WATERLOO — A black marble bench stood outside the doors of St. Mary Church on Oct. 7, its gleaming surface reflecting the gray skies overhead and the statue of Mary that stood serenely a few feet away.
At 10:30 a.m., parishioners began spilling out of the church after Sunday-morning Mass. Many of them headed straight for their cars, pausing for only a few seconds to look at the new addition to the church grounds. More than two dozen of them lingered, however, admiring the bench and the Scripture verse engraved on its polished surface.
“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. Isaiah 49:15,” read the gray letters engraved into the bench’s top. Along the front edge of the bench were engraved the words “Memorial to the Unborn Child.”
The parishioners gathered around the bench had lingered to watch Colleen Spellecy, Lena Shipley and Kathy Peters bless the memorial bench during a short ceremony and dedicate it to the unborn victims of abortion. Shipley, the parish’s pastoral associate, led the blessing because Father James Fennessy, pastor, had to leave right after Mass to preside over Mass at St. Patrick Parish in Seneca Falls, which recently clustered with St. Mary.
Spellecy, the parishioner responsible for proposing the memorial-bench project to her parish, began the ceremony by expressing her gratitude for the parish’s support.
“St. Mary’s has had a long history of pro-life activities,” she said.
During the 1970s, a group of St. Mary parishioners regularly protested and prayed outside the former Taylor Brown Hospital in Waterloo, where many abortions were performed. Eventually these abortions ceased, likely due in large part to the efforts and prayers of the protesters, Spellecy said.
“At the same time, people from St. Mary’s organized a March for Life in Geneva, which was held consecutively for at least five years. This march was held on or near the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973 that allows for the destruction of human life in the womb,” she said.
After marching and laying a wreath in memory of aborted babies at Geneva General Hospital, the marchers usually would board a bus in Waterloo and ride all night until they reached Washington, D.C., where they then took part in the national March for Life, she added. Adding to the church grounds a memorial to abortion’s unborn victims seemed a natural next step for the parish, Spellecy told the Catholic Courier.
“Memorials to the unborn have been a pro-life activity over the years encouraged by the late Cardinal John O’Connor and supported by the Knights of Columbus,” she said. “The National Memorial to the Unborn in Tennessee is built on the grounds of a former abortion mill where 35,000 abortions took place.”
The grounds of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Irondequoit and St. Michael Parish in Newark each contain memorials to the unborn victims of abortion, and a similar memorial also stands at St. Columbkille Cemetery in Seneca Falls, Spellecy said. The bench at St. Mary Parish was placed opposite the parish’s outdoor statue of Mary because Mary is the mother of all humanity and her sacred womb held Jesus for nine months, so she is the protectress of all unborn life, Spellecy said.
With the help of a grant from Finger Lakes Area Right to Life, St. Mary Parish was able to purchase the bench at cost from Bill Cook, who maintains the parish cemetery and owns and operates Cook Memorials in Waterloo.
Shipley, pastoral associate at the parish, said she was encouraged to see so many people present for the bench’s blessing and dedication.
“Your presence here today honors these victims, whose lives were snuffed out in a single act of selfishness. Your presence here today brings us hope,” she said to those gathered. “This monument is dedicated to all the unborn children … whose lives were taken from them while they grew silently in their mothers’ wombs.”
After dedicating the bench and praying for all victims of abortion, Shipley called parishioner and longtime pro-life activist Kathy Peters to come forward and present several special intentions. Peters led parishioners as they prayed not only for victims of abortion, but also for parents of aborted babies and medical professionals who have performed or supported abortions.
After those gathered had united their voices as one to pray the Lord’s Prayer, Shipley sprinkled holy water from a small container onto the bench.
“Lord God, ever caring and gentle, we commit to your love these little ones. Enfold them in your love,” Shipley prayed as she concluded the ceremony. “Bless this memorial, that it may be a sign to us of our need for your grace. Help us to embrace the gospel of life, to repudiate sin, selfishness and death.”
The parishioners of St. Mary Parish have been tremendously involved in pro-life activities throughout the years, and Spellecy said she hopes the bench will help them keep that momentum by providing a sacred place for people to come and pray for the end of abortion. The memorial also will hopefully provide a place of healing for people who have chosen abortion, she said.