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BY THOMAS A. SZYSZKIEWICZ
Theo Stearns is president of
Catholics United for Life, an organization begun in 1974 as a response to Roe v.
also a member of the St. Martin de Porres Community
in New Hope, Ky., a group composed of Third Order
Dominicans. The community began as a hippie commune in California and became Catholic, largely
because of Roe v. Wade.
spoke with Register correspondent Thomas Szyszkiewicz.
How long have you been in the pro-life
conversion and re-conversion to the Church was stimulated by what happened in
1973. In 1973, I was being pressured to abort my fifth child, and this was sort
of a cataclysmic event for us. You realize we were a community before we became
You were something of a hippie commune,
if I’m not mistaken.
Right, in California. We
had tried to live on the land, grow our own food.
But somehow, something was missing and our search for truth began to predominate ecological
concerns. So we had moved to Santa Rosa,
and it was there that I was being urged — and it was for medical reasons, not
just for reasons of convenience — to have an abortion. We had to face the fact
that, in perhaps a more radical meaning of the word, abortion was in no way
“liberal” because it was a destruction of human life.
baby was born in August of 1973, and I became a Roman Catholic with others in
our community, or those who had been but had not been practicing, in December
of 1973. We immediately asked the bishop of Santa
Rosa if we could start a pro-life group
called Catholics United for Life.
You said that your community started a
search for truth rather than merely looking at ecological concerns. What was it
that spurred that?
I don’t know — it seems to have been our character. At that
time, of course, we had come out of the war protests, the civil-rights
movement. We wouldn’t have called our concerns “ecological” as much as going
back to nature or being natural or getting away from a materialistic society.
But we were sort of evangelical in that regard. We liked to communicate and
talk with other people and discover the best way to build community. We had a
focus on building community at that time and bringing other people into a way
of life that we thought was good.
course, our definition of “good” at that time had some consistency with what
really is good, but was also misguided. In the course of doing that, we began
to look at most of the thoughts the people around us were involved in, which
included the Eastern religions, and after some discussion and reflection on
that, we rejected the Eastern religions and somehow we came back to the
objectivity of Christianity.
was quite a road for us to travel to get from there to the Catholic Church,
however, and this is where the 1973 Roe
v. Wade decision was sort of a catalyst. When we rejected abortion, it was
very obvious to us that the one institution in the United States that was
clearly against abortion was the Catholic Church, and that opened us to taking
our search there and looking at the Catholic Church.
What was it in your community that
caused you to reject abortion?
think one thing is that some of us were a little older, and we already had
children. We had seen children being neglected because of people’s ideological
searches and that the children needed to be protected and taken care of. For
example, we rejected any use of any kind of drugs because the children were
present. So, from the beginning, I guess our children sort of saved us. It was
their presence that caused us to give some thought. One of the members of the
community had also had an abortion.
think one of the aspects of our life that aided us in rejecting abortion was
that we talked with each other about these things and what they meant, what
their practical consequences are and what it meant in the whole scheme of
How did you move from California
to New Hope, Ky.?
didn’t live in Fresno; we lived on the very heavily
traveled highway to Yosemite
National Park…. We had
some zoning problems in trying to build a community, and we became concerned,
for various reasons, that we needed to find another location. We put out a
newsletter at that time that said we were looking for a new location, and we
got a letter that said to contact the abbot at the Abbey of Gethsemane. We did,
and for a price we couldn’t turn down — this had been a community before us,
associated with the abbey, and we just assumed the existing debt and we were
able to move into very primitive circumstances. But we weren’t unaccustomed to
that — no running water, no electricity, no bathrooms in most of the buildings.
We moved in 1983 to this present location.
Are you involved in other activities?
of the Dominican confraternities has been an apostolate for us,
it’s called the Angelic Warfare Confraternity. It is a special pledge made,
traditionally by young people, but also by any others, under the patronage of
Thomas Aquinas and Our Lady of the Rosary, for chastity. Also, in the last
couple of years, I’ve seen the growing importance of youth in the pro-life
movement. This is a personal thing for me because I have 28 grandchildren, and
the oldest is 18. It is important that we invest in young people because they
are the future, but more than that, they really have different perspectives on
the Church and the pro-life movement which are so fresh and important today —
they don’t carry all our burdens, with what happened after Vatican II and how
we’ve been treated by so-and-so.
will be doing a youth conference in Louisville,
Ky., on July 21-24. We’re going
to have great priests, great religious, some wonderful sisters, but the focus
of the conference really is the young people themselves. So we’re also trying
to find out what we can do to get youth involved in their own
right in the pro-life movement, not just as a caboose behind us.
How does the pro-life apostolate affect
your everyday life as a community?
St. Martin’s has its own apostolate in a certain sense
even though these two are
intimately related. We have New Hope Publications. We do some books and other
materials, but we do a large amount of pamphlets that are doctrinal in nature.
We also have a chapel with a resident chaplain, which we have had since 1979,
Mother of Sorrows Chapel. Presently, we have nine Masses a week, daily Masses
and others. This is the real point of integration of the two apostolates, more than any other
aspect. We always pray for
the defense of human life and the end of abortion. But we have our Gospel of
Life Masses and two Masses a week are devoted to different themes of pro-life
intercession — for repentance of abortion, for the healing of mothers who have
had abortions. We circulate a list of intentions for Masses.
been very privileged otherwise to not have jobs outside of our community. Since
we print and publish for about 50 other Catholic organizations, we’re able to
do our work here and do our apostolate. So working on our doctrinal
publications, working with other Catholic organizations and working on the
pro-life issues is just an integral part of our everyday life, which includes
prayer and intercessions and the sacrifice of the Mass.
Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz
writes from Altura, Minnesota.