Remembering Henry Hyde

Henry Hyde, former longtime Illinois Representative and stalwart defender of life, passed away early this morning. Hyde, 83, had recently brought a long political career to an end, retiring at the conclusion of the last session. In that time, he earned a reputation as the most committed and uncompromising opponent of abortion in national office.

Since learning of his death, we’ve sought the reflections and brief tributes from those who knew and worked with Congressman Hyde. 

We will continue adding to the list as other remembrances come in.

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Today we lost a true public servant and an honorable American. Only weeks ago, Rep. Hyde received the nation’s highest civilian honor for his dedication to advancing the democratic ideals and fundamentals of freedom that make our country great.

He not only served America in combat, but also offered a strong voice for the people of Illinois as an effective member of Congress and a leader on foreign affairs for more than 30 years.

As a committed conservative, Rep. Hyde was a loyal Republican revered by friends, family, and colleagues from both sides of the aisle. He will be dearly missed.

— Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

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Henry Hyde was one of the rarest, most accomplished, and most distinguished Members of Congress ever to serve. He was a class act.

In the greatest human rights issue of our time — the right to life — Henry Hyde will always be known as a champion and great defender of children and their moms. Because of the Hyde Amendment, countless young children and adults walk on this earth today and have an opportunity to prosper, because they were spared destruction when they were most at risk. With malice towards none, Henry Hyde often took to the House floor to politely ask us to show compassion and respect — even love — for the innocent and inconvenient baby about to be annihilated.

Having served with this brilliant one-of-a-kind lawmaker, I know the world will truly miss him. Still, we take some comfort in knowing that Henry Hyde’s kind, compassionate, and generous wit and ability will live on in the many laws he wrote to protect and enhance the lives of others.

— U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)

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My personal recollection of Henry Hyde dates back to 1981 when, as the wife of a newly elected Member of Congress, I met the legendary pro-life advocate for the first time. As a pro-life activist myself, I was one of many in the Henry Hyde Fan Club who admired the articulate and passionate representative for his courage and skillful defense of the rights of the unborn child on the House floor, despite openly hostile opposition (including, literally, hissing and jeers). 

Upon meeting him, I was a bit intimidated by Henry’s reputation and towering stature, but he immediately put me at ease with a big bear hug. His enthusiasm and instant friendship toward a newly elected pro-life advocate who would be joining him in congressional debates for a culture of life — and his wife — was a moment to remember. We will miss Henry’s friendship and warm heart, but we know that his legacy and leadership will live on. His words, courage, passion, and example will continue to inspire lawmakers around the world.

— Marie Smith, director, Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues

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Henry Hyde was an example of a Catholic layman who took seriously the lay vocation to transform the world. He worked to defend the human lives of children before and after birth. He was a preeminent defender of the unborn and played a decisive role in passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. He consistently promoted the quest for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He was also a civil man, able to reach across the aisle and across divisive conflicts. We pray for the repose of his soul and the consolation of his loved ones with the confidence that the Lord himself will greet him with the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

— Bishop Thomas Wenski, Orlando

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Henry Hyde was the greatest Catholic statesman of our generation. As a congressman from Chicago (6th District) from 1975 to 2007, he made the defense of life his top priority at a time when the bishops’ conference was focusing on other matters. His persistence in the pro-life cause after Roe v. Wade paid off in the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1977 — the single most important piece of pro-life legislation ever passed, barring federal funding for abortion. Prior to the passage of the amendment, United States taxpayers were underwriting approximately 300,000 abortions each year.

I got to know Congressman Hyde after coming to Washington, D.C., in 1994. Although an icon and a giant to me, he was unfailingly gracious and generous with his time and help. Crisis Magazine honored him at its September 1998 dinner in Washington on the same day that, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he received the now-famous Starr Report on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. He arrived at the St. Regis Hotel with the newly published report under his arm.

I last saw him just before he left Congress, when I interviewed him for a book I was writing on religion and politics. He was clearly struggling physically, but his soul was still on fire about the issues he loved most. When I asked him why he left the Democratic Party, he replied (and I paraphrase), ‘The greatest sadness of my political life is how the Catholics in the Democratic Party have abandoned the cause of life. Don’t they care about what happens to them in eternity?”

I am sure Henry Hyde now knows the infinite joy of eternal life.

— Deal W. Hudson, director of

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Henry Hyde was a man of decency, honor, and moral courage who understood that public service is a noble calling that involves serving one’s fellow man, remaining true to one’s conscience, and standing firm in one’s beliefs. I knew Henry personally to be a gentleman and a man of faith and compassion. He was one of the finest public servants I have ever known, and he will be greatly missed.

— Ralph Reed, former executive director, Christian Coalition

Henry Hyde was a giant who looked after the interests of the most vulnerable in America and the world. Sadness at his passing is dwarfed by the appreciation of his full and wonderful life.

— Grover Norquist, president, Americans for Tax Reform

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Mr. Hyde was one of the great leaders of America’s modern age. His unshakeable commitment to the culture of life, and his belief that respect for our Constitution ensures freedom and human dignity, are the hallmarks of a virtuous public servant dedicated to God and country. His irrepressible commitment to defending the unborn was a source of strength for many in the policy world, and there are a number of battles that would have been lost were it not for his hard work and sound strategic judgment. We will miss his patriotism, moral force, and most elegant wit and oratory.

— Leonard Leo, executive vice president, Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies

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Henry Hyde was the most eloquent defender of the right to life who ever served in the United States Congress. He fervently and vigorously pursued any avenue he could to bring about the day when innocent human beings, from the moment of their conception, are once again respected and protected under the laws of our country.

Those of us who knew and worked with him are confident that today he is not alone before Almighty God — that he has been “greeted with a chorus of voices that have never been heard in this world but are heard very beautifully and very loudly in the next” — and they have led him this day before the Throne of Grace.

— Colleen Parro, executive director, Republican National Coalition for Life

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Henry Hyde spoke the truth with eloquence, gentleness, and conviction. He earned the respect of his opponents and the loyalty of his supporters. His great voice is now stilled, but his example sets a standard for everyone in public life. May he rest in peace.

— Michael Schwartz, chief of staff for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)

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Henry Hyde is a great-hearted man in the original sense of the term. He was man in the habit of doing great things; he was incapable of being or doing anything small. He was a founding member of the Becket Fund Advisory Board and will be greatly missed.

— Seamus Hasson, founder and chairman, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

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Henry Hyde was one of the few true statesmen of both the House of Representatives and the conservative movement. His long career included many notable achievements, but he may well be remembered most for his principled, passionate defense of the sanctity of human life, including the unborn. He was an inspiration to many conservative House members.

— Patrick J. Toomey, president, Club for Growth
former U.S. Representative (PA)

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Henry Hyde was fearless. Would that more members of Congress would emulate his courage of convictions, common touch, and sheer decency. One cannot speak of the pro-life movement these past decades and not begin with Henry Hyde. May he rest in eternal peace.

— Jim Towey, president, St. Vincent College, Latrobe, PA
former director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

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Henry Hyde was a remarkable leader who acted on his convictions and principle — and not on the political climate of the day. He will be deeply missed.

— Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS)

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Henry Hyde stood — unashamed, unafraid, unwavering, and uncompromising — for the rights of the unborn. His courage should be an example for us all.

— Frank Hanna, CEO, Hanna Capital

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Henry Hyde’s greatest achievement was championing the interests of unborn infants. But he also championed those already born — new mothers seeking time off from work to care for their children; mothers and kids on welfare who failed to get child-support checks from deadbeat dads; and Romanian orphans abandoned in their native land.

— Mark Stricherz, author of Why the Democrats Are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People’s Party

The expression “to live on after death” has special, tangible meaning when one’s legacy is the protection of human lives. Henry Hyde will live on through the people he protected via pro-life legislation in his long career in the U.S. Congress. Further, his courage and conviction in countless other areas will continue to inspire new generations of leaders.

— Arthur Brooks, Louise A. Battle Professor of Business and Government Policy, Syracuse University

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The pro-life community has lost a giant of a man with a giant of a heart — Rep. Henry Hyde. His courageous defense of the least among us inspired millions of Americans to stand up for the rights of the unborn. We have lost a national treasure.

— Bill Donohue, president, Catholic League

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For Catholics committed to the policy debate in the public square through government service, Henry Hyde was our role model. Choosing to make his mark in the hurly-burly House meant the public did not get to hear Hyde speak for hours on a topic of his choice. In Hyde’s case, that was our loss. Instead, his tightly worded, impassioned remarks were often no longer than a couple of minutes. But, in the House, the highest honor is to speak last, and Henry Hyde batted cleanup for conservative positions for decades.

At his time of triumph, I can’t help but wonder if all those defenseless and voiceless ones for whom he advocated for so long welcomed him with sweet acclaim into his heavenly reward. It would be fitting.

— Matt Schlapp, executive director, legislative affairs, Koch Industries
former director, White House Office of Political Affairs

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My first intimation that Henry Hyde was gravely ill was when he did not appear in person to receive the Medal of Freedom (a providential and timely act of our President, glorianter in officio). But not having been told of his death, my reaction to a request for lines on the late Henry Hyde was to think that someone wanted my opinion on the 2nd Earl of Clarendon’s ambiguous relations with William of Orange. The later late Hyde’s life was such that his papers will outlast the Clarendon Papers.

Politics aside, I knew Henry as a priest. Although he was a man busier than I, he was able to remind me of things I had said in talks, long after I had forgotten them. It was my impression that he watched television late at night. He endured vicious intimidation with charity and was willing to be the victim of political demagoguery to promote the right to life. Much as he revered President Reagan, he told me that President George H. W. Bush was an even more reliable ally, and he especially esteemed his steadfastness during the Clarence Thomas nomination hearings.

— Rev. George W. Rutler, pastor, Church of our Saviour, New York

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When I had talks with Henry and heard him speak on occasion, I always went away better for the encounter. Henry was a man of great character, and the principles and virtues he lived by, too numerous to mention, are those all people should pattern themselves after.

Henry will be greatly missed. He was a true statesman.

— Mack Mattingly, former U.S. Senator (GA)

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We are saddened by the loss of such a great pro-life hero. May the Lord bless his family; may his soul rest in peace.

— Judie Brown, president, American Life League Inc.

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Henry Hyde’s public life reflected a deep understanding that all great moral questions are ultimately pragmatic. His belief in the unity of public and private morality was the foundation of his public service and his personal goodness.

— Tom Murray is an outspoken pro-life Democrat, attorney, author, and chairman emeritus of the Future of Russia Foundation.

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The contribution and veracity of former U.S. Congressman Henry Hyde to the defense of human life in our nation is his outstanding legacy. Unabashedly pro-life, Hyde epitomized the ideals of a zealous Catholic and man of integrity who worked with unflagging dedication to promote the dignity of the unborn. The testimony of his life will remain an exemplary witness and challenging invitation to those who seek to further the pro-life movement without compromise.

— Mother Assumpta Long, O.P.; superior, Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist

Henry Hyde’s single-minded focus on protecting life led to an amendment that saved the lives of countless human beings. His life reminds us that the rare man of courage can make an enormous difference.

— Karl Rove, former deputy Chief of Staff, President George W. Bush 

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We’ve lost the patron saint of the pro-life movement. Having worked with him for over 25 years, I can say that Henry Hyde was as respected as anyone in Congress, on both sides of the aisle. By his direct effort, the Hyde Amendment became law and, over the years, has certainly saved over one million lives. I don’t know of anyone in government, here or abroad, who has had the pro-life impact of Henry Hyde. Henry was a true Christian, a remarkably effective statesmen, and an extremely likable guy. He’s irreplaceable, but I think all of us should try.

— Dr. Jack Willke, president, Life Issues Institute, International Right to Life Federation 

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Henry Hyde was a dear friend of the Institute of World Politics: He gave the commencement address at the 2006 ceremonies, and he was also awarded the honorary doctorate of laws degree. We admired first of all his integrity, followed by his competence in the fields of international relations and diplomacy. But above all that was the simple fact that he was a most decent and honorable man. We will miss his friendship and council. 

— Thomas P. Melady, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See

President emeritus, Sacred Heart University

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The first time I met Henry Hyde, he was in the middle of fairly tense negotiations over the pro-life plank in the Republican platform. It was 1996; powerful figures within the party wanted to eliminate the plank, and the party’s presidential nominee wanted to modify it to please those figures. A group of reporters and activists were crowded around Hyde, and he was, at some length, telling a joke. It calmed everyone down. The placement of a comma suddenly seemed to matter a bit less. Henry Hyde was noble, he was funny, and he knew that every statesman had to be a pol.

— Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor, National Review

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We have lost a great Christian gentleman and champion of the sanctity of human life.

When I served as President Ronald Reagan’s liaison to the pro-life movement, we tried to send copies of Bernard Nathanson’s powerful film, The Silent Scream, from the president to each member of Congress. The office of the White House general counsel stopped us on a technicality. As usual, Henry Hyde came to the rescue, putting his signature to what would have been a letter from the president and delivering the copies from his office to each congressional office with the “dear colleague” letter. It made nation-wide news. This may be a small story in the list of his accomplishments, but it is indicative of his willingness and dedication to the cause. I heard him speak on the pro-life issue many times. Each time was like the first, because of the fire and passion with which he spoke.

His performance during the Clinton impeachment will never be forgotten. He declared to Congress its duty: “The flag is falling; catch the falling flag.” To its everlasting dishonor, the Senate dropped the flag by failing to convict Clinton.

I knew Henry’s wife, Jean, whom I used to see almost daily in the White House, where she worked as an angel of mercy, marshalling emergency care to the needy by calling all over the government. Theirs was one of the great love stories, and her death from cancer was a tremendous loss to him. One can only imagine the joy in heaven at their reunion.

— Robert R. Reilly, assistant professor of strategic communications, National Defense University

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Henry Hyde was there at the beginning of the pro-life movement. He defined his pro-life job in Congress and he stuck with it. If only there were such stable, disciplined, reliable pro-life workers in the halls of all our nation’s legislatures!

In the last century, Irish patriot and poet Padraic Pearse penned the ultimate loving compliment, and Henry Hyde deserves it also: He was faithful, and he fought.

— Connie Marshner, pro-life activist
former chair, National Pro-Family Coalition

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Henry Hyde was a model of perseverance, courage, character, and pro-life dedication. No one will forget his contributions to defending the dignity of human life, and it will be a long time before anyone duplicates the effectiveness of his witness. 

— Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Denver

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Henry Hyde governed from his soul. His was a life of integrity and decency. The politics of life are diminished by his passing. He will be sorely missed.

— Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma 

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Henry Hyde was a true gentleman and founding pillar of the effort to defend the truth and dignity of the human person at all stages of development. The Culture of Life Foundation, along with a plethora of other organizations assisted by his great service over the span of an entire generation, will continue to honor and revere this great giant. His legacy of unfailing support and tenacity shall remain the shoulders from which we are able to look ahead with a clear view towards the establishment of a culture of life.

— Jennifer Kimball, executive director, Culture of Life Foundation
Henry Hyde was one of the great figures of the pro-life movement and one of the truly distinguished figures of American politics at a time when distinction was in short supply. Words like integrity and courage come spontaneously to mind in thinking of this great man. He will be greatly missed and literally impossible to replace. I pray for the repose of his noble soul.

— Russell Shaw, Catholic journalist and author

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Henry Hyde loved life, and he protected it. He leavened the life of those around him with his ever-present sense of humor; he loved his God and set an example for all of us with his ever-steady faith. 

— Lee Edwards, Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought, the Heritage Foundation

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For what it is worth, Henry was one of the people I most admired on the Hill. Anytime he would rise to speak I would turn off the mute on the TV in my office. In fighting all of the prolife wars in the Senate, what turned out to be my best preparation for whatever coming floor battle was simply reading the congressional record of what the Gentleman from Illinois had said on the subject — and just as importantly, how he said it. He was a tenacious, principled, eloquent, lovely man. I lost a hero.

— Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator (PA)

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Henry Hyde was a true conservative hero. He was a patriot, a leader, a man who defended freedom and who understood America’s standing in the world and the need for us to lead, and most importantly, a man who defended life. The Hyde Amendment placed the U.S. government on the side of respecting human dignity and has served our nation well.

— Fred Thompson, former U.S. senator (TN)

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Henry Hyde was a hero to all those who struggle for the rights of children living in the womb. As a national leader, I benefited from his counsel and collaboration. As I travel the nation, I see each day the spiritual energy of pro-life activists. Henry Hyde’s example and consistent witness have been one of the sources of that energy. He often spoke about the chorus of children’s voices that would greet pro-life activists on the day of their judgment. Now, his words have come to pass in his own case. “Thank you, Congressman Hyde! When so many ignored us, you spoke up for us. Welcome home.” 

— Rev. Frank Pavone, national director, Priests for Life


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It is estimated that the efforts of this man, with the courageous proposal of the Hyde Amendment at the beginning of his 32-year congressional career, has literally thus far saved the lives of over 1,000,000 human beings.

Sharing with Lincoln a common origin from Illinois, that state can now truly boast that it has two comparable heroes who can take a proud place in the history of human rights. The freedom of an entire race that President Lincoln, to his own great regret, could only accomplish through the bloody battles of a long civil war, Henry Hyde achieved through a singular courage and unstoppable decision to amend one piece of legislation in order to ensure the protection of as many unborn American lives as possible.

Following his conscience, Mr. Hyde quite literally amended not only a piece of legislation, but he amended, reminded, and renewed thereby a whole generation’s appreciation of the unassailable dignity of the human being.

I remember one speech that Henry gave where he spoke movingly of his personal reflections about what the silenced voices of aborted children might otherwise have been able to express, write, create, laugh, and pray, had they simply been able to exercise their right to birth.

Due to Henry Hyde’s personal choice to live his life as he did, the otherwise-silenced voices of a million-strong chorus can now sing a continuous song of praise to God for this honorable man.

— John Klink, former Vatican diplomat and consultor for the Pontifical Council for the Family 

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Henry Hyde died last night, this renaissance man, in his 84th year. The encomiums from friends and adversaries alike are all over the TV news, talk shows, the newspapers. 

Brilliant, they say he was. Eloquent orator, powerfully effective in political compromise, a consummate gentleman, rapier wit always moderated with charity.

Yet there was vicious contumely in the blogs and reader comments, the hatred of everything this good man stood for and accomplished.

The Hyde Amendment draws heaviest fire: No tax money to kill babies in abortions. In the face of a self-indulgent and corrupt culture, Hyde rose in unshakable defense of life. He prevails still, and “they” hate him for it. Viciously.

Then there was his outrageous leadership during the impeachment of President Clinton. Though intrinsically reluctant to prosecute a president of his nation, Hyde led the eight manager-prosecutors through the painful process of establishing beyond doubt Clinton’s obstruction of justice and perjury. Clinton, popular with many Americans to whom freedom means self-indulgence, no restraint, resented deeply the man who would impose the rule of law on their president. And they were validated by a corrupt majority of U.S. senators who, having one by one raised their hands in solemn oath to uphold the Constitution, immediately proceeded to acquit, to declare “innocent,” this criminal president. Politics stood higher than Hyde’s and America’s rule of law. Hyde was and is anathema.

The liberal culture, exonerating all faults in their worship of self-indulgent freedom, gleefully dug up a serious mistake of Hyde’s some 30 years before the Clinton trial. He was threatened with its revelation, the gross embarrassment, the unmasking that would label him a hypocrite. “Back off, Hyde.” With penetrating eagle’s gaze, Henry looked into their watery eyes and declared himself, like all men, a sinner who sinned, sought his Savior’s forgiveness (O felix culpa), and proceeded to his duty with dignity and courage.

In the Congress, Henry was incomparable — respected for his virtue as a man of grace and integrity. Yet the hate-spewing detractors in blog and print point to his failing as a human being. They miss the great reality that the whole of life measures a man before a just God and His world.

Henry Hyde, ready to serve — as he always did — his God and his fellow men (especially constituents like me), stands before God and His world, as a man of virtue.

— Jerry Urbik, Chicago Catholic and longtime friend of Henry Hyde

It was with great sadness that I heard of the death of former congressman Henry Hyde. Senator Hyde’s will always be remembered for his courageous defense of human life at all of its stages. Because of this belief, he faced a great deal of opposition during his political life. Nevertheless, he remained faithful to his principles. He was a trusted political leader who served his constituents by upholding the truth.

— Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, cardinal archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia


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From my first involvement in the pro-life movement, I had heard of the great Henry Hyde, this giant of a man with an eloquence to match. I heard him speak and he was inspiring. He was someone you could trust, someone you could follow into battle. Then, as I got to know him as a friend over the years, I saw a man who epitomized the term “Catholic gentleman.” He was truly humble in a world filled with egos. He was extremely compassionate and cared about his constituents, and he was very aware of his own humanity, recognizing the role that God played in his life and this work he was called to do.

He was the voice of the pro-life movement for so many years in Congress. He was a hero to those who believed in protecting life and the enemy of the abortion industry. He would work with anyone anywhere to protect these most innocent in our world. He was never unwilling to speak to pro-life groups throughout the country, and his skills as an orator placed him in great demand.

Yet he always would remind us in his talks of that moment when we would stand before God alone. His words bear repeating as we thank God for this wonderful man.

When the time comes, as it surely will, when we face that awesome moment, the final judgment, I’ve often thought, as Fulton Sheen wrote, that it is a terrible moment of loneliness. You have no advocates; you will be alone standing before God, and a terror will rip through your soul like nothing you can imagine. But I really think that those in the pro-life movement will not be alone. I think there will be a chorus of voices that have never been heard in this world but are heard beautifully and clearly in the next, and they will plead for everyone who fought to defend them. They will say to God, “Spare him because he loved us”; and God will say not “Did you succeed?,” but “Did you try?”

He has run the race. He has won the prize. He will be missed. May he rest in peace.

— John J. Jakubczyk, Arizona Right to Life





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