On March 20, Fr. Paul Marx departed this life at St. John’s Benedictine Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota at the age of 89. Joe Scheidler reflects on the influence of this great pro-life hero:
Fr. Paul Marx and Joe Scheidler with nuns in South Africa
My first meeting with Fr. Paul Marx was a pure accident. One Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1973, I was driving past the Marriott O’Hare. I had heard a rumor that there might be a pro-life meeting at the hotel.
So I stopped in, asked the concierge if such a meeting was going on. He told me where it was and I headed to the room where a stocky white-haired priest was talking about the birth control pill. It was the first time I had heard that this new contraceptive pill could cause an abortion.
Not long after that Fr. Marx was invited to Chicago by the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of Chicago. In the old LaSalle Hotel, the room was set for three hundred guests. But there was so little interest in the abortion issue at that time that churches were giving away the tickets. Still, only about thirty people showed up.
“Called by God”
After his powerful talk on contraception and abortion, six of us stayed to learn more about how we could combat the evil of abortion. Looking around we asked why there were only six of us left who wanted to know more. And Fr. Marx said, “Because you feel the evil of contraception and abortion, and you are probably called by God to dedicate your lives to fighting these evils.”
We spoke for several hours and finally Father asked if we had ever seen what a baby looks like in the womb, how absolutely beautiful it is. Then he told us he had with him two babies, born prematurely, and asked if we wanted to see them. He went to his room and returned with two bottles, one containing a twelve-week fetus and the other an eighteen-week fetus. We were mesmerized at the beauty of these children. I think it was at that moment that I decided to go full-time into pro-life activism.
From then on Fr. Marx was my mentor. One of the first pro-life books I read was his The Death Peddlers. We spoke frequently on the phone. I attended Human Life International Conferences and I developed a deep relationship with this saintly man. In 1995 he invited me to accompany him to South Africa where the international family planning agencies were mounting a major campaign to legalize abortion.
Mission to South Africa
Working with Dr. Claude Newberry, a local prolife activist in Johannesburg, we spoke in universities to wildly pro-life students, visited the crowded seminaries, marched in African fashion, more like a dance than a march, met with several bishops and painted a huge sign at a major intersection saying “No abortion in South Africa.”
We visited a convent where the nuns cared for HIV positive infants and young children. They even had a little cemetery right outside the nursery with many graves of children who had died of AIDS. One little girl took to me and rubbed my beard as I carried her in my arms. Healthy as she appeared, she was dying of AIDS and when I saw the children with the advanced disease, it broke my heart to think that in a short time she also would die of this terrible disease.
On our trip back to the United States from Johannesburg, as lights on the plane went off while everyone else was sleeping, only one light stayed on all night—the light over Fr. Marx’s seat where he was writing and reading, ever diligent in his research on life issues.
Fr. Marx, Pro-Life Pioneer
In 2001 my wife and I attended the thirtieth anniversary of Human Life International, which Fr. Marx had founded in 1981, an outgrowth of his Human Life Center founded in 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade. Although mostly confined to a wheelchair by that time, Fr. Marx still had a sharp mind and a dynamic personality. He is truly the pioneer in the pro-life movement, not just in the United States, but all over the world.
Despite health problems and conflicts of all kinds, he still wrote frequently, called on occasion and financially supported the Pro-Life Action League, saying it was his favorite life-saving organization. We are honored to have known Fr. Paul Marx and grateful for his courageous leadership in the “most important work on earth,” as he was told by Pope John Paul II.
Although I was unable to attend Fr. Marx’s funeral due to prior commitments, I feel his presence still, and I will always be grateful for that chance meeting we had in the spring of 1973.