Mary Ann Glendon: What the Evangelium Vitae Medal Means to Me

Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture recognized Glendon for all her work to proclaim what St. John Paul II called ‘the Gospel of Life.’

Professor Mary Ann Glendon, the 2018 recipient of the Evangelium Vitae medal.
Professor Mary Ann Glendon, the 2018 recipient of the Evangelium Vitae medal. (photo:

Mary Ann Glendon has certainly had a long and distinguished career advancing the culture of life envisioned by St. John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae. On April 28, Glendon received the eponymous medal bestowed by the University of Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture at a Mass and banquet to honor all her accomplishments building a culture of life, as a Catholic mother, Harvard law professor, former ambassador, and champion of the unborn child’s human rights in international law.

In this short interview conducted in advance of the Evangelium Vitae medal, Glendon, 79, spoke about where her own commitment to life began, and the special privilege of assisting St. John Paul II in proclaiming the Gospel of Life to the world.

Was there a formative moment in your life that made clear you wanted to dedicate your talents to helping the Church in its work of protecting and building a culture of life?

 Looking back I would say the most important influence on the way I think about the culture of life was the experience of growing up Catholic in Dalton, Massachusetts, a town so small that everyone had the opportunity to see and learn from people as they dealt with life’s challenges, illness, disability, age, birth, death and various family crises. You got to see how decisions made at crucial moments play out over a long period of time. Another aspect of small-town life that made a big impression on me was that practically everyone was involved in some kind of civic activity.

So it was only natural that when I went away to college I became very active in the great cause of the day--the civil rights movement. When abortion became a public issue, it seemed to me that the prolife cause was a natural part of Rev. King’s Beloved Community, a community that embraces everybody including those at the fragile beginnings and endings of life. The civil rights movement did not move in that direction, but a vibrant prolife movement was taking shape in America and I was happy to do what I could to lend a hand. Later, the encyclicals of Saint John Paul II were enormously inspiring and encouraging for me, as for so many others.   

What would you say is the most important work you've done in service of building a culture of life? Did this service have a personal cost for you? 

As a mother, teacher, author and occasional public speaker, I’ve tried to make myself available whenever and wherever I thought I could be useful. I feel particularly privileged to have been one of the founding members of Women Affirming Life, a Boston-based group that was born of our desire nearly 30 years ago to make the presence of women in the prolife movement more visible and more effective. We wanted to show the true face of the prolife movement as a movement that believes a decent society should be able to say something better to a woman who finds herself in a crisis than that she has the right to destroy her own child. We state on our letterhead that we are “pro-life, pro-woman, pro-child, and pro-poor,” which for Catholics means that our cause includes the full range of Catholic social thought. Over the years, WAL’s members have provided support, encouragement and training to prolife women and concrete assistance to women in crisis pregnancies. Any personal costs have been far outweighed by the grace of having been part of an effort that has grown into the broadest-based grass roots movement in America — without support from the media, the entertainment industry, or elite opinion leaders.

What significance does the Evangelium Vitae medal hold for you personally? 

Having had the great privilege of serving the author of Evangelium Vitae in various capacities, this medal has a very special meaning for me. When that encyclical was issued in 1995, my colleagues and I felt as though this great Pope himself had blessed every aspect of our work. He spoke of honoring the sacrifices and bravery of women who choose life; of how often a woman is the second victim of abortion; and of the need to offer concrete assistance to women in crisis pregnancies including, when needed, help in finding loving adoptive homes. He taught us that great things can be accomplished by those who are willing to live in truth and to call good and evil by name.


Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.

Read the related story by Peter Jesserer Smith: Notre Dame to Honor Mary Ann Glendon and Sister Norma Pimentel

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