By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published July 23, 2015
ATLANTA—After more than 15 years of serving as director of Respect Life for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Mary Boyert will “look and see” what the next call to serve might be.
Boyert retired July 1. Before taking the Respect Life Ministry’s helm in 1999, she worked for 21 years at Georgia Right to Life.
Boyert’s pro-life efforts began in Ohio before she and her husband, Tom, moved to Georgia in 1978.
“Mary Boyert has been a leader in public advocacy on behalf of many vulnerable lives—the preborn, women and children caught in trafficking, and the dying,” said Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference.
Mulcahy and Boyert coordinated to lobby for pro-life causes both in the Georgia General Assembly and with the state’s congressional delegation.
“There is no one who is more highly regarded by public officials in this state than Mary when life issues are raised,” said Mulcahy. “I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to work with Mary and learn from her passion and concern for life.”
Speaking before lawmakers or at public gatherings can be intimidating.
“I moved here and I found myself being asked to speak. I didn’t know how I was going to do this,” admitted Boyert.
Throughout her four decades of work, Boyert has drawn strength from the first chapter of Jeremiah when feeling nervous or unsure.
Jeremiah expresses to the Lord that he does not know how to speak and is too young.
“This is the part that really touched me,” said Boyert as she read the verses aloud:
“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you—oracle of the Lord. Then the Lord extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying to me, See, I place my words in your mouth.”
Boyert said reading this chapter helps her to see outside of herself, to speak out of concern for others.
“It’s not me. It’s not about me,” she explained.
The support of both the late Archbishop John F. Donoghue and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory have bolstered the ministry, said Boyert.
She expressed appreciation for Archbishop Donoghue’s “open door” policy and Archbishop Gregory’s total understanding of the “consistent ethic of life.”
Both were supportive of programs such as PATH (post-abortion treatment and healing) to help individuals suffering from post-abortion trauma to heal and reconcile with others and God. They both regularly participated in Life Chain events, as well as efforts to fight the death penalty.
Boyert said the first part of her career was “basically single interest,” focusing on abortion. By joining the archdiocese, she was able to incorporate her long-held beliefs regarding assisted suicide, the death penalty, care for the elderly and related life issues into her work.
Boyert found the Chancery a positive working environment, where the ministry was supported. “That reflects on the leadership,” she said.
‘At least you’re consistent’
Even when encountering lawmakers with different views, Boyert said she always experienced respect at the Capitol.
She recalled testifying about the death penalty, and a pro-choice advocate telling her afterward, “at least you’re consistent.”
Significant state legislation passed during Boyert’s tenure included the Woman’s Right to Know Act in 2005 and the amendment of this informed consent law by the Ultrasound Act in 2007.
The informed consent act requires that women who seek abortions be fully informed about the medical risks, abortion methods, psychological effects, information on the gestational age of the baby, child support laws, and medical assistance benefits. The ultrasound addition requires that women seeking abortions be offered the opportunity to view an ultrasound and hear the fetal heart beat.
Other legislative successes included the Fetal Pain Bill of 2012 and correction of a loophole in Georgia’s assisted suicide law.
Public policy is just one part of the Respect Life Ministry. The Respect Life program also works to promote a deeper understanding of the issues among Catholics and others and oversees pastoral efforts to assist women with problems related to pregnancy or having had an abortion.
The Respect Life Ministry also organizes the annual Stand for Life and Mass for the Unborn in Atlanta held on the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Boyert said it was a great joy to work with pastors and Respect Life leaders at the parishes.
“It has truly been where the work of the ministry takes place,” said Boyert. “We are blessed that over 82 percent of our parishes, schools or campuses have a Respect Life ministry,” said Boyert.
Showing teens their worth
One of Boyert’s recent endeavors included working with Respect Life and Vocations intern Joey Martineck.
According to Martineck, Boyert had been praying for an intern to help communicate with the youth of the archdiocese.
“When she asked me to take on this speaking role, I knew God’s hand was at work because I had long carried this desire in my heart,” said Martineck.
Together, Boyert and Martineck created the Masterpiece Project based on Pope Francis’ comment “each of us is a masterpiece of God’s creation.”
“Mary and I believed that many of our teens don’t even believe this about themselves,” said Martineck. “Why should they care about the value of a zygote or an elderly person suffering in their last days if our teens don’t first hear about their own dignity?”
The project serves to explain many of the violations of life today including abortion, euthanasia and sex trafficking. It also covers authentic chastity inspired by St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
More than 2,900 youth have participated in the programs across the archdiocese in schools and parishes during the 2014-15 school year.
Martineck said Boyert was unlike any other boss and he enjoyed when it was time to meet with her.
“Mary is so affirming. Mary is so loving and encouraging,” he said.
Many speakers offered tributes to Boyert during a July 9 retirement reception at the Chancery.
Boyert’s daughter, Brenda Boyert, said as a young person she didn’t understand why there was a big office in their basement or why her mother needed to attend events on the Capitol steps.
After “40 years of dedication to something she believes very strongly in … she’s handing over her baby,” said Brenda.
“I am a product of my mother’s dedication,” said Brenda, who was adopted and loved by Boyert as her own. “I know no other mother than Mary Boyert.”
Mary Ann McNeil, director of PATH, thanked Boyert for her support.
Through Bible studies, Rachel’s Vineyard retreats and other efforts, the Chamblee-based nonprofit helps women and men suffering following an abortion.
“We have a ministry that has been misunderstood,” said McNeil. “Mary always got it.”
Pat Chivers, former communications director for the archdiocese, said she would often hear Boyert speaking on the phone with women about adoption as an alternative to abortion, or listening to women who had experienced abortion, leading them to God’s forgiveness.
Chivers called Boyert “a woman of grace,” who always tells the truth.
“You’re a little lady, but you’re a mighty lady,” she told Boyert.
A parishioner of St. Benedict Church in Johns Creek, Boyert plans to spend more time with her two grandchildren, Julian and Valentina, and to visit relatives in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
She even found time to visit the health club one recent morning.
“I might pick up with my piano lessons,” said Boyert. She gave up lessons years ago to devote time to her late adopted son, Tommy.
Although she is looking forward to time for family and fun, she knows she will continue in some way to promote life.
“It really has been an honor and a privilege,” said Boyert.