This is such an honor for me, first of all because I have long been in awe of Chris and Joan Bell: Their tireless witness to life in all the aspects of their lives, especially in their generosity towards children—in their own family, and to the countless babies whose lives they have saved.
Likewise, it is a great privilege to have the opportunity to help Good Counsel Homes, which reaches out to homeless pregnant women—even women struggling with mental illness, truly the most vulnerable. Good Counsel extends to them the practical aid as well as the abiding love and hope they need to start over as confident mothers.
I have attended this Ball for many years, and am always moved by the testimonies of the women whose lives have been turned around by Good Counsel. This event is a joyful occasion, because at the helm of Good Counsel is Chris Bell, a man who exudes a great generosity of spirit and a joyful trust in God. Thank you Chris, for this opportunity, thank you Silvana Cowden for all you do, thank you to tonight’s co-chairs, Lynn and Donald Gully, Bob and Marge Reilly, and Neil and Mary Sullivan.
I am speaking to you this evening because of the work of the Human Life Review, created by the Human Life Foundation in 1975—something I pretty much had nothing to do with in the beginning. Ok, I won’t try to lie and say I wasn’t born then, or even pretend I was a toddler at the time, but the truth is my memory is sketchy and I was preoccupied with kid things. The genius and force behind the Review was my father, J.P. McFadden, who died 12 years ago, and is greatly missed. Many people here knew my dad . . . he was an amazing man; a great communicator, especially from behind his beloved Royal typewriter. He had an extraordinary mind—a powerful intellect; a wonderful sense of humor; and a brutal work ethic. He was the Associate Publisher at National Review when the Roe v. Wade decision was announced. It was, he said, “a road to Damascus moment for him”—he just couldn’t believe that the Supreme Court had put the weight of the law against defenseless children. From then on he dedicated his life to fighting for the unborn, eventually devoting himself full time to pro-life and Catholic journalism and fundraising.
In 1974 he set up a pro-life lobbying office in D.C., and in 1975 he decided to start an educational and charitable foundation as well, and that became the Human Life Foundation. Being a journalist (he’d started as a newspaper reporter), a reader, and a man who knew the value of the word, J.P. created the Human Life Review to appeal to people’s minds and hearts on behalf of human life, in whatever age or stage it was being threatened. He believed his Review would have no lack of compelling contributions. The best arguments had to come from OUR side, because we had the truth, and he was determined to engage the Review in the propaganda war being waged against life. He wrote: “Good writing can win battles; great writing, whole wars.” He also believed it was important to create a record of the anti-abortion movement: “There has to be a record,” he said. “We won’t be like Nazi Germany. No one should be able to say, whatever happens, that they didn’t know what is actually going on here.” So he envisioned the Review as a powerful tool for today to change hearts and minds, as well as an historical document for the future—and now, thirty-six years later, we have that same vision. We have amassed a priceless historical archive of the pro-life movement. We’ve had many great writers and thinkers in the Review—both the famous and the relatively unknown. One of the great things about the Review is that it is not haughty or self-consciously academic. Its arguments are clear and accessible, and it has a diversity of articles: legal, for example, and philosophical, critical reporting, thoughtful essays—even humor in our cartoons, and an occasional work of fiction.
My father also insisted the Foundation have a charitable arm, and he began a matching-grant program for crisis pregnancy centers. In the 70s, lots of folks didn’t know what they were; they were kind of the underground railroad of the pro-life movement. Praise God, the groups have multiplied, and now there are places like Good Counsel—which is one of the groups we support when we can, and how I met Chris Bell.
So how did I get here? Being a Daddy’s Girl, I spent much of my early life trying to impress him, and trying to like what he did. That didn’t always work—my idea of a relaxing evening, for example, has never been watching baseball followed by the History channel, or a PBS war documentary. However, I did share my dad’s love for the many great novelists, writers and theologians he introduced me to, and some of my best memories are of having invigorating intellectual arguments around our dinner table. As I grew up, that love of a good argument, of a great book, combined with the conviction that the cause Dad embraced after 1973 was also the cause of my lifetime, made devotion to the Review part of me as well. After several positions in publishing, I eventually returned to work with my father, a few years before I got married. I was working part-time when we learned that my father’s cancer was terminal, and I knew what I had to do: I promised him the Review would go on.
That being said, I was the mother of a four-year-old and two-year-old when he died, and I was overwhelmed with anxiety about how to go on. The truth is, what Bill McGurn recently called my merry little band of troublemakers, our staff, are the people who have made it possible for the work to continue. They are first of all my mother Faith, a writer and editor as well (her book Acts of Faith is about her conversion to the Church) who, after making it possible for my father to do what he did by taking care of their five children at home, started a regular working career with us right after my dad’s death; Rose Flynn DeMaio, who had a long career at National Review as well as with us and is a wise and vigilant financial and business manager; Anne Conlon, a “MAD woman”—she came to us from Madison Avenue advertising—a talented writer and editor, now editor of our sister publication catholic eye. Then, a few years later, our terrific volunteer and computer programmer Pat O’Brien joined us, along with my sister Christina, whose technological and artistic skills have thankfully moved us along into the 21st century, and most recently, my good friend Jane Devanny, whose self-professed love of fundraising is extraordinary.
I am grateful for the chance to introduce you all to our Review. (By the way, our next issue includes an article by Chris and Joan Bell.) If we are to keep going, we need new readers and—most importantly—supporters who share our vision, and who believe that the pro-life movement needs what William F. Buckley called “the locus of civilized discussion of the abortion debate.” We cannot fight the lies of the culture of death with silence, and we certainly refuse to let the major media label us as anti-intellectual, as they love to do. No! Reason, science, and most importantly truth are on the side of life, and the Review’s purpose is to make this eminently clear. It is a terrific resource for all of those on our side, as well as a vehicle for conversion for those “on the fence.” And it is a great tool for educating the next generation, in which there is so much hope.
I’d like to close with a few words about motherhood. What a great time to have the Ball, as we head into Mother’s Day. I have already received the greatest gift: thanks to all of you here tonight, I am a small part of the great support that I am sure is rolling in and will roll in for the mothers that Good Counsel will take under their tender care. Once again, I am in awe of all Chris and his staff have been able to accomplish, the thousands of women helped.
When my kids ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I tell them that I wanted most of all to be a mom, and so I have achieved my dreams. My three children, James, Anna and Grace, are the lights of my life, as is the man who made it all possible, my husband Bob. All my family is especially blessed this year—exactly 5 months ago today, on December 6th, my mother Faith underwent risky and arduous surgery. Her children were huddled in the waiting room at Lenox Hill Hospital, watching anxiously for the surgeon to come out and give us updates. The decision to have the surgery was not an easy one—my siblings and I didn’t want to pressure her to take extraordinary means to save her life if it would involve so much risk and potentially extraordinary suffering—and yet, she knew, and we had to admit, that we wanted her to do all she could. My brother Patrick put it best, he wanted her grandchildren—my three, and my sister Christina’s enchanting twin girls, who are here tonight—to have a chance to spend more time with and really know their Granny. We kids just wanted our mom—that never really goes away. And so my mom chose life. After successful surgery and a long recovery, she is doing amazingly well and is here tonight. For that I am grateful beyond words. I would like to salute my Mom Faith, and thank her for her powerful witness and sustaining, well, faith! Thank you.