Sister of Life Bethany Madonna: ‘There Are So Many Reasons to Hope’
As Sister Bethany Madonna prepares to speak at the pro-life march and rally One Life LA this weekend, she discusses the call to support life and how she and her fellow sisters in Phoenix are responding.
Since the first time Sister of Life Bethany Madonna prayed the Rosary at an Orlando, Florida, abortion facility as a college freshman, she sensed she would dedicate her life to upholding the sacredness of the human person.
Today, she’s answering that call with a team of four sisters in Phoenix who are accompanying vulnerable pregnant women and ministering to young college students through their presence and evangelization. Sister Bethany Madonna serves as local superior and mission coordinator of the new Phoenix foundation of the religious community founded in New York that takes a vow to protect and enhance life.
As a speaker at the Jan. 22 pro-life Los Angeles walk and festival OneLife LA, Sister Bethany Madonna said she will inspire and encourage women to receive their gifts as she shares her passion for life.
In this interview, Sister Bethany talked about her pro-life call and religious vocation, her community’s work and her hopes for the cause of life.
When did you become conscious of the reality of abortion?
Growing up in Melbourne, Florida, I learned about abortion at a very early age by reading a bumper sticker. I had a profound conversation with my mom around age 9 about abortion that really pierced my little heart. I didn’t actively pray at abortion clinics until I was in college, though I was raised Catholic with a deep understanding that life is sacred and worth defending.
Can you talk about your awakening at the University of Central Florida?
A friend who had experienced a radical conversion invited me to come with her to an abortion clinic. I was very frightened by the prospect of being arrested. ... My friend told me we would be praying the Rosary, and I was convinced.
I went with her on a Saturday morning that I’ll never forget as long as I live: I watched the sun come up over the building, revealing a whole line of women who were preparing for their abortions. That day, abortion became much more than a debate topic, political issue, medical procedure or sin: It was like abortion had a face; and it was the girls in my classes, my friends and the little ones who weren’t going to see the light of that day. Seeing them so scared and abandoned and alone, it was so unjust. This isn’t so much a choice as it is what they undergo as they feel desperation because of their circumstances.
The tears just streamed down my face. I remember thinking, “I’m going to live and die for them,” and something about my life had everything to do with this moment. I didn’t know what the Lord would ask of me, but it was so plainly placed on my heart that my whole life would be about the sacredness of the human person.
How did you discern a call to the Sisters of Life?
I met the Sisters of Life within the year. I had inklings of a call to consecration and to religious life as a high-school senior, but those were quickly buried. I dated and discerned marriage. It was only through prayer and Jesus’ invitation to consider being totally His that I started discerning a religious vocation.
When I heard about the Sisters’ fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life and about their charism of [proclaiming that] each unique and unrepeatable human person is good, loved and willed into being by God intentionally for a purpose, it was as if I was hearing my own heart set to words.
By being consecrated totally to [Christ], I can be bride, mother, advocate and healer.
Would you talk about the apostolate of your Phoenix community that started last September?
We receive phone calls, text messages and have meetings with vulnerable pregnant women here at St. Agnes convent. Also, we’re building a network of Co-Workers of Life: men and women who assist us in serving those women. They offer a variety of gifts, talents and time to uphold women choosing life for themselves and their children.
Our secondary mission is of prayer, presence, programming and evangelization at ASU’s Tempe campus. We host monthly women’s nights to form women in the beauty, dignity and gift of femininity.
What keeps you and the sisters in Phoenix inspired and motivated?
It seems simple, but it’s the answer: Jesus. We’re contemplative-active, so we spend four hours a day in prayer. When you’re in His Presence, when you’re adoring him and [you] receive him in Holy Communion, it’s so transformative you want to share his life and love, and you want others to know his mercy, tenderness and power.
What are the greatest needs you’re seeing in your work and in the pro-life movement overall?
We are learning Spanish so we can minister to the Latino community.
I would also say just getting the word out that there are resources for women who desire to choose life. [A diocesan program] is meeting a fundamental need to get the word out that there’s a whole family, a network, a community with open arms for you, and you don’t have to choose abortion.
How do you see the laity’s involvement in the pro-life movement?
Critical. We have so many Co-Workers of Life who are just incredibly impressive in the way they live their life: women who are mothers and basically are willing to mother and mentor other women. We know women who have suffered the pain and betrayal of abortion and are able to speak so eloquently about the wound that it is. We know women who have heroically chosen life and are able to be that radiant witness. The laity, basically our Co-Workers of Life are the laity, we collaborate with them, we offer formation for them and the ministry, and we depend on them to assist us.
Is the Dobbs v. Jackson Woman’s Health Organization case now before the U.S. Supreme Court affecting pro-lifers’ attitudes and motivation?
I think it’s an important moment in our nation. I was listening to the arguments [of the Mississippi case that challenges the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision federally legalizing abortion].
We actually have the opportunity to hear articulated where the culture is regarding women, the unborn child and rights and true freedom. I was deeply pained listening to the women present because what I perceived was really, at a deep level, a hatred of women, our bodies and our capacity to mother, as if it were somehow an imposed burden. It inspired me to want to speak clearly, joyfully and boldly about the treasured gift of being a woman and mother.
How important is the Church’s witness to life right now?
In a very real way the Church is mother. The eyes of the world look to the Church and recognize that she belongs to Jesus.
I think the more we can witness to the mercy of Jesus, his compassion and his open arms ready to receive those who find themselves in crisis and are suffering: The Church has answers about the human person, our great dignity and the sacredness of each life, no matter how strong or weak, rich or poor, healthy or sick.
Do you see other reasons for hope right now in the pro-life movement?
There seems to be a renewal in family life and marriage and couples banding together to live faithfully and beautifully their sacrament and witness.
I see a renewal in the Church where young people are being formed in the theology of the body and the understanding that a chaste life is holy, freeing, joyful and worth fighting for. I see especially on the college campus a thirst in the hearts of young people to hear the truth and to have witnesses to follow in living that truth out.
I see so many healing ministries cropping up to minister to the suffering after abortion and new creative ventures and outreaches to those in crisis. There are so many reasons to hope.