot resist mentioning this because it is so typical of the things that James McFadden and I used to discuss via his ubiquitous faxes, so often and with such relish. He loved to know of differences between our two cultures which, because of what someone called the “exposed flank” of a shared language, are more similar in many ways, than, say, France, which is only 21 miles away from us.
I first came to New York with one of my brothers in 1997, for the wedding of an English friend and his American girl. Arriving just in time for the speeches at the wedding reception, and knowing no one, we passed the time trying to guess whether the assembled groups were British or American. We thought it was pretty straightforward, with those in cricketing blazers being ostentatiously English, whilst those who looked as though they had just stepped out of bed, being probably from the Celtic fringe—as we little Englanders like to call the Scots and Welsh. In fact, the one person in a kilt turned out to be third-generation American and the one person who sang was not Welsh but a paid Ukrainian. It turned out we were wrong on all counts and the only people there who were British were the immediate family of the groom— who were all sitting as close to the bar as possible, and drinking as fast as possible! This is known as English “reserve.” Such “reserve” is handy and I have used it myself on occasion. I sometimes begin a talk such as this with an amusing anecdote because it relaxes people and makes them think they are going to enjoy themselves—even if they aren’t. So I shall begin by telling you of another occasion some years ago, when I was the after-dinner speaker at a conference of parents, teachers and educationalists in what is known as the “muesli-belt” around London, otherwise known as Notting Hill and Hampstead. I had been most careful not to drink too little at the dinner, for fear of becoming too reserved; and not too much so that I became hilarious or incoherent. I thought I had judged it just right and began with a rather platitudinous compliment about how kind it was of them to listen to me when they were obviously in a post-prandial torpor after the meal.
However, as I advanced down this sentence which I had written the night before, it suddenly occurred to my subconscious mind that “prandial” was a rude word—and I hastily changed it to “coital.” I looked up, anxiously, at the audience to see how it was received and was met by four hundred eyes on stalks! Not a pretty sight I can assure you—and I never ventured to look at them again.
One thing that has stuck in my mind about that visit to New York was one particular difference in sensibility of our two cultures, which has often come to my mind since in different circumstances. You won’t remember, no doubt, a news story about an unfortunate man who had a run-in with an elephant and, not surprisingly, came off worse. The film clip was shown endlessly on television throughout several days and evenings, showing the poor chap attempting to run from the enraged elephant and him trying vainly to bolt a gate that lay between them. The elephant broke through and trampled the man and, although I don’t think he was killed, it was a horrible sight. And yet, every time the clip was shown, the commentator piously observed that the shooting of the elephant would not be shown since it might upset viewers! One thing that has remained with me of that visit to New York was that it occurred just a year or so before I became acquainted with the doughty band of people at the Human Life Review. I have never ceased to regret that I did not know them all then when I was so close and this visit is the fulfillment of a heartfelt wish that has existed from then to now. The fact that I am a guest tonight makes it all the more special and deserving of my sincere gratitude. The guest of honour this evening, Mary Kenny, played a decisive part in my joining this verdant oasis in New York because it was she who first gave my name to James McFadden. She had written for him for a number of years as European Editor of the magazine, and her deceptively mild, acute commentary on the times in which we live has been, and is, a feature of journalism in Britain. You will hear from Maria later, a more detailed description of her contribution to the fight for our cultural sanity, both in England and in her native Ireland. Sufficient for me to say that she writes primarily for popular newspapers like the most popular of the tabloids—the Daily Mail, and the most popular of the broadsheets, the Daily Telegraph. In this, I would guess, she has chosen to follow the path followed by the father of great, popular journalism, G. K. Chesterton. She, like him, writes so that ordinary people might have an argument to put, a point of view to articulate, a perspective on the moral issues of the day, which is no less profound for being simple. Her common touch, so typical of Irish people, if I may say so, so un-snobby and clear, based on personal experience and easily available observation, must have given many people ideas and a way of articulating them that are her treasures in heaven.
She stands in an Irish tradition of anecdote and story that is as potent in her hands as they have been elsewhere in that profoundly religious culture. I am reminded of the beautiful statue in the church that Chesterton paid to have built in his hometown of Beaconsfield.
It is a simple statue, made in Ireland by an unknown artist, of a peasant girl carrying a baby, that Chesterton chose himself the moment he saw it, and it is accompanied by an old Irish story of a man who, crossing some fields one day, meets the girl and, sensing something of the miraculous, asks her who she is. Holding out the child, she replies: “ I am the Mother of God and this is Himself; and He’s the boy you’ll all be wanting at the last.”
Honestly, it is one of those sentences that I just cannot say without a lump coming into my throat. I only wish the Richard Dawkins’ and Peter Singer’s of this world could be made susceptible to the unexpected thrust of poetry into the rational wilderness they have constructed and ring-fenced. It is the only thing I know that strikes home in a way that other arguments cannot. I never did discover why exactly Mary gave my name to the Human Life Review but, from the moment Mr. McFadden wrote to me, I knew that his was an army I wanted to join. It wasn’t just his vigour and clear aims that impressed me, nor the tremendous array of articles he had commissioned and printed for years—and which he sent me in unnerving quantities—but it was his positively aristocratic assumption that I too would be a “pack-horse in his many causes,” as I liked to tell him. That is why I always called him “Sir James” when I wrote to him, occasionally elevating him to the hereditary peerage by means of “Lord Jim.” He would generally end his letters in reply with a combination of Lord and some terrible pun like “Lord BeKnighted” or “Sir Loin of Beefy.” We discussed, in the process of planning and collecting articles, whether the expression “to McFadden” would ever enter the English language as a verb that meant “to be run-over, as by a steam-roller”; and I mused that it was his character rather than his business acumen that explained why none of his enterprises ever dared fail! It is a strange but true fact that I did not know for quite a long time, certainly more than a year, that he had no voice. In consequence of this, I referred frequently to him bawling out his hapless secretaries; whizzing dictionaries at people’s heads with a loud reproof if they had misused a thesaurus and even making his poor wife’s tomato plants wilt with some mild enquiry about the state of the weather.
Even when I did eventually hear about his physical problems, it didn’t make the slightest difference to the way I regarded him. In his last year, when things must have been near unendurable for him, I remarked that his voice remained the same—manly, humorous, combative, competent—but he did know it and, I guess, thanked God for it. As he said, he wanted to go out on his feet—and God gave him that, thank God.
I hope you will not think me unduly sentimental when I say that because I never met Sir James, and was never conscious of a physical presence, as one is when one is familiar with a face and a voice, I have a fancy that he is here tonight. As I look at the happy, post-prandial faces in this room, his could be among them and I should never know. It would be just like him to take his place, so that he could earwig what I was saying, and slip away again after without any of you knowing.
So, in conclusion, I have to say “No, Sir James, I will not turn it into a three-thousand-word piece, that had to be in by last Wednesday—” and, “Yes, I do think your wife and daughters are beautiful and a credit to you. And no, there is no need to explain to me that you are not the reason they are so great—it is just that a family, literally and figuratively, creates and sustains itself until it is that wondrous thing—an army with banners, founded on love.”
As Tiny Tim would most assuredly have said, “May God bless us all” and thank you for listening to me.
We are close to the highlight of the evening. I would like to add a few things about Mary Kenny. Two words come forcefully to mind when I think about Mary, as a journalist as well as a friend. The first is courage. The legendary Clare Boothe Luce said, in the speech we include in Having Her Say, that “courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount.” Mary Kenny’s career is marked by courage, most especially with the abortion issue. As one of the founders of the women’s liberation movement in Ireland, she once accepted abortion as a necessary right for women. When she began to have misgivings about it, she didn’t do what many women have done: dig into fierce denial, or avoid investigating their own doubts. Instead, Mary, using her journalistic instincts and talents, faced the issue head-on and delved into it, unflinchingly facing the most painful aspects of the abortion story. For her book, Abortion: The Whole Story, she interviewed many women, and doctors, visited clinics . . . she researched abortion in history, science and literature. She concluded that, no matter the circumstances, abortion is simply wrong; and that one had to stand on principle. And she has done that, defending the right to life of the unborn, again and again, even though, as a woman in the media, she has suffered for it.
The second word that comes to mind when I think about Mary’s work and her self is compassion. Compassion can be an overused word in our culture, but its true meaning is “suffering with”—and that is something Mary embraces. Her work is marked by a healthy understanding of human nature, and keen compassion for the suffering. Her understanding of the terrible loss involved in abortion is what led her to become pro-life; as she writes, a personal sense of loss is the “characteristic feeling of the anti-abortionist. It’s not anti-feminist. It is not a desire to control women or to judge them; it is just a feeling of loss.” In Mary’s case, it is a feeling matched with a desire to help people see that an unwanted pregnancy can turn into a treasured child.
Compassion was certainly a hallmark of her friendship with my late father, because Mary got to know him right before he was diagnosed with cancer, and she stayed a true, cheerful, and encouraging friend all through his difficult illness. Remarkable, really, since it would have been easy not to get close to a new friend at such a difficult time . . . and Mary is an incredibly busy person. But Mary and Jim enjoyed their collaboration. Through some very difficult years, a fax from Mary brought cheer, interesting news, and a sympathetic sharing of burdens. Mary has been a great asset to the Review, by being a contributor, as well as introducing us to journalists from Europe, most notably Lynette of course, and also, for example, David Quinn from Ireland.
The flip side of recognizing the great loss involved in abortion is a joyful appreciation of life—and this Mary brings in abundance. She has a lively interest in the lighter side of human nature, and a wonderful sense of humor— and she is simply a delight to be around.
In that spirit of joy, we present Mary with our Great Defender of Life Award for 2006.
That’s wonderful. Thank you very much. That’s wonderful. Thank you so much. I feel a bit like Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars. And I, like Gwyn Paltrow, should actually start with a long list of thanks to all the people who really—with whom I should share this award. But I’ll just start by thanking you very, very much indeed, Reverend Fathers, Ladies and Gentlemen, for inviting me here. It’s a pleasure and an honor and a privilege to be in New York City, and to be here this evening. I feel really overwhelmed and unworthy of this.
But I always remember Jim McFadden’s wonderful words when he said— when he told me, “the cause of the unborn came to us. We didn’t seek it out. And we must accept what comes to us, and do our best with it.” And that has often been a guiding light for me, throughout my life.
I’m going to start just by saying a few words about Lynette, actually. In the bad old Soviet Union days, they used to have an award called Heroic Mother of the Soviet Union. [LAUGHTER] And certainly Lynette deserves that. She’s a mother of six, and she comes from a family of five herself. And between Lynette and her siblings, they have ninety-seven grandchildren.
Pat O'Brien and Bob Maffucci welcome guests
And you know they’re a wonderful family, and I also know her sister Victoria Gillick, and her brother Justin. They’re great fun, and they’re a great example of how big families are often, you know, tremendously good fun and robust, and outgoing and courageous, and willing to sort of take on the world.
And I remember perfectly well why I introduced Lynette to Jim and to the Human Life Review. She just is a wonderful polemicist and she speaks very, very strongly on British radio, on television, and writes a great deal. And in a society where not many people actually get the chance to speak out, she certainly has been a great champion. I know that she’s been a wonderful contributor to the Human Life Review, and she deserves this just as much as I do, really. So thank you, Lynette, very much.
And thank you to everyone at the Human Life Review, and especially to Faith and Maria and to Anne Conlon. They’re always wonderful. I love America and I love Americans. And it’s—you know—they exemplify for me the courage and the optimism and the inspirational side of American life; and I always feel that actually in New York.
I often compare the prolife movement to Alcoholics Anonymous in this respect: I have some experience of both, actually. It’s said to be a fellowship and it is—it has a family element. But also it varies according to the culture in each country. I have some experience in England, Ireland, Scotland, The Netherlands (where there is a surprisingly good prolife movement), France, a little bit of Norway and Australia and, above all, in the United States. I’ve seen some of these movements—some of these AA movements in these countries as well. It is fascinating to see the way in which in England, for example—an AA meeting in England—it’s always sort of basically classridden. You know you’ve got all the sort of posh ladies in Chelsea, and their secret bottles of vodka. And then you’ve got sort of, you know, hearty Scotsmen in North London. In fact somebody actually compared it very much to the Church of England in a way.
And in Ireland these AA meetings, they’re always full of stories. The people come in, they tell stories, and they talk, and it’s the narrative that— sometimes—has this little poetic element. The Australians are incredibly plain speaking, and terribly candid, and they come right out with it. But I think that the American ones are always best because you’ve got this tremendous sense of optimism and that you can do it, and that you can start your life again. And, you know, things are going to turn out well because we’ve been given the God-given capacity to do so. And all around the world we owe such a debt to the American prolife movement; a huge debt. They have shown the way.
And each country is following in its own way, although sometimes the way in which the prolife movement works can be underground; it can be very diffuse; it can be seemingly in defeat. But I think little by little, you know, that underground movement kind of works.
And I think in America, for me the two great voices of leadership were Ronald Reagan and Jim McFadden . . . [APPLAUSE] . . . who have inspired all the others to follow.
When we were coming over in the airplane, Lynette and I were talking about families a little bit. And she asked me how many were in my family, and I said we’re four. But when I was born my next sibling up, my sister, was ten and a half. My two brothers were in their teens. My eldest brother, Carlos, was seventeen, actually. My mother was forty-two, and my father was sixty-seven. As was said about an English politician, if he’d stood for election he’d have swept the country—in the sense that he was very pleased to be a father again at sixty-seven.
But it was a complicated story, as I was to discover later on, when I was talking to my mother. She was quite old at this time, and she said, “You know, well, you’re sort of very much the afterthought, Mary, in the family. And, indeed, I have to say when I became pregnant at the age of forty-two, I was very, very displeased indeed.” And she said, “I couldn’t believe it. I had had a normal married life for ten years, and I hadn’t had a pregnancy. I had three children. And your father was in his mid-sixties, and there was a war on too. And I just couldn’t believe that this had happened.”
And, indeed, my brother told me afterwards, and I know this is something that teenage boys often say, and indeed teenage girls too, that he couldn’t believe it. My parents!! Forty-two and sixty-seven!! It’s disgusting. My brother is a wonderful Irish storyteller, but he was so embarrassed. He was seventeen, a very self-conscious teenage boy. And he actually invented a story to cover up my birth: He said that my aunt, who was an absolutely blameless unmarried lady, of great virtue—that my aunt had had a passionate affair with an Argentinean sailor. He’s kind of romantic. And in order to be charitable, my mother had taken in the child. And this was so that he wouldn’t lose face with his peers.
So there it was. But my mother then told me, and she wanted to tell the story, and she told me, “You know, when I realized that I was pregnant, I really did everything to try to, you know, to stop this—to bring an end to this pregnancy.” I mean, certainly in Ireland at that time abortion was out of the question. But there were other ways and means that people sometimes did. They took hot baths; they drank a lot of gin (which might have explained the later recourse to AA). They went to vigorous, vigorous horse riding, you know, and vigorous bicycle riding and all kinds of vigorous, extreme sports of every kind.
But however vigorous it was, I would not be dislodged. [APPLAUSE] So the time came—she was six months along—when she had to break it to everybody and so on, because she’d sort of kept hidden for a while. But she went to Confession. As Irish women nearly always did before a birth in case they should die in childbirth. And I suppose that does bring home, you know, something that Kipling says in his poem about the female of the species: that you know for each life beneath her breast, she would risk life as well. And so women would go to Confession because—because I suppose they wanted to die in a state of grace, if that was to haunt them.
And she went to the priest and started on the Confession and she said “I’m expecting a baby, and you know I didn’t welcome this pregnancy, Father, at all. And I’d have done a great deal to make it go away. I’d have done a lot to make it go away.” She went on and she talked to him in this manner for awhile, and at the end of the Confession, he turned to her very gently, he didn’t reproach her, he just said, “Well never mind, my dear. When you are old, you will be glad you had this child.”
And she turned to me, and she said, “And I am.” [APPLAUSE]
Mary Kenny accepts her award
A friend of mine in Dublin was a very, very strong feminist. When I told her this story, she said, “well that’s the best argument against abortion I’ve heard, actually.” It’s not, but the story engaged her.
This set me thinking about something which has been really in the back of my mind for some time, and that is that I think that the next phase, if you like, of discourse about the prolife movement should be to maybe carry it further into different forms of narrative; into fiction, into drama, into movies. It troubles me, it upsets me that whenever a prolife person is portrayed in a movie or on television, they’re usually portrayed as some sort of nut case. And that’s true in fiction as well.
Not that I think drama and fiction should be propaganda. That doesn’t work. But nevertheless drama and fiction are extremely powerful means of communication. If you look at a movie like The Madness of King George, which had Nigel Hawthorne playing King George and was written by Alan Bennett—it’s a wonderfully entertaining film, and there’s a lovely moment in that film when King George, who was quite bonkers, is turning a globe and he sees the shape of America on the globe and he says, “Ah, to have lost this paradise.” Because he did lose America, didn’t he?
But that is a very, very charming and warm portrayal of King George the Third. And that’s the portrayal that’s really accepted now, I think, in the public mind. But he wasn’t really like that. He was really rather a nasty man in many ways. He was bitterly anti-Catholic. He actually held up Catholic emancipation, which did untold damage in Ireland because it made the Irish more and more alienated from Great Britain. And he was not a good—he was a patchy king, I suppose, one should say. But he certainly wasn’t exactly the very charming and luxurious monarch who is portrayed in that movie.
But I think the movie is an example of how powerful a movie can be; how powerful something like that can be in telling a story. I mean I’m quite pleased that Sofia Coppola has done this film about Marie Antoinette, which is charming; it’s a very feminine film in the sense that it’s a lot about shoes and frocks. But that’s all right. Marie Antoinette really has been very unfairly portrayed throughout history, you know, as a very cruel and selfish woman. And she was—there is a parallel in this movie with Princess Diana— she was much more like Princess Diana, really. A rather naive girl. But it’s good to see it in a movie.
And one thinks of Shakespeare and how Shakespeare has put his imprint on so much of English history, on the whole story of Richard the Third. Or even in our time how something like the Spanish Civil War—which was a very complex and cruel war, of course, on all sides— has been almost completely stamped in the public consciousness by Hemingway and George Orwell, so the story of the Spanish Civil War is very much told in a way from the left-wing point of view. And the terrible stories about the dreadful murders of priests and rapes of nuns have gone really unchronicled in public—in popular perception. That’s a little bit of a diversion but I’m very keen on this idea that we should really try and tell stories, as well as have logical argument, and rational argument—the whole prolife cause is built on rational argument. But I would like to see that story element expanded.
I know there are people who are thinking along the same lines, and have that idea. There are publishers, and there are people engaged in the creative side, if you like, of communication. I hope this is something that might stay in their mind, because, after all, anybody who has really looked at the abortion story, and the prolife story, knows that it is full of really poignant and interesting and humane and sad—all sorts of complex human stories. And they’re just there for the examining.
I have actually written a play about my mother’s story, which I’ve called A State of Emergency. Anybody who wants to see it, I’ll be glad to make it available electronically for them. I think that in the present climate it might be quite difficult to get this play produced, because I think that in the arts the liberal left would have a very, if you like, perhaps prejudiced view.
But, nevertheless, it’s good to put those things on deposit so the stories are there; so that they can arise and be there for another generation to examine. Sometimes it takes a generation for a story to be told.
I was reflecting about the Hungarian uprising just the other day, which happened fifty years ago. And although I was only twelve at the time, I did take an interest in it. And I remember that the Hungarian uprising was viewed as hopeless; first of all absolutely hopeless, absolutely ridiculous; these crazy people who were rising against the mighty Soviet Union. And secondly, some people, certainly on the left in England and Ireland, regarded those who were involved in the uprising as being reactionary. That was very much a view put about by some of the leading intellectuals.
But fifty years later, the memorials to the Hungarian uprising actually really see it as the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. So it does take that fifty years; it does take that time for this perspective to grow. And I suppose in terms of story, really, when we think of the New Testament, so much of it is told in story form. So many of the narratives in the New Testament are told as stories rather than as essays or as other forms of explanation.
So we do have a very, very good precedent to go on. And I hope that Jim would approve of this idea; I feel sure he would do, because he was such an imaginative man. One of the things that he said to me was: “Remember, Mary, the definition of human life calls for a very, very broad agenda, and all of human life is there.” And I think that’s true.
Thank you very much indeed.
[Those wishing to inquire about Mary’s play, A State of Emergency, may contact her at
Louise Phelan and friend
Tom Bolan, Maria McFadden Maffucci and Mary Kenny
Anne Higgins came from Washington, DC
Mrs. Eileen Slattery