National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Life Knights

BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN

August 20-26, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/21/06 at 10:00 AM

 

Praying the Rosary outside an abortion business on a Saturday with fellow Knights of Columbus and other pro-lifers, Bill Draize occasionally heard disagreeable motorists venting their opinions. “Get a life!” they’d holler. “Give it up!”

The pro-lifers would remain, soldiers undaunted.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘That’s what we’re here for,’” Draize recalls.

He and a handful of fellow Knights from the Father Rosensteel Council No. 2169 in Silver Spring, Md., were part of the pro-life prayer groups that saw two abortion businesses close in the past five years. Yet, despite their success, the men cloak their roles in the council’s pro-life efforts with a coat of humility.

But the council’s First Place Pro-Life Award at the Knights of Columbus state convention for 13 times in the last 16 years speaks volumes for those involved in this work.

“We’re trying to set a high example for other councils to follow,” says the council’s pro-life chairman, Charles (Chuck) Suraci Jr. “It’s not for the awards. What we’re doing is for the babies, for life itself.”

For years he and a small contingent of three to six fellow council members have joined with other pro-life individuals and groups to pray every Saturday outside area abortion businesses.

In the last five years, two abortion businesses — one (Hillcrest) in northwest Washington, D.C., and one (Sigma) in Kensington — closed.

“We were delighted,” Suraci says over the outcome, thinking. “Here’s one place we don’t have to go anymore to pray the Rosary. We’ve done our job.”

Past Grand Knight Bill Draize, who’s prayed at the abortion sites since 1995, feels the same.

“That was a blessing because we had some rough times down there with the abortion guards,” he says. “They were killing babies left and right. Thank God it closed.”

Draize says praying the Rosary continues at other sites.

Today, Suraci’s knee problem prevents regular Saturday visits to these abortion businesses in Gaithersburg and Rockville, or a Planned Parenthood center. But that hasn’t dampened his other council pro-life activities or work on the board of directors at Tepeyac Family Center in Silver Springs.

“He’s an extraordinary example of a Catholic layman who has seen a need and come forward,” says council chaplain Father Joseph Perkins.

Suraci credits his late wife Florence for inspiring his first steps forward into the pro-life movement.

“I’ll never forget it because it was one morning in August and raining cats and dogs,” he says. “She said, ‘Let’s pray the Rosary for life; just grab the umbrella.’ I was ready to go up to the church, but she said, ‘No, we’re going up to the site with everybody up there to pray the Rosary.’”

History Unfolds

Not that long after that memorable start, Suraci was praying the Rosary every Saturday at an abortion business or two, then stepping into the pro-life chairman role for Father Rosensteel Council.

The council’s pro-life work grew to include many other events around the calendar. In January, a busload of members goes to the national March for Life in Washington. In March, another busload participates in the Maryland March for Life in Annapolis.

There are fund-raising breakfasts for the Gabriel Project and the money to fix vandalism damage at its office, and the donations for Project Rachel. As an aside, one of The Gabriel Project’s board of directors is this council’s past Grand Knight Dave Morgan. That position and being on the Knights state-level pro-life committee is a direct result of regularly joining the council’s pro-life Rosary vigils.

The annual kickoff for the council’s yearly pro-life activity begins in October, Respect for Life month. Members meet across the street from the council’s home by the old Chapel of St. John’s with its surrounding cemetery.

This location connects hand-in-hand with the pro-life beliefs at our country’s beginnings. In 1934 the council constructed an exact replica of the original 1770s chapel built on this spot by the Carroll family for its first pastor, Father John Carroll, to serve all the Catholics in Montgomery County.

Father Carroll became the first U.S. bishop, first archbishop of Baltimore, a Revolutionary War patriot picked to work on a commission with Ben Franklin by the Continental Congress, and founder of Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg.

Archbishop Carroll no doubt is keeping a sharp eye on the council’s pro-life events that begin with a Respect Life candlelight procession and rosary commencing at the Knights’ monument to the unborn near the chapel.

The procession continues to the second 19th-century St. John the Evangelist Church built by Father Rosensteel, the council’s founding chaplain. That’s where today’s chaplain, Father Perkins, gives a right-to-life homily and follows with Benediction.

Divine Dividends

Every second week of January, the council holds a pro-life kickoff rally to prepare everyone for the Washington March for Life. The Knights involve their spouses and relatives, plus others from local parishes.

Father Perkins points out the guest speakers always inspire and reconfirm the strong commitment to pro-life work for their attendees. The council’s enlists well-known speakers like Alan Keyes and Nellie Gray, and Catholic musicians like Tony Melendez.

For the last 17 years, now retired Washington, D.C., Auxiliary Bishop Leonard Olivier has also been one of the rally’s important speakers.

“It’s a very powerful, moving afternoon for the people to interest others to show up for the March for Life,” says Bishop Olivier.

“That council is very forward and strong and persevering in that particular enterprise every year,” adds the bishop. “They’re very devoted. Chuck (Suraci) calls me half a year ahead of time to make sure I can be there.”

No doubt the pro-lifers of the Father Rosensteel Council are making a difference. Just ask Thomas Grenchik, director of the Sanctity for Life office of the Washington archdiocese. “It shows you the impact a few fellows have had on the effort,” he says.

Joseph Pronechen writes from

Trumbull, Connecticut.