TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — On May 16, the pro-life cause lost a longtime activist: Father Norman Weslin died at the age of 81 at the Cherry Hill Haven retirement home in Traverse City.
Father Weslin gained national attention in 2009, when he was arrested on the campus of the University of Notre Dame for carrying a cross and praying to protest the university giving commencement honors to pro-abortion President Barack Obama.
Father Weslin was one of the group of 88 peaceful protestors arrested on campus. The group came to be was known as the “ND88.”
When he was literally carried away, Father Weslin was singing the hymn Immaculate Mary, and asked police, “Why would you arrest a Catholic priest at a Catholic university for trying to stop the killing of a baby?”
The arrest was not the first for the priest, who was active in pro-life work for many decades. For his peaceful protests and praying on his knees at various abortion sites and businesses, he was arrested and jailed more than 70 times, including months spent in federal prisons.
He would pray the Rosary and often carry a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe during his protests.
“Our loss is heaven’s gain,” said Father Pavone in a statement he released after hearing of the death of Father Weslin. The national director of Priests for Life had known and worked with this pro-life priest for many years.
“He told me in 2001, while awaiting sentencing on a federal charge, that he wasn’t ashamed to be arrested because Jesus and the apostles all went to jail. He believed that a priest’s place was not behind his people, lending encouragement, but out in front leading the way,” Father Pavone said.
In that 2001 interview, Father Weslin detailed the harsh treatment he sometimes received but also revealed his gentle determination to continue the pro-life protests.
His work included founding both the Lambs of Christ, a group of peaceful pro-life activists dedicated to praying the Rosary outside of abortion businesses, and the Mary Weslin Homes for Pregnant, Unwed Mothers in Omaha, Neb. He founded each after he was ordained a priest of the Oblates of Wisdom in 1986. He also worked for some months with Blessed Mother Teresa.
Prior to that, Father Weslin served 20 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He had been a paratrooper, commander and chief of a war-plans division, as well as an operations officer responsible for the missile defense of New York City, Chicago and South Korea.
During that time, he and his wife, Mary, also a pro-life advocate, adopted two children. After she was killed in a tragic car accident, he studied for the priesthood and founded the Mary Weslin Homes. To date, nearly 300 babies have been born through the care of the homes.
Father Weslin’s military service was a firm foundation for his pro-life work.
Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League, knew him well.
“He … was a leader-type, yet a humble person,” Scheidler said of the former Army officer. “He was a tough fighter, one of the troopers right in with the crowd. I would place him in with the grunts on the front lines. He was absolutely fearless, yet he knew exactly what he was doing.”
Scheidler said that Father Weslin knew he would get a lot of attention at the Notre Dame protest. Because the police were somewhat reluctant to arrest an elderly Catholic priest there, they took a long time doing it. During those minutes Father Weslin was able to give a pro-life witness and sermon on camera.
“He was a tremendous voice for the unborn,” Scheidler said. Noting that the priest was a good friend of the Pro-Life Action League and on a number of occasions celebrated Mass at the organization’s offices, Scheidler added, “I admire him enormously.”
Father Weslin’s admirers are many.
Jim Sedlak, vice president of American Life League, said All always admired the work of Father Weslin. “Back in 2002, he participated in some of our walks across the United States. At that time, we had a group called Crossroads that was part of All, and Father Weslin joined these college students. We found him to be a truly dedicated pro-life priest, and we are saddened by his passing.”
Father Peter West, vice president for missions at Human Life International, told the Register: “Father Weslin and I prayed together, along with dozens of other faithful pro-lifers in front of abortion mills … in Kansas and Nebraska. The pro-life movement has lost a dedicated and fearless defender of the unborn. We should pray for his soul, but also ask his intercession to help us defeat the culture of death.”
Mary Quinn, spokeswoman of the New York Lambs of Christ based in Rochester, has countless memories of their founder, his visits, leadership and character. She was typist for the manuscript of his book The Gathering of the Lambs.
This division of the Lambs of Christ has prayed the Rosary outside the Planned Parenthood facility in Rochester since May 17, 1996.
Her many memories include the time he came to challenge the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law, which imposed heavy fines on anyone who blocked access to abortion businesses, and went to federal prison for three months; then he headed to Buffalo and was arrested and spent several more months in prison for kneeling on a public sidewalk, she said. A judge had created a huge buffer zone that was later found unconstitutional.
His last arrest came for sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s office because he wanted to talk to her about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and about her soul.
Quinn said she will never forget Father Weslin’s favorite sayings. Among them: “Priests are servants. You can call me at 2 o’clock in the morning, and I will hear your confession. … Never forget: We win. We are Catholics, and we win.”
Quinn affirms: “He was so devoted to the Blessed Mother. He called her the ‘12-Star General.’ Wait for your inspirations and act on them (he said), and the Blessed Mother will lead you. Just keep pedaling.”
Jack Ames, founder and director Defend Life, well remembers when he was with Father Weslin at Notre Dame in 2009. Ames and others arrested were waiting on the bus to be transported to the St. Joseph County Jail when, out the windows, they saw the elderly priest being carried on a huge rubber sheet by several police officers.
“It appeared he was suffering from a heart attack,” remembers Ames. “We started saying the Rosary on the bus for his recovery. Five minutes later, here comes Father Weslin onto the bus. He had gone limp when arrested, as many rescuers had done in the early days of rescuing. … What a privilege it was to be arrested with the great Father Weslin. It was such an inspiration to us.”
“Professor Charles Rice said that up to a few days ago, before Father Weslin died, we were praying for him,” emphasized Ames. But “now maybe we should be praying to him.”
It’s a response others share.
In a prepared statement, Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, which assisted in defending the ND88, called Father Weslin “a saintly priest and as good and honorable a man who ever walked on American soil.”
“While undoubtedly he will be greatly missed, his inspiration and example — defending life with such selfless, intensive vigor and passion — will abide in memory and live on in the hearts of pro-lifers for generations,” continued Brejcha. “In memory of Father Weslin, we will continue to fight for the sanctity of life and the free, robust exercise of religious faith, two values for which he fought hard.”
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.