Sheila Moloney, 25, now directs a key Washington lobbying group

WASHINGTON—Sheila Moloney is one of a new breed of young Catholic women who are bringing their faith and their pro-life convictions to the public square.

Although just 25, Moloney has already made a mark in Washington power circles. She has moved from two prominent conservative think tanks to serve as executive director of the Eagle Forum, the grass-roots lobby effort founded by Phyllis Schlafly.

Friends and colleagues say the contributions she has made in two and a half years is due to hard work and passion, particularly for the pro-life cause. According to Colleen Parro, the director of the National Republican Coalition for Life, “She's been passionate about everything she has ever been interested in since childhood. That makes her very effective.”

Perhaps she learned some of that fire from her mother, who resigned from a Junior League chapter after it took a pro-abortion stand.

Some of Moloney's religious conviction may have been fueled by an uncle only 10 years older who gave up a lucrative career as a Wall Street bond trader to become a Franciscan Friar of the Primitive Observance.

But it was as a student at the University of Notre Dame that Moloney developed the faith-based activism that she's brought to the nation's capital. There she learned more about the Catholic faith, started attending daily Mass, and began reciting the rosary outside abortion clinics.

She and her brother founded a conservative Catholic publication on campus because, she says, “There wasn't a whole lot of discussion of Catholicism in the student press.” They put out six issues of Right Reason, and it's still published today.

In the first issue, Moloney did an investigative piece on an offer extended to a pro-abortion professor to join the Notre Dame faculty. The philosophy teacher eventually remained where she was, at the University of Arizona.

She also wrote a story on the medical and political implications of partial-birth abortion. Her research on this issue was later valuable when she lobbied Congress against partial-birth abortion while at the Family Research Council (FRC).

She came by her intellectual formation at Notre Dame as well. A single woman who often speaks about chastity, Moloney was introduced to Evangelium Vitae soon after it was released. In addition, Peter Kreeft's book The Unaborted Socrates, she says, “made me pro-life without exception.”

With a degree in government, Moloney came to Washington in 1996 as an assistant editor of The Heritage Foundation's flagship publication, Policy Review. She tackled issues such as federal day care and the effect of government regulation on businesswomen. But she found the work unfulfilling.

After watching a partial-birth abortion vote on C-SPAN while at Heritage, she said, “This is what I want to work on.” The opportunity soon came to do so as a congressional lobbyist at the FRC.

“The FRC was a perfect fit,” she says. “It got me rolling on conservative issues.” For a year and half, she was the key player on partial-birth abortion legislation and other initiatives such as the effort by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) to curb overseas population control.

It was a happy experience for her, one in which she learned and contributed. The Family Research Council has strong religious overtones to its public policy efforts, and Moloney says, “It was really inspiring when people ended their telephone conversation with you by saying, ‘God Bless You.’”

Dan Moloney calls his sister a “steel magnolia,” both personable and persuasive—an ideal combination for the lobbyist. “She's articulate, and she out-works and out-prepares other people,” he said.

Her former FRC colleagues agree. Robert Morrison, senior director of public policy, say, “She was a major presence here. She's the definition of sincerity and of doing.” A Lutheran, Morrison jokes that Moloney often challenged his religious beliefs and had him running to books and ministers for ammunition.

Another former colleague and fellow Catholic, writer-analyst Steven Schwaim said, “She's very strongly devoted to the teaching of the magisterium.

“The maturity of her knowledge of the policy implications of our work is due to an understanding of the culture of death and a commitment to the Gospel of Life.”

Moloney has a broader range of responsibilities at the Eagle Forum and has taken a more public role in the pro-life, pro-family movement. One of her recent media appearances, for instance, was on the late-night show “Politically Incorrect” hosted by Bill Maher. The show dealt with the indiscretions of President Clinton.

Parro, the Coalition for Life director, says the young woman was the perfect choice to lead the organization's Washington office. Parro, in fact, recommended her to Phyllis Schlafly early last year. Moloney calls Parro a pro-life mentor.

One of the most astute Capitol Hill observers, Michael Schwartz, offered an outsider's perspective. A longtime Catholic leader and now administrative director for Rep. Tom Coburn (ROkla.), Schwartz said, “She's very effective at what she does. She's a good activist and a very outstanding Catholic.”

Perhaps equally notable is Moloney's faith-filled witness amid the hubbub of the cultural wars. A daily communicant, she is also devoted to the Virgin Mary. “She has played a huge role in my life. It's hard to be pro-life and not feel that way. She's definitely my hero,” Moloney says.

Last fall she began Saturday sidewalk counseling outside a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic. “Through the grace of the Holy Spirit,” Moloney says, one day she convinced a confused woman—in Spanish—to reconsider having an abortion.

She drove the woman, who was three-and-a-half months pregnant, to a crisis pregnancy center in Falls Church, Virginia. As part of the happy ending, Moloney will be the child's godmother when she's born next month.

The successful rescuer said, “We definitely felt it was God's doing. This is one of the highlights of my life.” Another euphoric moment came two weeks later when the abortion clinic shut down.

In a city where the search for power sometimes consumes people, she says, “I'm here for a temporary time doing the work God's chosen for me now. I'm hoping that motherhood is the vocation he has chosen for me next.

“I want to get married and have 10 babies. I want to be a stay-at-home mom who fights the population control movement by increasing the population.”

As Sheila Moloney looks toward this future, she offers advice to people, particularly young women, who want to support the pro-life effort. She said, “The foot soldiers are the chastity teachers, those who fight sexed in the schools, those who volunteer at local crisis pregnancy centers.

“Pro-lifers often think abortion will change in Washington. But we need troops in Des Moines and cities and towns across America. The important thing to remember is to ‘act locally.’”

Joseph Esposito writes from Washington, D.C.