Father Pavone Founds New Order of Priests

AMARILLO, Texas — Father Frank Pavone’s longtime dream has finally become a reality. On March 23, he announced the creation of the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life — a new congregation of priests dedicated to pro-life issues.

Even before becoming full-time director of the New York-based Priests for Life in 1993, Father Pavone dreamed of creating a pro-life order of priests. He said that the idea was a natural thought stemming from his pro-life work over the years.

“When Cardinal John O’Connor started the Sisters for Life back in 1991, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a similar effort for priests?’” Father Pavone said. “As I traveled around, people would say, ‘I want to do this too,’ and I realized that there needed to be an additional entity that could accept and train seminarians.”

The new community has received the support of Bishop John Yanta of Amarillo, Texas, and will be based in his diocese. The diocese is offering the community several vacant buildings that once served as a Christian Brothers high school — complete with boarding facilities, a chapel and gymnasium — at no cost.

The new association will be dedicated to the formation and training of priests, deacons, brothers and seminarians devoted fully to the proclamation of the Gospel of Life.

“I am excited about supporting Father Pavone in venturing forth, with and through the Holy Spirit, in the establishment of a Society of Apostolic Life for priests and seminarians dedicated to pro-life ministry — an immense need at this time in history,” said Bishop Yanta in a press release. Bishop Yanta, a vocal pro-life supporter, has served on the Priests for Life Episcopal Board of Advisors since 1998.

Priests for Life was founded in California in 1991 to “train, motivate and encourage priests to effectively advance the Gospel of Life.” Father Pavone became national director in 1993 with the permission of his bishop, Cardinal O’Connor. Under his leadership, it has grown into an international organization with a $7-million budget, 100,000 members, a staff of nearly 50 full-time employees, and seven full-time priests. Father Pavone’s official transfer from the Archdiocese of New York to the Diocese of Amarillo took place at the beginning of March.

The creation of the community received praise from several bishops, including St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted. The new association also received support from Rome.

“In today’s world, the idea of a new religious community founded for the purpose of working to protect human life may seem like a sign of contradiction — but it may just be what the world of today needs,” said Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, quoted in a Priests for Life press release. “The call to protect life is not only a foundation of our faith as Catholics, but it is the very basis of our recognition of human rights and the right to life. The human dignity with which we have been endowed by God binds us together as members of the one family.”


Father Pavone recognized that people would question an order dedicated solely to the pro-life cause. Shouldn’t all priests be pro-life? With a shortage of priests, why are we calling some to this specialized kind of work?

“It is precisely because all priests are supposed to support life that a ministry like this is necessary,” said Father Pavone. “This new society will provide all priests with an added stimulus — especially of example — regarding what we are all supposed to do.

“As with every special ministry in the Church, this effort reminds us all of what is essential to the vocation of every Christian,” he continued.

The Sisters of Charity, for example, focus on serving the needy and vulnerable around the world. “They are not the only ones called to exercise charity, but their existence reminds us of that common call,” he said.

Father Pavone imagined that such priests will travel, preach pro-life missions and retreats, promote alternatives to abortion, lead prayer vigils outside abortion businesses, conduct training and strategy sessions with pro-life groups, do media work, promote political responsibility, and help with post-abortion healing. And, because Rachel’s Vineyard is a ministry of Priests for Life, priests of the new association will participate in its post-abortion healing retreats.

The order will offer pro-life training for clergy and specialized priest-to-priest resources. Father Pavone said the new order will increase the number of vocations.

“There are many in the Church who feel the call to devote themselves full-time to fighting abortion,” he said. “Many are finding their vocation through the pro-life movement. It attracts people to the Church.”

In addition to new vocations, Father Pavone expects that current diocesan and order priests may choose to incardinate into the society as well.

“Those who have already been ordained may decide to join us after having served in their own diocese,” said Father Pavone. “We’ve already had priests coming to us with that request.”

Jerry Horn, spokesman for Priests for Life, said the organization has received hundreds of calls from interested priests and seminarians supportive of the effort.

One of them is Father Mark Clarke, associate pastor at San Gabriel Mission in San Gabriel, Calif. Ordained two years ago for the Claretian Missionaries, Father Clarke asked about the possibility of transitioning to the new apostolic society just days after Father Pavone announced it.

“This is a ministry that I have felt called to for a long time,” said Father Clarke.

On April 2, Father Clarke’s provincial called to tell that the order unanimously approved his transfer. Beginning July 1, and for the following year, Father Clarke will be a full-time associate of Priests for Life. He hopes that he might be able to spread the pro-life message among the young.

“Pope John Paul II opened his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) saying that the Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus’ message,” said Father Clarke. “Every priest is called to preach the Good News of Jesus to those of every age and culture.”

Father Pavone announced the formation of the new society two days before the encyclical’s 10th anniversary.

“There are many priests and seminarians who have this charism to preach the Gospel of Life,” said Father Clarke. “Given our culture, especially what [happened] with Terri Schiavo, it is a really good time for this.”

Tim Drake writes from

St. Joseph, Minnesota.