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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Mary Helen Colleli

Gordon: When did you join Holy Family Church and when were you appointed as their Respect Life Coordinator?  

Mary Helen: Our family joined Holy Family parish in 2009. I volunteered for the position within a year or two, when the former Coordinator and her family moved out-of-state

Gordon: Could you provide our readers with an overview of your responsibilities as the Respect Life Coordinator?

Mary Helen: I’m currently on sabbatical from my RLC duties, due to caring for my mother in our home for the last few years, but my tasks included a weekly pro-life bulletin column on current life issues worldwide, and helping to organize participants for the two annual 40 Days for Life campaigns. Our parish also participates in the annual Baby Bottle fundraising campaign.  

Gordon: What first interested you in being active in pro-life advocacy?

Mary Helen: The eldest of six children, I was fourteen when I learned about abortion, which had just been legalized by Roe-v-Wade. I recall a 1973 newspaper headline that read:  “Abortion Clinic Opens Tomorrow – 25 Patients Scheduled” and asked my parents what it meant. The paper came around dinnertime back then, and Mom was getting supper. She and Dad looked at one another for a long moment, dismay in their eyes:  I don’t want to be the one to tell her – could YOU please do it?” The glorious experience of Mom’s 6th pregnancy and my youngest sister’s birth, were fresh in my mind and heart, and my four-year-old baby sister was the joy of my life. I had first felt her move within Mom’s womb, and was eleven when she was born. I was thrilled to take care of my “living baby doll” and from that time on dreamed of someday becoming a mother.

When my parents gently and sorrowfully told me what abortion was, what a “doctor” did to a preborn baby during an abortion, it rocked my teenage world to its foundation. I listened, unbelieving, then ran to my father’s den, threw myself onto the couch, and sobbed. During that storm of weeping, it occurred to me that some of those women might be pregnant with twins, and I wanted to run out into the street and scream. 

My first pro-life feelings, then, were a mix of overwhelming terror and frustrated helplessness over the babies’ horrific deaths. Not surprisingly, I quickly found strength in Hellfire-hot hatred of the abortionists – I couldn’t call them doctors, and still don’t. My hatred grew to include those who supported the new law, and anyone on the fence regarding the issue – how could they possibly not instantly side with the babies!?!! – and finally, the women who allowed their babies to be aborted. Though raised in a loving Catholic home, and taught to never hate anyone for any reason, it being equivalent to asking God to send them to Hell, I reasoned that for those who supported abortion, my hatred of them was not at all sinful but justifiable, and Hell was where they belonged.

Then I read a quote from Rev. John Powell, SJ in his book, Abortion:  The Silent Holocaust: If the pro-life stance isn’t one of love, it is nothing. Fr. Powell’s words worked deeply into my angry, hate-filled heart. Hatred is, after all, what allows abortion to exist, and allowing it to control us always leads to death. 

As I struggled to love the mothers, the abortionists, those who coerced the women into choosing death over life for their babies, God helped my heart to widen, to feel compassion for the babies’ mothers, who often felt that abortion was their only choice. When I thought about these women, who felt that no other way was open to them, it filled me with the desire to meet their needs, so that abortion no longer looked like the solution to their circumstances. 

This is when I wrote the song, Let Me Live (© 1976, Mary Helen Adamshick). It lets us hear the sweet voice of an unborn baby, telling Mama that “I can feel pain too, but if you let me live and grow, I’ll ease the pain for you.”

God also gave me the desire to pray for the conversion of the abortionists themselves, and to feel compassion for them once their consciences were awakened and they realized what they had been doing. I prayed that once they truly saw their sin, they would not fall into the grip of insanity, but would seek God’s healing power, and beg His forgiveness, and receive His peace. Thanks to many pro-lifers’ prayers, many abortionists did repent of the evil they had committed, and are now ardent and vocal champions of life.

Gordon: At many of the local and national pro-life meetings there are a number of remarkable young people such as Students for Life. What, in your opinion, is driving the interest in pro-life issues among the young?

Mary Helen: I think most of today’s youth approach the abortion issue without the baggage of the 70’s women’s rights battles. They don’t seem to have the knee-jerk reaction to pro-life legislative goals that 60s and 70s students did. And there’s been ultrasound for as long as they can remember – the window to the womb which former abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson said would allow us to witness the humanity of our unborn sisters and brothers, bringing that visible reality to the forefront. Since Roe, we have experienced a boom in prenatal research, and our global human family is reaping the benefits from the knowledge gained regarding prenatal human development, videos, and most especially the life stories of women and men who have experienced the abortion of their children firsthand. 

It’s always a wonderful experience to talk with young people today, to witness their passionate commitment to their sisters and brothers in utero. They are particularly protective of children who are at high-risk of being targeted for abortion due to disabilities including Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida, and anencephaly.  

Because of these generous and loving young people, the annual March for Life is a joyous yearly event, filling pro-life veterans like me with gratitude and great hope, as every year hundreds of thousands of young, loving and strongly prolife people swell our ranks, vowing to not allow abortion to remain the law of our great land.

Gordon: Could you comment on Ohio's pro-life legislation to ban abortions of babies with Down Syndrome?

Mary Helen: I have mixed feelings about Ohio’s House Bill 135, because of my conviction that NO babies should be directly aborted for ANY reason – gender, disability, illness, etc. (Incidentally, the removal of babies growing ex utero, i.e. in a fallopian tube, so as to prevent the mother’s death is not a true abortion, as the child’s death is an unintentional result of the maternal life-saving surgery). Being limited to banning abortions of children with Down Syndrome, this bill doesn’t go far enough. It actually allows discrimination and prejudice against babies who are given a death sentence simply because their biological parents do not want them. But I support any bill that targets abortion with the goal of decreasing the number of abortions committed, as long as the legislative battle over said bill will not further entrench Roe v. Wade by the bill having no chance of being approved by the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, this bill cannot be enforced, because all the mother has to do is not tell the abortionist why she is seeking the abortion, so the bill will, in effect, be largely symbolic, which I believe is its original intent. 

Gordon: In 2003, you had some major concerns about the local Brownie troop of which your young daughter was a member. Could you provide our readers with an overview of your concerns and how your addressed these concerns?

Mary Helen: I did speak with the Scout leader – a neighbor and friend, whose daughter and ours were best friends – about my concerns regarding a couple of weekend events. One such event involved a multi-troop sleepover, during which the girls, ranging in age from K thru 8, would be asked to share stories of their experiences with death. There would be no professional bereavement counselors present, yet the troop leaders were dismissive of parental concerns that such a discussion topic might open doors to situations the Scout leaders weren’t prepared to handle. Another event was a multi-troop campout in a nearby town, during which questionable campfire activities occurred, involving the Scout leaders.  

Shortly after those incidents (our daughter did not attend the “death” sleepover, and had already gone to sleep when the other adults and I gathered around the campfire), I learned that Girl Scouts of America had partnered with Planned Parenthood on the national level. I was not willing to be involved in any way with the organization after that. Thankfully, our daughter was not interested in continuing in the Scouts, as other, more wholesome, school activities were more attractive. 

Gordon: You are a lifelong vocalist and experienced guitarist, former Folk Group leader and Children’s Choir director. You currently cantor at your home parish, and sing for weddings and funerals. Could you comment on the relationship of sacred music to a connection with God?

Mary Helen: Physical artists express their faith through their favorite medium – paintings, stained glass, sculpture. Musicians put voice and instrument to their faith experiences, allowing others to audibly share those insights, and join in their songs. Musical compositions whose foundation is Scripture help us to transcend day-to-day methods of communication, opening a place in our hearts only music can reach. Indeed, the nature of certain musical phrases and combinations of notes seem specially designed to connect us with the Heavenly Chorus, reverberating through the soul while echoing in the ear. I think God gave us music to express our faith in ways that simply talking would not accomplish.  

Gordon: Do you have any favorite recording artists?

Mary Helen: Having no older siblings, I first listened to my parents’ music, which was largely classical. But my Dad also enjoyed folk, popular on college campuses in the late 50s/early 60s, and I grew to love The Brothers Four, The Kingston Trio, Joni Mitchell; Joan Baez, and Judy Collins.

I loved Mason Williams’ Classical Gas and ran the 33 album at the lowest speed of a Talking Book machine to learn to play it on the guitar. I memorized all 18 ½ minutes of Alice’s Restaurant  by Arlo Guthrie, and Judy Collins’ rendition of Joni Mitchell’s hit song, Both Sides Now - the first folk song I earned to play. Upon discovering him in the mid-70s, Gordon Lightfoot became my favorite songwriter, guitarist and singer.

At age ten I was singing and playing guitar for our home parish Folk Masses. At first the music was simple campfire songs, including modified versions of “Here We Are” and “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,” then secular lyrics by The Beatles, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan rewritten into semi-sacred songs. Then the St. Louis Jesuits, a group of priest/musicians, introduced sacred folk music specifically for worship, and wrote several Masses complete with Mass parts and service music. This became the “new music” for the Church, much of which is still sung today.

Gordon: You also volunteer at a radio reading service. Could you explain to some of our younger readers what this is?

Mary Helen: VOICEcorps, located in Columbus, Ohio, broadcasts news and other information to the blind and disabled via radio. Subscribers are provided with a free receiver, and can also access the frequency on computer. The weekly schedule includes everything from call-in talk shows on various topics (sports, cooking, etc.), daily store ads, chapter books read, to religious and daily news from the Columbus Dispatch and other newspapers. The neat thing about it is that you don’t have to be a voice actor to read on VOICEcorps, just have a desire to bring the world to listeners.

Gordon: You are also a prolific blogger. So I am closing this interview with a comment you made on a blog a few years ago:

"Abortion is the most destructive act in the world.

  • It fatally targets a completely innocent and entirely helpless human being in the earliest days of his or her life.

  • It deadens that child’s mother to the frantic promptings of her motherly heart to nurture, not destroy.

  • It scorns the responsibility of that baby’s father to protect his defenseless precious daughter or son from horrific slaughter.

  • It allows evil to take over the soul of the abortionists tempted by monetary gain.

  • It twists the consciences of good people who hesitate to impose their beliefs on others regarding a ‘medical procedure’ that is, after all, legal.

  • It robs our global society of irreplaceable members and their gifts to our human family – their art, poetry, music, architecture, literature and medicine – and their now-forever-unborn daughters and sons."


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