JANET MORANA says it was “the intersection of Pavone” that helped restore her Catholic faith - and drew her to fulltime pro-life work.
Now the associate director of Priests for Life and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, Morana was a fallen-away Catholic in early 1989 when she met Father Frank Pavone shortly after the newly ordained priest was assigned to her family’s parish in Staten Island, N.Y.
She spoke recently with Contributing Editor Tom McFeely about her association with Father Pavone and about her own pro-life experiences.
McFeely: What was your childhood like as a Catholic growing up in Brooklyn?
Morana: I was raised in the Church before Vatican II, so everything was in Latin. When you went to church, you felt like you were entering into the presence of God.
You never went in church without your head being covered, and you stopped everything on a Saturday and went to confession at 3 o’clock. And on Sunday mornings you went to church, and on Sunday afternoon the family got together for Sunday dinner.
I distinctly remember when the Church changed. Suddenly everything went from Latin, and the priest turned around, the Mass was in English. Guitars and tambourines - the organ music went out, the incense was dropped.
And I think for my generation, especially for me, it became a time of great confusion.
I distinctly remember standing in line for confession in high school. I went to a tiny all-girls high school run by the Josephites.
And suddenly, as I got closer and closer, I said, “I’m not going to do this any more. This is ridiculous. I’m going to go in there and say a whole lot of things that had lost meaning to me; I don’t even know what I believe any more. I’m not going to do this.”
From that moment on, I stopped going to confession.
I continued to go to church for a little while longer, but I gradually started skipping Mass here and there. You stop doing this and then you stop doing that and you stop doing this. And before you know it, it’s like you bottom out and crash.
McFeely: How did you return to the Church?
Morana: What happened was when I started to have my three daughters, we lived with my in-laws in a two-family house in Staten Island. And I would let them take the girls to church every Sunday while I stayed home to cook Sunday dinner. That was my excuse.
And then, two days before Christmas in 1988, I got called to interview for a job in a school that I had never substitute-taught in before. And I got the job.
I came home and said, “I got the job! I start Jan. 2.” And my mother-in-law turned to me and said, “Now you’d better go to church and light a candle of thanksgiving.”
So I went to church and I lit the candle of thanksgiving. And because I was starting the job, I said, “You know what? I’d better just start going to Mass. I’ll go with the girls, so we’ll all be going to church.”
But I wouldn’t receive Communion because I still wouldn’t go to confession.
McFeely: What happened to change that?
Morana: In November of 1988, right before I got that teaching job, Father Pavone was ordained, and he was sent to my parish as a new priest. Here’s where the story starts to get very interesting - the intersection of Pavone!
One Saturday evening after the 7 o’clock Mass, we were near the back of the church. One of my twins, TaraLynn, started pulling me towards Father Pavone, who was coming in from having greeted people outside of the church.
As we got closer, Tara turned and said, “Father Frank, this is my mom, you know the one I told you really needed to go to confession.”
Well, I turned as red as can be. And Father Pavone said very calmly, “Tara, it’s okay, it’s okay.” And he said to me, “Very pleased to meet you.”
And he just turned to me very calmly and said, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to go to confession. But if you want, you can come and talk to me sometime.”
So I called him. And he said, “I’ll tell you what. I normally teach Bible class on Friday night. Why don’t you come to the rectory right about 9 o’clock, and I’ll see you for half an hour after Bible study.”
I came to that first appointment, and he got a little bit of my background and then he said, “Well, what do you think is keeping you from going to confession?”
And I said, “Because I disagree with the teachings of the Church.”
Father Pavone was very calm. He said, “That’s okay. But what are the teachings?”
So I started going through my list, my mantra: “I don’t believe in papal infallibility, I think birth control is okay,” and I went point, point, point through all that liberal junk of the ’70s and ’80s.
Father Pavone said, “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we begin to study some of the documents of the Church? If you’re willing to read, and then come to me, we’ll talk about it and then you tell me your objections and we’ll work through the teachings and see how you feel about them.”
So we started with Humanae Vitae - the biggie - and we went on from there.
It took me until the end of June in 1989, four months down the road, before I was able to feel I could go to confession - I had to work through all my “problems,” my “points.”
Then I did my confession on Saturday night after Mass. And it just felt so good. Because I could feel a weight coming off and it was such a warm feeling.
And then I said, “Thank you, Father. Tomorrow when I come to Mass with my kids, I’ll get to finally go to Communion.”
And he said, “You know, you can receive Communion now.” I said, “What do you mean? Mass is over.” He said, “No, you go up and kneel by the tabernacle and wait. I’ll be right there.”
So he went back into the sacristy and he met me up there and he gave me Communion. I knew that he was kneeling there, but at a certain point I lost all idea he was still there with me. But I felt like I was with Jesus. I was really with Jesus.
And I really feel that that was my first Communion. It was incredible. It’s just hard to describe - like a peace and a warmth, and I was with Jesus.
And I haven’t stopped going to Communion since.
McFeely: How did you become involved in pro-life work?
Morana: Gradually I got involved in activities in the parish, and in pro-life.
The pivotal experience of that, both for Father Pavone and me, was in October 1990. This was still during the Operation Rescue movement. There were some pro-lifers on Staten Island who were rescuers, who were going to jail. They invited Father Pavone to come to a rescue.
It was a very, very dramatic experience. The abortion mill was closed all day because of these activities, so whatever abortions were scheduled that day couldn’t happen. It took them almost until noon to free people chained to the doors.
And while they were chained to the doors, and the police were trying to get them out of there, Father Pavone and I were engaging different women coming for abortions. There was one young lady we were able to talk to, and give her over to the people there from the pregnancy center. They took her off to the pregnancy center, so I’m convinced that there was definitely a baby saved with that one.
That experience - ask Father Pavone about this, he’ll tell you the same thing - it was like a steel door dropped behind us that day. And from that point forward, our passion to do something about the issue became so intense that I felt I had to commit myself to this work.
McFeely: When did you become involved with Priests for Life?
Morana: In 1993, Father left my parish to do Priests for Life. And I kept helping him while I was teaching full time in Staten Island. We set up a little volunteer place in the basement of my home and we used to ship all the resources out from my home in the early days of Priests for Life.
As Priests for Life grew, and as the issue was growing more in my heart, I came to a crossroads in 1999 where I said I can’t do both. I can’t help Father and Priests for Life, and teach full time.
I love teaching, and maybe if we end abortion I’ll go back to teaching. But once I made the decision to leave teaching and work full time for Priests for Life, I felt a peace that I chose the right path.
McFeely: You are one of the two founders of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, which was formed in 2003 to educate the public about the damage caused by abortion. Why did you decide to organize the campaign?
Morana: Georgette Forney and I met through the National Pro-Life Religious Council. Georgette is the director and president of Anglicans for Life.
When the pro-life movement was moving towards the sad 30th memorial of Roe v. Wade back in 2003, people were beginning to look ahead in pro-life leader meetings and grapple with the question, “What is the movement’s response after 30 years of abortion?”
At the spring meeting of the council in 2002, Georgette and I looked at each other and said, “The movement has to have a woman’s response.”
Georgette herself is post-abortive, and I knew that. And she said, “You know Janet, I’m convinced that after all these years of abortion, there’s got to be more women who have had abortions and are willing to speak up and say The National Organization of Women and Planned Parenthood and NARAL, they don’t speak for us.”
And I said, “I am, too.”
From that we developed the concept of the campaign.
McFeely: In your work with the Silent No More campaign, what has particularly touched you?
I think the power is in the testimonies. I think the power is in watching a person get up, who has been healed, who has been redeemed, who feels the love and mercy of the Lord again, but feels compelled to come forward and speak to reach those people who are still locked in the sin and the shame of abortion.
The hope of the campaign is its three goals: one, to reach people who are locked in that sin and shame of abortion. They think it’s an unforgivable sin, they think there’s no hope. To reach them and say, “Yes, there’s hope.”
Two, to reach a girl who is maybe considering having an abortion, to say, “Hey, listen to these girls, they’ve gone down that road, they know it’s a dead end.” And maybe they’ll listen.
And finally, to reach the people who are sitting in the pews. There are so many people who are in church today that somehow think that women need abortion.
You know, we would rid this whole world of abortion if every person who said they profess Jesus Christ would stand up and say, “We’re not going to tolerate abortion anymore in our culture.”
And so our hope is that if those people who are caught in that mushy middle of culture with abortion hear the stories of women, they’ll say, “Ah, abortion isn’t good for women. And they don’t need abortion, it’s not good.”
We all have to be ambassadors of this message.
Tom McFeely is based in Victoria, British Columbia.