Culture of Life
Father Thomas Dufner, Sidewalk Priest
BY Barb Ernster
September 30 - October 6, 2001 Issue | Posted 9/30/01 at 1:00 PM
Every Saturday morning for just over nine years, Father Thomas Dufner has been praying in front of the Robbinsdale (Minnesota) Clinic where up to 1,200 abortions are performed every year.
He's there for the babies, for the mothers, and to be present at what he calls the “new Calvary.”
“Jesus is suffering right now in his least members and we've come to be with him at the cross, in the very place where he is dying. Even though we can't stop the killing any more than Mary or John were able to stop the crucifixion, we can be there,” he said.
Father Dufner is pastor of Holy Family parish in St. Louis Park, Minn. He was invited to the abortion site by members of Rosaries for Life in 1992. Despite extreme weather conditions, opposition by pro-abortion groups, security guards and clinic workers, Father Dufner leads a group of 40 or more people each Saturday morning in a 15-decade rosary and a chaplet of Divine Mercy.
Coming to abortion businesses, he said, is a source of enormous blessings not only for the mothers and babies, but for himself as well.
“I almost wonder,” he added, “if I'm not the chief beneficiary.”
He experienced the spiritual blessings almost from his first day at the clinic when an unbelieving relative converted on his deathbed. “I'm absolutely convinced that the graces were won at this new Calvary,” said Father Dufner. “The graces were there for me to have an impact on this man's life and to anoint him on his death bed.”
Like many other pro-life activists, however, he doesn't always know the impact of his work. He usually doesn't see it in the faces of the women coming and going from their abortions.
But he resolved from the beginning to keep coming, regardless.
“Even if they leave the door of the abortuary angry and upset, some grace is being communicated to them because God loves them and their brothers and sisters are across the way praying for them,” he said. “Regardless of whether we see the effect of our work, we know that it's powerful.”
That power was communicated to a security guard who once worked for the Robbinsdale Clinic, and is now a good friend of Brian Gibson, executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries, which owns the property next door where the prayer group gathers.
The security guard told Gibson that he was deeply touched by the prayers and the presence of the people with Rosaries for Life, and was influenced by the interaction he had with sidewalk counselors.
“They go together, the sidewalk counseling and prayers,” said Gibson. “We know that the effectiveness of sidewalk counseling increases when people are out there praying. God answers prayers, especially the rosary groups who have come out so consistently. They may not have the direct contact with the women and babies that we're saving, but they are directly involved in it.”
Judi Spencer, a sidewalk counselor at the Robbinsdale Clinic, noted that people leave the clinic all the time and change their minds, but don't tell the counselors.
“You feel so helpless, but we can't know the results,” she said. “If you're only here for the success stories, you wouldn't keep coming.”
The New Troops
In the early 1990s, Father Dufner said the pro-abortion crowds were more prevalent and vocal, shouting and screaming at them. Their presence was more “exhilarating than anything,” he said. “Our biggest crowds came out when there was opposition.”
Today, opposition is more likely to come in the form of a shout from a passing car here and there. Nevertheless, the pro-life message is more important now than ever, Father Dufner said, because people are beginning to realize that abortion rarely has anything to do with saving the life of the mother, as was once claimed.
“Its chief use is as birth control,” he said. “Worse still, the most hardened pro-abortion people admit that the child in the womb is a human life. And they reserve the right to kill it.”
Since Roe v. Wade 28 years ago, a whole generation that initially opposed abortion is passing on. Though the numbers and ranks are changing, Father Dufner sees a vibrancy in the pro-life movement. “We're getting more men and women into our ranks who have chosen abortion and repented. We're getting people who have had big conversions in their lives and they're joining us,” he said.
The now retired Bishop Paul Dudley, who for many years was active at abortion clinics in his Sioux Falls, S.D., diocese, is also excited by the “new crop” of young bishops and young priests who are very active in the Church and the pro-life movement today.
He has come to know Father Dufner well since returning to Minnesota in 1995, and greatly admires his strong commitment, not only to the Church, but to the sacredness of life.
“He is a priest that I would love to clone. I just so admire him for his gift of perseverance, his fidelity as a priest, his fidelity to the Church and his absolute fidelity and commitment to the gift of life. He's a great example.”
Father Dufner said the many years of praying at the abortion clinic has totally changed his life and given him a tremendous gift of courage and spiritual growth. “You mature (in your faith) to the point where you do things not because it's exhilarating, but because it's right,” he said. “I plan to keep on for the rest of my life.”
Barb Ernster writes from Fridley, Minnesota.
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