Witness for Life

Family Matters: Catholic Culture

Photo courtesy of the family
Photo courtesy of the family
The pro-life movement has produced many unsung champions, due to the fact that the battles in this realm are many and hard-fought — and oftentimes unrewarding.

However, each of us has the ability to effect change in this important cause, as can be seen by the life of Ruth Pakaluk (1956-1998). She is an incredible modern example of how one person can be a witness to God’s beautiful gift of life. Ruth’s husband, Michael Pakaluk, provides evidence of her heroism in his compilation of her letters, The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God.

Though raised a Protestant, Ruth converted to Catholicism in 1980, about a year and a half after her graduation from Harvard University. She made this decision to convert along with her husband, also a Harvard graduate, partially due to the fact that, according to Michael, the Catholic Church remained firm on the matter of abortion, while Protestant denominations did not. 

When Ruth and Michael returned to Harvard so that Michael could attend graduate school two years later, Ruth got involved in the state pro-life organization, Massachusetts Citizens for Life (MCFL). She served both on the board of directors and as president of MCFL for four years.

All of this was achieved while Ruth pursued a private life of holiness as a wife and mother. She was especially devoted to Christ, the Blessed Mother and St. Josemaría Escrivá, as a dedicated member of Opus Dei.

She gave birth to seven children, the fifth of whom died of SIDS at seven weeks old. This was a turning point in Ruth’s life and a suffering that would prepare her for yet a greater sacrifice: that of her own life.

During Ruth’s next pregnancy, she found a lump on her breast, which continued to spread and which was confirmed to be serious cancer in 1991. Ruth was only 35 years old.

This did not prevent Ruth from continuing her work in the pro-life movement, fulfilling her duties required by Opus Dei and, more importantly, being an exemplary wife and mother. She even went on to have another child, which was risky, due to the fact that pregnancy hormones accelerate the growth of cancer. Also, certain treatments for her cancer were ruled out for fear of harming the unborn baby, Anna Sophie.

Ruth viewed the fact that her death was near as a tremendous grace, saying to one of her friends, “I have enjoyed — no, savored — these past two years more than any others of my life. My youngest child, Sophie, is now 2 years old. She has been among the most enjoyed children in human history.”

Towards the end of her life, she lived with her eyes set on eternity. As she wrote to another of her friends, “I have loved the life God gave me. … But I recognize God as the author of this life, as well as the author of the lives of all the people I love and the world, which is so beautiful and interesting. I want to see God; I want to see the One who thought all of this up. I cannot imagine that he will be less interesting and beautiful than all of the things he has made.” 

After suffering acutely, Ruth succumbed to cancer in 1998, leaving a witness for life: She had lived her life for others.

The evil of abortion was something that caused Ruth much anguish. She said, “Imagine how frustrating it must be for us [pro-lifers] to see women viewing their own offspring as adversaries to be destroyed, throwing away the priceless gift God has lavished upon them to love and by whom to be loved. As Mother Teresa says, ‘The greatest evil of abortion is the death of love in those who participate in it.’”

As a side note, I had the privilege of attending the wedding of the “most enjoyed child in human history.” It was a beautiful Catholic wedding, and Sophie was a glowing bride, a lovely product of a mother’s selfish and heroic love.

Ruth Pakaluk lived her life for her family, friends and in particular for those who will never know a mother’s love on this earth.

Her canonization cause is open, and we hope she already is or will be in possession of her eternal reward.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.


Liz Beller writes from Front Royal, Virginia.

Photo courtesy of the family