The BLOG: Voices

Harvard hears a Mother’s plea

On June 10, 1982, my first child, John, graduated from Harvard College. Mother Teresa of Calcutta received an honorary degree that day. As I sat in the warm spring sun with my family waiting for graduation to begin, people passed out newspapers with articles quoting Mother Teresa’s Class Day speech the day before.

Here’s an excerpt from that day’s Boston Globe:

In a highly unusual address (to students yesterday), Mother Teresa, the ‘angel’ of Calcutta issued a personal call to Jesus and a return to family life marked by chastity, love, prayer, sharing of material  wealth and reverence for unborn life … Presented to an exuberant audience of more than 3,000 people as a point of reconciliation within different religious beliefs, the tiny missionary, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, caused a hush to come over the crowd as she told them:

“You and I have been called here to love one another. To be kind to one another. Let us preach not by words but by example. Go in search of the poor. If you find them, you will love them. And if you love them you will serve them. I do not want people (merely) to share their abundance.  I want them to give until it hurts.”

While waiting for her turn at the podium, she sat with her head bowed, silently saying the rosary. The solemnity of her speech and manner stood in absolute contrast to the light-hearted tradition of the day…

“If a mistake is made,” she said, referring to unintended pregnancy, “have the courage to accept the child. The greatest sin is to destroy the child, the creation of God.”

As I pondered these words, I was drawn back 39 years, to my mother’s sudden death, after we got dressed for church, when I was 7. Later that day, at my grandparents’ house, I overheard someone say: “Pixie wore her mother out.” I figured it was my fault she died. I carried guilt for it much of my life, until God began healing me in a big way this day at Harvard graduation.

As I looked over the expectant crowd, I assumed some of the women there had had abortions and I thought maybe I can understand their pain and maybe they can understand mine. It was a very deep thought, one that brought a ray of hope that I wasn’t alone in my silent grief.

This and many other “Markings of Mercy” led me with others, to found the After Abortion Helpline in Rhode Island. The Helpline was a free, non-sectarian, anonymous telephone service from 1985 to 1998 staffed by trained, compassionate volunteers, willing to listen and help people who were troubled after receiving abortions.

Joan Pendergast

Joan Pendergast

Joan Pendergast founded and ran After Abortion Helpline, Inc., in Rhode Island, for 20 years, and helped develop and run Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats for the Diocese of Providence. Joan is the author of “Markings of Mercy: The Story of After Abortion Helpline.”