Saint Thomas Aquinas was most particular when he offered singular praise for his esteemed predecessors: Aristotle was “the philosopher,” Moses Maimonides was “the Rabbi,” and St. Paul was “the Apostle”. We have reason to believe that Pope John Paul II was just as particular when he called his esteemed friend, Fr. Paul Marx, OSB, “The Apostle of Life”. The appellation is well deserved and was used as a title for Fr. Marx’s 1991 book that is an account of his work for Human Life International. This “apostle,” at that time, had carried the pro-life message personally to more than 90 countries and shipped pro-life material to 111. “Dear Father Marx,” wrote James D. Sangu, Bishop of Mbeya, Tanzania, “You are indeed the Apostle of Human Life Protection”.
The Apostle of Life is also an urgent plea to his readers to join him “and all the other Apostles of Life to work among our thirty-eight international branches as we do what the Holy Father calls the most important work on earth”. In contrast with St. Paul, who was an apostle, traveler, and a writer, Fr. Marx was an apostle, traveler, and a fighter, as was made evident in another book of his which he called, Fighting for Life (1989).
In order to understand the genesis of Fr. Marx’s missionary zeal for life and his clear recognition that the abortion establishment was imperiling civilization, we turn the clock back to a conference that took place at the International Hotel in Los Angeles, January 22-24, 1971. The theme of the conference was “Therapeutic Abortion: a Symposium on Implementation”. Since Fr. Marx was a professor of sociology, he attended the conference under that title and armed with a tape recorder. What he discovered, and recorded, became grist for his best-selling book, The Death Peddlers: War on the Unborn (1971).
At that time, abortion was legal only in 17 states. Nonetheless, the rate of abortion was increasing rapidly and the climate of the culture was moving inexorably toward a permissive abortion law on a national level. The keynote speaker was Dr. Leon Israel, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania school of Medicine. He discussed “The Liberation of Women from Unwanted Pregnancy” and set the tone for the conference. Anticipating the infamous Roe v. Wade decision exactly two years later, in 1973, he declared, “Early interruption of pregnancy, poorly called ‘abortion,’ is a female right”. Dr. J. G. Moore, professor and chairman of obstetrics and gynecology of the School of Medicine at UCLA offered three reasons why there must be abortion: to control population, to insure that the family can properly educate the children they want and because it is a mother’s right. Dr. Robert E. Hall, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, foresaw a golden age of easy abortion and sexual freedom without compulsory motherhood, an age inaugurated by a multiform abortion law”.
“In this crazy world of the abortion symposium,” wrote Fr. Marx, “a man may lose touch with the realities of life and love, honor and duty, human dignity and divine transcendence.” At the symposium, abortion is called “back-up contraception,” the unborn child is “a product of conception, a contraceptive failure, and a “mistake”. A lawyer suggests that the unborn need an advocate for their death, a clergyman defends the fetal right not to be born, and a theologian calls it blind religiosity to speak of unborn babies. A passage from G. K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse comes to mind: “I tell you naught for your comfort, yea naught for your desire, save that the sky grows darker yet, and the sea rises higher.” It was time to act, and Fr. Paul Marx certainly answered the bell.
As Fr. Marx affirmed in his autobiography Faithful for Life, published in 2008, this kind of experienced of the pro-abortionists made him realized without a doubt that from that point on “the developing culture of death would preoccupy me for the rest of my life and would take me to many countries of the world.” All in all, he traveled to 91 countries spreading the pro-life message. His life was not easy, but he was blessed. He was arrested three times. Planned Parenthood, which sued him, dubbed him as “public enemy number one”. What was more difficult for him to accept was the vilification he received from members of his own order. On the other hand, he survived three nearly-fatal car crashes, was forcibly removed from several abortuaries, almost died from the high altitude while in the Bolivian mountains, and should have been on the fatal Pan Am Flight 103 that was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. God is also an apostle of life.
Personally, I remain indebted to Fr. Marx. He was instrumental in the publication of my first book – Abortion in Perspective: The Rose Palace or the Fiery Dragon. He invited me to speak at several of his conferences. We kept in touch. In the last letter I received from him, he praised my book, New Perspectives in Contraception, as the best book on the subject he had ever read. And I am most grateful to serve as a “Senior Fellow” for Human Life International in the capacity of a writer.
Paul Marx was born on a dairy farm in the town of St. Michael, Minnesota, the fifteenth of seventeen children. That small community of 2,500 people has produced more than 100 priests and nuns. When Fr. Marx, OSB passed away on March 20, 2010. His obituary in the Daily Catholic read as follows: “Father Paul resided at the Abbey in Collegeville, but also continued to write when he could and prayed constantly for life in all its stages. Throughout his 47 years of service for the cause, Father Marx not only provided encouragement to pro-life advocates the world over, but in God’s great book gave life to many of His innocent ones who wouldn’t have had a chance without the efforts of this ‘Apostle of Life’.”