By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published June 13, 2019
The little girl is held in her mother’s arms, as the twosome make their way around the swimming pool, enjoying the cool water on this sweltering day. Soon, the mom carries the child to her wheelchair and wraps her carefully in towels, so she won’t get chilled.
The mother and father are my dear friends, who adopted the girl as an infant, after adopting three other children. When one doctor realized the extent of the baby’s disability—95 percent of her brain is missing—he suggested the parents “let nature take its course.”
“Do you mean let her die?” the father asked.
The doctor couldn’t deny this, since that’s exactly what he meant.
The parents, who are faithful Catholics, replied there was no way in the world they would do such a thing. After all, the baby had a fully functioning soul.
When they took her home, they were told she’d live about a year, which was a devastating prognosis.
That child is now 12 years old, and draws many smiles and compliments from folks who meet her. Not because she’s disabled and different from other children, but because she’s always dressed in pretty outfits and matching hair bows, and glows with her family’s love.
She reminds me of a story about another little girl, who also was quite different from those around her.
In 1949, the girl’s parents left Mary Ann, who was 3 years old, with the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, who then ran—and still run—Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta.
Mary Ann had a cancerous, disfiguring tumor on her face, and doctors predicted she would only live six months. However, she proved them wrong by living until she was 12.
The sisters doted on Mary Ann, providing her with dolls, a parakeet, party dresses and a dog named Scrappy. She created her own ministry by visiting the other cancer patients to cheer them up.
Her story is told in “A Memoir of Mary Ann,” written by the sisters with a foreword by Flannery O’Connor and published in 1961.
When the little girl died, she was buried in a miniature habit of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, because her dream was to become a religious sister. At her funeral, Bishop Francis E. Hyland said many people might wonder why such a friendly little girl had to die.
In the foreword, Flannery O’Connor wrote, “He could not have been thinking of that world…which would not ask why Mary Ann should die, but why she had been born in the first place.”
She wrote these words long ago, but they describe the world we live in today, where babies with defects are routinely aborted—and this is hailed as “progress.”
Some people want to obliterate all suffering from life, but Pope Benedict XVI said, “Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love…because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice.”
It took sacrifices for the sisters to care for Mary Ann and sacrifices for my friends to care for their daughter, but making sacrifices out of love makes us fully human.
We live in a culture of death, where recent laws allow doctors to refuse care to babies who are born alive during abortions. Instead, the infants are left to die.
Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
No one is more “least,” more vulnerable, more defenseless and more innocent than the children who are destroyed before birth in the name of “progress”—and those who are left to die once they are born. May the Lord have mercy on the world we live in today.
Lorraine Murray writes about Mary Ann and the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne in her book “Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey.” Artwork is by Lorraine’s late husband, Jef. You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.