For years after her parents pressured her into having an abortion, Theresa Bonopartis didn't trust anyone.
She lived her life in fear — “fear of being found out,” she says, “fear of being completely unworthy of anything, of being less than a person, of hating yourself and not I wanting attention brought to you.”
Fast-forward 33 years. Today Bonopartis is the very picture of strength as she testifies, sometimes in front of large audiences, about her post-abortion experiences.
How did she go from cowering to courageous, from debilitating hurt to joyful hope? The story of her journey is itself a lesson in God's love and mercy.
When 17-year-old Bonopartis announced her pregnancy in 1970, her parents strongly encouraged her to make “the problem” go away. At the time, saline abortions were legal in New York. One day she walked into a Westchester County hospital, had herself injected with a saline solution and went into labor. About 12 hours later, she delivered a stillborn four-month-old boy, whose lifeless little fingers, toes and face she still remembers. Alone in the room, she rang for the nurse, who came in with a big plastic jar, dumped the tiny corpse inside and walked out.
Her life, she recalls, steadily went downhill. A disastrous marriage. An abandoned faith.
By the time her older son reached the time of his first Communion, she had returned to Mass herself — but only as a sort of passive spectator sitting in the far back. She did not come forward to receive Communion. During a penance meeting with other parents of first communicants, the priest talked about the sacraments and mentioned how God could forgive anything, even the sin of abortion. Bonopartis remembers thinking: “There's hope for me!”
She eventually confessed her sins to the priest, who became her spiritual adviser, and felt her life was beginning again. She started to learn about the faith. She spent much time praying silently before the Blessed Sacrament, attended daily Mass and frequently contemplated the Stations of the Cross.
She made a pact with Jesus. She told him: “They say you heal. Well, here I am, and I'm not leaving you alone until you do this.”
Bonopartis began to develop a personal relationship with Jesus.
Gradually she reached a point at which “I felt good about my faith, that God had forgiven me.” Yet she still couldn't forgive herself: “I wasn't fully healed.”
One day, after putting her children to bed, she went into the bathroom, sat on the floor with her hands over her head and repeated, “Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you.” Over and over again. For hours. She was in such excruciating emotional pain that at one point she felt like she had climbed on the cross with Christ.
“That's the only place where there is enough love to heal the pain of abortion,” she says. Suddenly, instead of feeling the pain of cross, she only felt intense love.
At that moment, about 15 years after the abortion, “I was healed,” she says. Since then she has tried to tell her story to as many as will hear it.
‘Blown Away’ by Hope
Three years ago, in conjunction with the Sisters of Life, a New York City-based group of nuns who assist post-abortive women and pregnant women in need, she started Reclaiming Our Children. The nuns sponsor days of prayer and healing, a program Bonopartis helped them develop and has spoken at many times.
One member, Mary Salo, had an abortion 23 years ago. Last August, she was preparing to commit suicide. Looking through some paperwork that she wanted to leave to her two children, she came across an old newspaper clipping promoting a day of prayer and healing with the Sisters of Life.
As Salo recalls, she had no idea how it got there. No matter. She went and heard Bonopartis speak.
“I was blown away,” the 60-year-old Salo says. “I'm grateful for the healing I've experienced and I'm glad ROC exists. I want to let others know that help is available.”
For about a year now, Bonopartis, 51, has been the director of Lumina, a post-abortion referral network, which is a project of Good Counsel Homes, where pregnant women can find housing. She leads training sessions, speaks at college campuses, parishes and pro-life meetings, and refers women who contact Lumina to post-abortion ministries, therapists, counselors, peer groups and clergy.
Sister Lucy Marie, one of the original members of the Sisters of Life when it formed in 1991, has known Bonopartis for more than 15 years.
“I have believed that through the suffering that she was enduring, which was leading to her healing, much of that was winning graces for my vocation,” Sister Lucy says. “Theresa is so rooted in Christ that that gives her the courage to do whatever she needs to do.”
Bonopartis recently spoke to a friend she knew in junior high school, an individual she hadn't seen in a long while. Her friend had heard Bonopartis talk on a Catholic radio show and so they spoke about her public speaking and job. At one point, her friend asked her how far she was willing to go with the ministry. Bonopartis said she had never really thought about it, but on the car ride home she came up with the answer.
“I will take it all the way to heaven to the feet of Jesus and Mary, where I will find my son, Joshua, in their arms,” she recalls. “Hopefully, on the way to there I will be an instrument in bringing countless women and men to follow the same path back to Christ and their children.”
Carlos Briceño writes from Seminole, Florida.