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(Photo by Valerie Schmalz/Catholic San Francisco)

Jefffery and Karen McLaughlin, left, and Jack Gergurich, far right, pray outside a clinic in San Francisco.

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26 local heroes for Respect Life Month
October 15th, 2013
By Valerie Schmalz

Catholics engage in the world – reaching out to share their faith and their beliefs – in many different ways. To highlight Respect Life Month, Catholic San Francisco offers these short profiles of just some of the many Catholics who are living their pro-life convictions, particularly in working against abortion.

Bea Smalley
The longtime president of United for Life, San Francisco’s main pro-life organization for decades, is part of the “greatest generation” from the early days of the pro-life movement. Smalley “spent one Lent in jail” in the 1990s, with a number of others from Operation Rescue who were protesting an abortion clinic in Sunnydale. She and her husband John, who died this year, and many others prayed the rosary outside Planned Parenthood clinics in the city for many years, joined in demonstrations such as Life Chain, and supported others’ pro-life efforts including sending students to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., every year. She was the main force for many years behind United for Life’s annual banquet which features pro-life speakers and raises money for pro-life causes.

Rosa Gomez
A member of All Souls Parish, this longtime advocate for life is one of several people who have formed Respect Life South San Francisco to fight a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s downtown.

Patsy Gonzalez
A volunteer with The Gabriel Project of the archdiocese, she arrived 20 years ago from the Philippines – “a Catholic country where the unborn child is protected by its constitution from the moment of conception,” she says. That, and a crisis pregnancy in her own family, moved the Church of the Nativity parishioner and her children first to sidewalk counsel outside abortion facilities and later to counsel at the St. Juan Diego Women’s Center in San Jose and to volunteer with The Gabriel Project. Says Gonzales, “I discovered very early in my pro-life involvement that a woman never freely chooses to have an abortion, it is often fear, rejection and isolation that leads her to the most unnatural choice of aborting her child. When she feels there is hope, even from a caring, nonjudgmental stranger and realizes that there are resources available to her, she will choose to keep her baby.”

Jeff and Laura Patino
Parents of nine children, they are the Culture of Life couple for the Knights of Columbus’ Marian Council 3773 at Church of the Good Shepherd, Pacifica. Jeff was recently appointed California Culture of Life chairman to the California state council Knights of Columbus and is working to raise money to donate free ultrasound machines to pregnancy centers. So far the Knights have donated 29 of the machines in California. The Patinos have participated in the Walk for Life West Coast for the past five years and have been participating in the 40 Days for Life each year as well. “We bring our children with us to pray in front of Planned Parenthood, and include them in all of the culture of life work that we do,” Jeff says.

Thomas Cavanaugh
A University of San Francisco philosophy professor with a specialty in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, he lectures frequently on medical ethics. In his latest book, “Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake,” Cavanaugh presents a contemporary articulation of the philosophical, religious and historically grounded basis for a medical ethic that regards human life as inviolable.

Nyna Pais Caputi
The Indian-born filmmaker is working with her husband Gino on an independent film, “Petals in the Dust,” about the genocide of girls via sex-selective abortion and other abuses in India. She is also an organizer of the annual Walk for India’s Missing Girls in San Francisco.

Vicki Evans
As longtime respect life coordinator for the San Francisco archdiocesan Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns, her responsibilities include directing community activities –most notably archdiocesan co-sponsorship of the Walk for Life West Coast – educational programs and legislative advocacy in diverse pro-life areas including abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, bioethics and the death penalty. The Benemerenti papal honor was conferred on her in 2011 for her volunteer work in pro-life ministry.

Jamie Blinn, Ruth Ann Cawley, Mari Pautler
They are three of the main organizers of 40 Days for Life in Marin County. Blinn and her husband Matt moved to California last year with their four children, 2,4,6, and 8, and wanted to join a 40 Days for Life campaign because they were involved in sidewalk counseling in the past, including the first 40 Days for Life campaign in College Station, Texas. Cawley, also married, has three grown children and first became involved in the pro-life movement through her parish of St. Hilary in Tiburon when she and Mari would set up the bus for the parish to go to the Walk for Life West Coast. Mari Paulter, married with two grown children, says, “I was born in Ireland to a single woman at a time when a pregnant single girl was considered an embarrassment to her family and friends.” Her mother died shortly after she was born and she was placed in an orphanage, and then adopted. “My birth mother had courage to continue her pregnancy out of love for me I thank God for her strength and am a witness to the option of adoption.”

Ryan Martin-Spencer
He is religious studies department chair at Notre Dame High School, Belmont, and teaches a senior bioethics course that provides an introduction to the field as well as to Catholic teaching about the sacredness of human life. He is also the faculty moderator for a student-initiated and student-led club called Club LIFE (Life Is For Everyone). The club has raised money for First Resort Free Pregnancy Centers, participated in the local 40 Days for Life prayer vigil campaign, and conducted a petition drive to demonstrate the school’s support for Proposition 34 on last November’s state ballot, which would have repealed the death penalty in California. The club also organizes the school’s annual participation in the Walk for Life West Coast. “The students with whom I work give much hope and inspiration to me and are part of a growing movement of young people who courageously proclaim the value and importance of all human life,” Martin-Spencer says.

Ryan Mayer
He teaches a bioethics course at Marin Catholic High School, moderates the school’s Respect Life Club and participates in various pro-life activities, including joining the kickoff of 40 Days for Life Sept. 22 in San Rafael.

Sally Brien Holper
She is president and board member of the San Francisco-based Joanne Pang Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of umbilical cord blood units available for life-saving transplants. Unlike private cord blood banks, the Joanne Pang Foundation accepts cord blood from all qualified donors and makes all banked units part of a national registry accessible to any patient looking for match. The married mother of four children was previously involved for many years with Birthright of San Francisco.

Jeannette Cook
A real estate agent who is openly pro-life, she told the South San Francisco City Council that a Planned Parenthood clinic would hurt property values. She is president of the San Mateo Serra Club.

Jeremy Perlas
A member of St. Augustine Parish, South San Francisco, 13-year-old Jeremy testified against the Planned Parenthood clinic planned for South San Francisco.

Angela Testani
A registered nurse, she prays each Wednesday for an hour or more during adoration at Holy Name of Jesus for the women who will enter the UCSF Mount Zion facility to begin the process of a second trimester abortion. Testani retired from UCSF Mount Zion about a year ago, but before that had exercised her conscience rights by formally requesting to be removed from the hospital’s abortion work, which began about five years ago: “I said, ‘This really bothers me and I won’t get the patients ready.’” Her example emboldened several other nurses, as did the death of a woman who hemorrhaged after the abortion of twin boys, she said. By the time she retired, Testani said about five nurses had exercised their conscience rights to be exempted from the abortion process. Today, she volunteers with the Missionaries of Charity in San Francisco, helping at a home for unmarried mothers, cooking on Thursday nights and helping as needed. “My heart is for all the mothers,” she says.

Ronald Konopaski
He began praying outside abortion clinics before his retirement as a dentist in 2000 but became much more involved after retirement. A member of United for Life and now a board member, he also recently began leading Life Chain, an annual pro-life event each October. He is active in 40 Days for Life of San Francisco. He says the pro-life movement “totally changed my life” and he has met many wonderful people and become “much closer to the Lord and the church.”

Mary Alba
A volunteer with The Gabriel Project and former longtime volunteer, director and board member of Birthright of San Francisco, the native of Ireland raised five children with her husband and is a parishioner at St. Agnes.

Mary Ann Schwab
Her leadership of the Project Rachel post-abortion healing ministry in the archdiocese as a volunteer is just the latest chapter in a life of service for life including being a wife, mother and a career as a social worker. She was one of the founders of the archdiocese’s first Respect Life Office in the 1970s and recalls Archbishop Joseph McGucken walking through the chancery himself to find a spot for the office. The St. Brendan parishioner also served as president of the National Council of Catholic Women from 1983-85 and worked for the human life amendment – an effort to place protection for the unborn into the text of the U.S. Constitution.

Vivian Abellana
A member of St. Robert Parish, San Bruno, a student at San Francisco State University and former student body president at the College of San Mateo, she testified against Planned Parenthood’s clinic in South San Francisco at a City Council meeting in August. She told the council: “I pray you guys make the right decision.” Abellana, 22, won the 2008 San Mateo Pro-Life essay contest and goes to the Walk for Life West Coast every year with her family. She is the fourth of seven children.

Jack Gergurich
He has prayed outside abortion clinics in San Francisco since moving to the city in 2003.

Before that, the accountant was active in San Diego from just a few weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. In San Francisco, he prayed outside the Eddy Street clinic every Saturday morning until it closed, and prayed with San Francisco 40 Days for Life three days a week outside the Valencia Street Planned Parenthood.

Karen and Jeffery McLaughlin
The recently married couple are frequently seen praying for life. Karen is one of the original organizers of the Walk for Life and continues her work with the annual January event in San Francisco.

Jessica Munn
She distributes pro-life materials via tables or booths at parishes, shopping malls, colleges, city festivals and the county fair as part of San Mateo Pro-Life. At St. Matthew Parish, she helps with the pro-life bulletin board, poster and pamphlet displays. She prays with others in front of Planned Parenthood clinics, especially during the 40 Days for Life, writes letters, sends emails, visits politicians, attends hearings, circulates petitions and participates in the Walk for Life. She also works with The Gabriel Project, attends daily Mass and prays.

Stephen Alexander Sanchez
The Holy Cross Cemetery worker told the City Council in South San Francisco that he has had some rough times, including spending time homeless and losing a child to abortion. “It is not a good thing – I want no one else to go through it,” he said.



From October 18, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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