Dr. Steve Spaulding’s alliance with Sharon Pearte began before he’d even met her, while he was living some 3,000 miles away.
As Spaulding recalls, in the early 1990s Pearte had managed to discover he was a pro-life physician who was planning a move to the Southern Tier.
"Sharon contacted me while I was still in California. She hooked me into giving a talk at (Elmira’s) St. Joseph’s (Hospital)," said Spaulding, whose practice is based in Montour Falls, Schuyler County.
From there, a friendship was formed that continued for two decades until Pearte’s death on Jan. 25, 2012, at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She was 65 and had suffered from cancer.
Pearte was a member of Chemung County Right to Life dating back to the 1980s, tirelessly promoting the dignity of human life and end of abortion. She was a longtime CCRTL president and was serving as its vice president at the time of her death.
Dick McGill, a founding member of CCRTL in 1970, said Pearte’s involvement in the organization included helping bring in national pro-life speakers; assisting with fundraising; annually organizing the CCRTL booth at the Chemung County Fair; and joining other CCRTL members for regular volunteer turns at the Elmira Community Kitchen.
Spaulding further noted that Pearte was a steady participant in rosary vigils on Saturday mornings outside the Horseheads Planned Parenthood. He added that she had a special knack for getting others on board with the pro-life movement.
"She was just a holy woman, and would get people to do things for this cause because she was such a good person," commented Spaulding, the current CCRTL president.
McGill agreed that Pearte was a deeply spiritual woman, as reflected when she made her final commitment as a Third Order Dominican in the summer of 2010 at Elmira’s Monastery of Mary the Queen.
"She also loved what other people might think a right-to-life person might do in her own family. She looked after her children, her grandchildren, other people’s children, her great-grandchildren," observed McGill, a member of Elmira’s Christ the Redeemer Parish.
A top cause of Pearte’s was her involvement with the annual March for Life. She made numerous trips to Washington, D.C., to protest the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that legalized abortion in the United States.
"It makes you proud to be a Catholic and proud to be pro-life," she said in a January 2011 Catholic Courier article, describing the feeling of being among hundreds of thousands of like-minded people in the nation’s capital.
For many years, Pearte — a lifelong member of Elmira’s St. Mary Southside Parish — coordinated March for Life bus pilgrimages out of St. Mary Our Mother Church in Horseheads, where Spaulding is a parishioner. She stopped traveling to Washington a few years ago but continued to help organize trips as well as local prayer services commemorating the march.
In fact, Spaulding said Pearte insisted on being a contact person for the most recent March for Life even though she was quite ill. Her gall bladder cancer had been discovered in the spring of 2011 — not long before her husband, Joseph, died on June 5. Spaulding acknowledged that it was fitting Pearte passed away only about 36 hours after the 2012 March for Life occurred.
"She has been offering her suffering the whole time for the (unborn) babies," he remarked, adding that he had visited Pearte the previous Wednesday and "her spirits were great. She was still Sharon, her optimistic self. She asked about the march."
Spaulding, who added that Pearte’s selfless example "has influenced for good innumerable people in our area," said he has raised the possibility of an annual Sharon Pearte Dinner to honor her legacy: "The rest of us must now try to take up her baton and press forward."
Pearte’s funeral Mass was celebrated Jan. 28 at St. Mary Southside Church. Interment was at Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Elmira.
She is survived by her children, Lisa M. (Vern) Mallacoccio, J. Michael Pearte and Maria T. (Dave) Springer; brother, Lynn (Marjorie) Philbin; sisters, Margaret (David) Redfield and Kathleen (Peter) Dineen; eight grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and a number of in-laws, nieces, nephews and friends.