Next stop for life, the Supreme Court

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Deacon Geoff Bennett is Vice President of Parish and Community Relations at Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver, including the Respect Life Office.

It is inspiring to see states across the country significantly restrict abortion this year, primarily by banning the destruction of life within the womb once a fetal heartbeat is detected. These laws are also a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that nationalized the question of abortion and legalized the subsequent killing of tens of millions of babies.

Advocates of abortion and defenders of life are on a collision course at the Supreme Court. The only morally acceptable outcome to this issue is to outlaw abortion and to embrace the gift of life. The battle is rapidly intensifying. Any advocates for life standing on the sidelines need to join the fight with their voices and their votes. There is no room for complacency.

And while some would like to paint this as a purely partisan issue, consider that Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, recently signed a fetal heartbeat abortion ban in that state.

Meanwhile, consider how emboldened abortion activists have become in recent years. Have you ever seen someone on a power trip? I know I have, and they are people who think they are the smartest ones in the room. If they were half as smart as they thought, they would be dangerous. Unfortunately for children about to come into this world, they are dangerous. I’m talking about those people who  have taken it upon themselves to decide if a child should live or die.

Ever since Roe v. Wade, we’ve seen people debate where to draw the line on killing a child in the womb. Should the life of the child be terminated prior to detecting a heartbeat, before the child can survive outside the womb, or maybe just prior to being born? The bottom line is that we are talking about killing a human being out of convenience. But even being born may not protect a child from a mother’s choice of life or death.

Science has proven what those in the pro-life movement have always known: The child in the womb is a unique human being, never to be duplicated. Some abortion supporters have now crossed the line into advocating for infanticide. They argue that it is a woman’s choice — even after birth. So, what we have now is the mother being given the role of judge and jury, with a doctor enrolled as executioner.

Explaining his support of a proposal to loosen abortion restrictions, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was asked in January about a woman going into labor who desires a third-trimester abortion. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said, “The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother,” according to a video.

That discussion would be about whether mom wants the baby to live or die.

As of this writing, the U.S. House of Representatives has refused at least 50 times to vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

And just when you think that our elected officials (those who think they are the smartest ones in the room) can’t say anything more foolish, we have Alabama state Rep. John Rogers. During debate over the abortion ban in that state, he said, “Some kids are unwanted, so you kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them into the world, unwanted, unloved. Then you send them to the electric chair. So, you kill them now or kill them later,” according to a video.

Who is qualified to make the decision that anyone is “unwanted” and should be killed? I challenge even those who support abortion to stand up and condemn these misguided and callous politicians. When is this kind of rhetoric going to have consequences? Are these the type of people we want representing us?

COMING UP: Machebeuf basketball star traded success playing hoops for a solitary life of prayer

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Shelly Pennefather led the Bishop Machebeuf High School girls’ basketball team to victory in every game she played in. It was not surprising to her friends and classmates that she would go on to play college ball for Villanova and then play professionally in Japan. It was not even surprising that she would have a religious vocation.

What was surprising was the order she chose. In 1991, Shelly Pennefather drove to Alexandria, Va., where she entered the Monastery of the Poor Clares. She would become a cloistered nun, living a radical life that included going barefoot out of penance and poverty and praying all of the hours of the Divine Office, even at 12:30 a.m.

This also meant she would not see her family except for twice a year from behind a transparent screen. She would not hug them until 25 years after her profession.

“I was shocked that she chose a cloistered order,” said Annie Mcbournie, graduate of Machebeuf in 1984 and a friend of Pennefather’s. “I was not at all shocked that she chose a vocation.”

Her story was recently featured on ESPN, who recounted how Pennefather gave up being the highest-paid women’s basketball player in the world in 1991 to live a life in service to the Lord as a Poor Clare.

Pennefather took the name Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. This past June, Sister Rose Marie celebrated her 25th anniversary of her solemn profession: the long-awaited moment to greet her family from outside the screen, not to happen again for another 25 years.

Villanova teammates, friends, Machebeuf classmates, and family were all in attendance. She hugged her 78-year-old mom for what will probably be the last time.

Mcbournie was not able to make it but will visit Sister Rose Marie this fall. Since she’s kept up with her via letters, she is permitted to visit the monastery.

Pennefather attended Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver from 1980 to 1983 before transferring for her senior year due to her dad’s military job. She left Machebeuf with a 70-0 record.

“Her entire high school career, she never lost a basketball game,” Mcbournie said.

Mcbournie was a cheerleader and friend of Sister Rose Marie in high school, but a deeper friendship began 10 years after graduation. Sister Rose Marie’s brother Dick called Mcbournie before World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 since Mcbournie was still in the area.

Sister Rose Marie had just joined the Poor Clares and Dick and McBournie met up and spoke about the mourning process the family was going through, McBournie said. Dick mentioned to her that they could write Sister Rose Marie as many letters as they wanted, and one day a year, on the Feast of the Epiphany, she could write back.

Shelly Pennefather, pictured here in this photo from the Archdiocese of Denver archives, always exuded a deep spiritual life, her former Bishop Machebeuf classmates said. (Photo by James Baca)

“From that year on, I have been writing her every year,” McBournie said. She gives Sister Rose Marie updates on life, pictures from their high school reunions, and prayer requests.

“I have witnessed her journey through these letters,” McBournie said.

When Sister Rose Marie’s dad passed away shortly after entering, she was not able to leave the monastery to go to the funeral. McBournie saw how difficult these sacrifices were for her, especially in the early years of her vocation. But the letters show Sister Rose Marie’s joy.

“The last 5 to 10 years, I could just see her say, ‘I’m so blessed to be able to do this’,” McBournie said. “She’s so joyful.”

A fellow Machebeuf classmate asked McBournie for Sister Rose Marie’s address in order to have a little fun. He sent her a $20 bill with a note saying he thought she could use a smoke and a bottle of wine.

Sister Rose Marie did not miss a beat and in her yearly letter, she responded, “I bought incense, and I drank from the chalice,” McBournie recounted.

Shelly Pennefather (#15) had a 70-0 record playing basketball for Bishop Machebeuf in the 1980s, and went on to play for Villanova and then professionally in Japan. (Photo courtesy of Villanova Athletics)

But this letter sparked a friendship. This classmate has continued to write letters and even attended the 25-anniversary jubilee.

“Her letters are still hilarious, still very sarcastic,” McBournie said.

She remembers Sister Rose Marie being reserved and quiet in high school, focused more on school and basketball than anything else. Her father was in the military and the family was very disciplined, but they had a good sense of humor and quick wit, McBournie said.
“Her spirituality permeated her existence from the time she was young,” McBournie said.

David Dominguez was a few years ahead of Sister Rose Marie at Machebeuf but remembers her discipline and her talent. He called himself her cheerleader.’

“If it was really tight, we would start yelling, ‘Shelly, Shelly!’” Dominguez said. “It was one of my favorite cheers.”

Dominguez exercised at the Air Force base gym where Sister Rose Marie would train and play basketball with her dad and brother.

“I knew she had incredible skills,” Dominguez said. “It was kind of magical to watch.”

Sister Rose Marie recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of her profession of vows with the Poor Clares. She was able to hug her friends and family for the first time in 25 years. ESPN was there to cover the occasion. (Photo courtesy of Mary Beth Bonacci)

Dominguez also knew she was different.

“She was living for a different purpose than everyone else,” he said.

Sister Rose Marie’s devotion and personality remain the same, though she has traded in her jersey for a habit.
Although Sister Rose Marie can only write one letter a year, and can seldom have visitors, her friendship and influence reach far beyond the monastery walls.

Mcbournie said that their yearly letters have brought them even closer than they were in high school.

“I look forward to her letter every year,” Mcbournie said.