The Black Madonna returned briefly to the Diocese of Winona for their Ministry Days, an event for the continuing education and growth of ministers for the Diocese of Winona. The icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa stayed in the chapel at the University of Mary in Winona and the ministers of the Diocese of Winona had the opportunity to see and venerate the icon during their annual event.
On Thursday June 12, I flew back to Minneapolis-St. Paul after a brief visit to the headquarters of Human Life International (HLI) in Front Royal, Virginia. Before leaving Minnesota, Chris Morales and I wanted to pay tribute to our founder, Fr. Paul Marx, OSB who died on March 20, 2010. We drove to St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, where he is buried.
I had the privilege of meeting Fr. Marx twice: once, when he came to Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey to give a pro-life talk in 1987; and again at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska in 1998 for the 30th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae, where he was being honored. Each time, I remember feeling that I was in the presence of a great man. I was struck by his intelligence, zeal and good humor.
Fr. Paul Marx grew up in a large family on a farm in central Minnesota. He professed vows as a Benedictine monk on the Feast of St. Benedict, July 11, 1942. Following his ordination in 1947, he prepared couples for marriage and taught them natural family planning. Throughout his priesthood, he would always praise those parents who generously had large families, and encouraged all he counseled to be open to life, and responsible as parents. Fr. Marx earned a Ph.D. in sociology in 1957 and founded the Sociology Department at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN where he taught for nearly two decades.
He once dressed in a business suit to attend a secret meeting of high-ranking anti-life officials in California, who were planning the legalization of abortion in the United States in the early 1970s. He published the results of his investigations in his book The Death Peddlers: War on the Unborn (1971). During the course of his life, he wrote 12 other books, including Confessions of a Pro-Life Missionary (1988); Fighting for Life (1989); The Flying Monk: Still Fighting for Life (1990); Apostle of Life (1991); The Warehouse Priest (1993); and an autobiography, Faithful for Life (1997). The advance of the anti-life forces alarmed Fr. Marx. He could see that legal abortion would quickly follow widespread contraception. In 1971, he sought and received permission from the abbot of his monastery to dedicate himself full-time to the pro-life movement. He founded the Human Life Center in 1971, two years before the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. He also founded the International Review of Natural Family Planning.
Like his namesake, St. Paul the Apostle, Fr. Marx spoke the truth “in season and out of season.” International Planned Parenthood Federation, the largest pro-abortion organization in the world called him “public enemy #1.” He even received death threats for his pro-life work, but when he met St. John Paul II in a papal audience in 1979, the Pope called Fr. Marx an “Apostle for Life” and told him: “You are doing the most important work on earth.”
In an era of widespread dissent, Fr. Marx’s defense of Church teaching did not make him popular even among his fellow Benedictine brothers and some bishops. Under obedience, Fr. Marx was forced to dissolve the Human Life Center, but in 1981 he was permitted to move to the Washington, DC area and found Human Life International, which was incorporated on the Feast of the Holy Innocents December 28, 1981. HLI is the first international and largest pro-life organization to oppose contraception, sterilization, abortion and euthanasia. Fr. Marx was president of HLI until his retirement in 1999. Fr. Marx tirelessly travelled the world spreading the Gospel of Life. He didn’t like travelling, except to spread the pro-life message.
He once said: Having traveled and worked in 91 countries, I find no country where contraception has not led to abortion, to increasing fornication among the young, to divorce, and to all those other evils we see today that make up the international sex mess. Father Marx said that euthanasia is now following abortion just as surely as the latter followed contraception: “[I]if you can be killed before birth, why not after?” He urged pro-lifers to keep telling the truth even when we are dismissed and despised because we’re right.
Because of his outspokenness, Fr. Marx never got the full credit he deserved for his pro-life efforts, but among the rewards he received were the Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award from Legatus and Catholic of the Year by the Catholic Twin Circle in 2003. Human Life International honored our founder with the Cardinal Von Galen Award in 2007. Human Life International is proud of Fr. Paul Marx, OSB, PhD, and we strive to continue his legacy in battling against the Culture of Death and seeking to build a Culture of Life. It was fitting that we should bring the pilgrim icon of the Black Madonna to the resting place of her loyal son and dedicated Apostle for Life — to honor his memory, pray for his soul and ask for his prayers to bless the From Ocean to Ocean Pilgrimage in Defense of Life.
The journey across North America of the pilgrim icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa (the “Black Madonna”) began in August 2013 as a continuation of the From Ocean to Ocean Campaign in Defense of Life. This historic pilgrimage around the world began in Vladivostok, Russia in the summer of 2012. The pilgrimage will continue across North America until November 2014. HLI VP for Missions Father Peter West is traveling with the pilgrim icon.