Cardinal O’Connor Life Conference Held at Georgetown

The conference takes place every year at Georgetown University on the Saturday of the weekend closest to the March for Life in Washington, DC.

Healy Hall at Georgetown University is the site of the annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life.
Healy Hall at Georgetown University is the site of the annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life. (photo: Kit Leong / Shutterstock)

The 25th annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, billing itself as the largest and longest-running student-run pro-life conference, took place Saturday at Georgetown University in Washington. 

Boston Archbishop Sean Cardinal O’Malley was the keynote speaker at the event, marking the silver jubilee of an event that began in 2000 under the leadership of the late Jesuit Father Thomas King (who also established the national professors’ pro-life group, University Faculty for Life). Fifteen speakers took part in three sets of breakout sessions, each offering seven different lectures from which to choose. The conference wrapped up with a plenary discussion, led by Georgetown’s Kim Daniels, on “the next 25 years” and concluded with Mass.

Cardinal O’Malley’s address was a tour de force of America’s current culture of life struggle against the culture of death. He noted the paradox of the proliferation of global human rights documents and constant appeals to “our values” and the “rule of law” while systematically excluding discussion of the unborn. Against this selective approach to human rights, he contrasted the “Gospel of Life,” which is not just a papal document but the entire Christian message, since Christ came that people “may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

He predicted that a defining life challenge for the next 25 years would be physician-assisted suicide, noting that “a society that allows parents to kill their children will eventually allow children to kill their parents.” Encouraging his listeners, he noted the success of defeating a death-by-doctor referendum in the Bay State a dozen years ago. 

On abortion, O’Malley urged active engagement with pregnant women, insisting that “people will never believe us unless they are convinced they matter to us.” “We must present the truth with civility, empathy and clarity,” the Boston Archbishop insisted. Without downplaying the significance of fighting abortion, O’Malley argued for a consistent ethic of life, insisting that our socio-economic fabric must support the decisions of women — particularly poor women — to choose life. 

O’Malley devoted particular attention to adoption, noting that surveys suggest that, on the continuum of choices from abortion to “raising the baby alone” to adoption, adoption consistently comes in last. O’Malley claimed there are 86 abortions for each adoption surrender, and pressed pro-life forces to work to make adoption easier and more culturally accepted. 

Breakout panels covered a range of topics, from fetal pain to sex trafficking, the death penalty, political and legal aspects of the abortion debate, the problems of population implosion, and post-abortion healing.

The closing plenary panel, chaired by Kim Daniels, featured Sr. Mariae Agnus Dei of the Sisters for Life, Kristen Day of Democrats for Life, Emily Geiger of the Equal Rights Institute, and Margaret Hartshorn of Heartbeat International. Panelists focused to a great extent on communicating the pro-life message in the next 25 years, with particular attention to the communication styles of the rising generations.

Notre Dame Right to Life received the annual Rev. Thomas King SJ Memorial Award, a grant to a college pro-life group for its distinguished work over the prior year. The award was presented by Georgetown president John DiGioia.

The Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life takes place every year at Georgetown on the Saturday of the weekend closest to the March for Life. It is named in honor of the late archbishop of New York (1984-2000), a staunch advocate for life, Georgetown alumnus, and founder of the Sisters of Life. Students from across the United States, with a special presence of Jesuit universities, attend the conference. One group of participants, from the University of Mary in North Dakota, had made a long bus trip (36 hours each way) for the March for Life and the conference from Bismarck.