Culture of Life
BY WALLY CAREW
January 30-February 5, 2005 Issue | Posted 1/31/05 at 10:00 AM
Eighteen years ago, Dick Reeder, husband and father of four, gave up a lucrative career as an executive with one of America’s biggest businesses — Exxon, now ExxonMobil — and became a full-time foot soldier in the pro-life movement.
Since that time, he has never looked back, trusting that God would provide for his every need. Before making such a monumental and life-altering decision, he prayed, fasted, sought counsel and reviewed the circumstances of his life, past and present. “Once I made the decision,” he recalls, “I found peace, and that was a sign of the Holy Spirit’s movement in my life.”
Today, Reeder is special assistant to the president of Good Counsel Homes, the organization started by Franciscan Father Benedict Groeschel and Chris Bell to meet the needs of homeless single mothers and their babies. Good Counsel has five facilities in New York, including one in the South Bronx.
Reeder heads a fund-raising campaign aimed at raising $540,000 to renovate a building in Hoboken, N.J., and make it Good Counsel’s sixth home.
During the 18 years since he accepted pro-life work as his vocation, Reeder has worked for Priests For Life, the American Life League and a division of the latter, called Athletes for Life. Upon leaving the American Life League, he co-founded Pro-Life Athletes with Chris Godfrey. Godfrey had recently retired from the New York Giants football team at the time and was attending Notre Dame Law School. (Godfrey later founded Life Athletes and currently leads its ministry from South Bend, Ind.)
Paul and Judie Brown, who together founded the American Life League in 1979, gave Reeder his first pro-life job. Judie says that Reeder “continues to inspire us. When Dick worked with us, every single day he would remind us that our primary task as Catholics was first to save souls and then to save babies.”
Damon Owens, director of natural family planning for the Diocese of Newark, N.J., has also known Reeder for years. Owens and his wife, Melanie, are the parents of five girls; Reeder is the godfather of their oldest, Naomi. “Dick sends little reminders to Naomi, telling her how precious and beautiful she is in the eyes of God,” says Owens. “It’s a beautiful thing. She just lights up and glows when she gets these little reminders in the mail.”
Like Owens and the Browns, Sean Flanagan, an auto dealer from Summit, N.J., and another committed pro-life foot soldier, has known Reeder a long time. Between them, the two men have been arrested while praying at abortion clinics more than 20 times. “Dick Reeder has unwavering love for the Church, the Holy Father and our precious faith,” says Flanagan.
Flanagan, who hails from Dublin, Ireland, explains that Reeder is a prolific letter-writer, churning out missives in support of life to anyone and everyone, including bishops. “Everything Dick does is done with charity,” explains Flanagan. “The love that he has for his fellow men and women is reflected in those letters. Dick loves unconditionally, like Christ. That type of love has the power to change human hearts. It is the depth of Dick’s love that makes him so very special.”
In a recent letter to 11 bishops, thanking them for their efforts and urging them to remain bold, faith-filled and strong, Reeder wrote: “The Holy Catholic Faith matters. We will defend it. We will explain it. We love all of God’s children and will do our best to lead them to salvation and to shield them from scandal. Why? Because Jesus Christ desires that none be lost and has charged us as His designated shepherds of the Church to carry out His desire.”
A Miracle in Mexico
Reeder grew up an Army brat. His mother, who was not a Catholic, died when he was young. His father, a graduate of West Point, rose to the rank of general before retiring and teaching in the graduate school at Syracuse University. An agnostic, he asked to be excused from the chapel requirement. The petition was denied. Late in his life, Dick’s father converted. The general was spoon-fed the articles of the faith, Reeder recalls, by Dick’s wife, Sheila.
Dick Reeder graduated from Virginia Tech University and began working for Exxon. He always had a deep interest in religious matters, but he didn’t convert to the Catholic faith until he was in his late 20s. A trip to Mexico with two buddies ultimately changed his life.
At Guadalupe, he was puzzled watching the faithful climb the many stairs of a church dedicated to Our Lady on bloodied knees. At another church, he was awed observing the devotion of a peasant in tattered clothes kneeling in front of a gold altar and praying with all his might before the Blessed Sacrament for what seemed like an eternity. “The seed was planted right there,” he says, thinking back. “I still pray for that nameless peasant, and I can’t wait to thank him on the other side, if I make it.”
Reeder was received into the Church in 1960, when he was 26. Today, he and Sheila have been married for 43 years. The couple has four children and seven grandchildren.
As for the continuing fight for life from the moment of conception until natural death, Reeder works as hard as he can and leaves the results in the hands of the Holy Spirit. “We are winning,” he proclaims. “A huge groundswell is billowing like crocus growing under the crust of the cold earth. That’s the new springtime in the history of the Church that the Holy Father speaks about so powerfully.”
Reeder recalls how his good friend, Wellington Mara, the owner of the New York Giants, once told him: “We must always pray for two things: that an all-merciful God will continue to have patience with a sinful world and that a new age of repentance will transform darkness into light.”
That will surely happen, and sooner rather than later, if Dick Reeder has anything to do with the outcome.
Wally Carew, author of Men of Spirit, Men of Sports
and A Farewell To Glory,
writes from Medford, Massachusetts.
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