By REBECCA RAKOCZY, Special To The Bulletin | Published November 8, 2007
Linda Powell was a “good, faithful Catholic” in Ohio when the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion.
“I wasn’t paying much attention to what it meant,” she said. “Abortion was not on my radar screen—I was raising children, and I couldn’t fathom what it would turn into. I thought that everybody was like me, that they were pro-life.”
It would be a personal epiphany during her third pregnancy that marked the beginnings of what would become a lifelong commitment advocating for the unborn.
More than 30 years later, that avocation became a commitment to Father Peter West of the national pro-life organization, Priests for Life, as Powell “joyfully promised” to “defend the weakest among these” as a lay associate of the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life. The promise ceremony occurred Oct. 27 before friends and family gathered at St. James the Apostle Church in McDonough where Father West came to speak.
Powell began her journey to become a lay associate more than a year ago when she met James Pinto, a pastoral associate for Priests for Life, at the Eucharistic Congress in Atlanta. She now joins 1,000 lay associates across the nation committed to praying and witnessing for the unborn. As a lay associate, she will be praying, studying and giving witness to others as a pro-life advocate, something she has done for many years, she says. But she’ll have more support.
“It’s knowing that there is a community of others who are praying for the unborn that gives me strength,” said Powell. “You can do this on your own, but when you realize that there are other people who are saying the same prayers every day, even if you’re praying in your home by yourself, you have this feeling of community.”
The lay associates follow a handbook of prayers and a study guide written by Father Frank Pavone, pro-life leader and founder of Priests for Life. Father Pavone has established the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life as a Society of Apostolic Life for priests and lay associates.
Powell’s awakening about abortion came with her third pregnancy, she said.
“It was 1975, and I was pregnant with my third daughter, and I was not well; my husband at the time didn’t tell me to have an abortion, but he was intimating it,” she said. “And we were like a lot of young couples, and we were struggling.”
Powell didn’t have an abortion, but the idea that other couples in similar circumstances could even be considering an abortion galvanized her. She became active in the local post-abortion healing and treatment program in Ohio.
“I realized this was much more than just a Supreme Court decision; abortion was going to touch my life in some way. It was becoming (an issue) for people who you wouldn’t ordinarily think would talk about it. They were using it as a possible (birth control) option.”
Powell began to work with women who had already had abortions.
“I felt that they needed to be healed and brought back to the church, to the forgiveness of Jesus Christ,” she said. Her work with other women was agonizingly brought home years later when she learned that her 18-year-old daughter had had an abortion.
“I knew that there was something wrong, that she was suffering spiritually. I couldn’t get through to her,” Powell recalled. Her daughter attended Project Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat (a program for women who have experienced abortion) and started on the path to spiritual healing.
It’s this extremely personal understanding of the spiritual pain of aborting a child that helps Powell reach out to others.
“I know there are other hurting women in our church,” she said. “And people know you have a heart for them. I have women come up to me when I am passing out pro-life material, and they confess their abortion to me and ask me to pray for them.”
Her pro-life work continued into the 1990s when Powell and her second husband, Charles, moved to Georgia and became active at St. Matthew Church in Winder. Powell worked at the local pregnancy resource center, eventually becoming involved in Barrow County’s Right to Life chapter and became the Respect Life Month coordinator at St. Matthew.
“Everybody knew that I was the person to come to at St. Matthew’s for pro-life issues,” she said.
But despite her involvement, she felt that there was a missing piece in her ministry. “There was a spiritual aspect that seemed to be missing,” she said. That missing piece is now filled. Powell hopes she can move others to consider becoming lay associates.
“Some parishes are wonderful and supportive (of pro-life ministries), and in some parishes you have to struggle and jump through hoops to get anything done,” she said.
According to Ray Mooney, a lay associate based at Priests for Life in New York, there are almost 1,000 registered lay associates in the United States, Canada and Australia. And when several people gather to pray and witness for pro-life issues, they can become a “Life Cell.”
“Becoming a lay associate makes you a part of a national organization that is approved by the Vatican, and well known to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; it gives people a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves; it gives them confidence,” Mooney said.
Becoming a lay associate “doesn’t take any more time,” than her normal pro-life activities, Powell said. “It expands my spirituality and makes it more focused, and it’s nice to know I have the full and total blessing of the church.”
For more information about becoming a lay associate of the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, visit www.priestsforlife.org/missionary.