Pro-Life Champions

Even in eternity: A good shepherds lifesaving impact

Editor’s note: Christ commissioned His apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Saint Matthew 28: 19’20). When His apostles’ successors—the Catholic bishops—faithfully teach and apply Christian truth, the culture of death is forced to retreat. When they fail to do so, the culture of death advances. We’re honored to profile a bishop who took his God-given power and mandate seriously, and the many good fruits that grew from his fidelity and courageous example. 

Ask those who knew the late Bishop Emeritus Edward T. Hughes of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, and they will tell you he was a champion of human rights, devoting himself to preaching passionately against abortion. In homily after homily, he mentioned the right to life of all persons, and urged that respect for life be put into action through political activism, practical help for women, and prayerful protest against abortion.

He set an example by attending Life Chains in his diocese each October and the March for Life in Washington, DC, where the faithful from his diocese sometimes saw him as he walked prayerfully up Constitution Avenue, rosary in hand. He also started the tradition of an annual respect life Mass at St. Francis Cathedral in Metuchen each January.

Walking the pro-life talk

And yet one more way Bishop Hughes put his pro-life convictions into action was by serving on the advisory board of Life Choices, a nonprofit pregnancy resource center in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. He joined in 2000, when the board was established, and remained a member until his death, celebrating Mass in honor of its anniversary nearly every year, on the Feast of the Annunciation.

“Bishop Hughes was a prayerful, kind, and quiet man,” said Joan Fasanello, director of Life Choices. “Yet, he was outspoken and strong with regard to Catholic moral principle. He did not hesitate to publicly correct politicians who claimed to be Catholic, but did not stand up for the right to life.”

In an October 18, 2011, letter to Life Choices’ board, Bishop Hughes wrote,

Our respect life cause is a magnificent cause. It is a direct challenge offered to us by the Lord of Life. We cannot fail to respond to this demanding call from the Lord to protect life. He will never cease blessing us for our efforts to protect the people for whom He died. We know that this struggle will be long and difficult, but we must never, never give up.

Life Choices has been placed under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe and is guided by Catholic moral principles. Its women’s health center provides free pregnancy testing; ultrasounds; counseling; accurate information on abortion, adoption, and parenting; screening for sexually transmitted diseases; and education on natural family planning. It also operates a mobile clinic housed in a 34-foot recreational vehicle that is driven to college campuses and city neighborhoods throughout New Jersey, to offer pregnancy tests and ultrasounds for women considering abortion.

“Ultrasound allows the baby to ask his parents, ‘Can you love me, Mom and Dad?’ Such a clear image of the unborn baby, heart clearly beating, provides for a beautiful bonding moment,” Fasanello said. “No matter how sure a woman is that she wants to go through with an abortion, seeing the baby and knowing that very real help—practical help and resources—can be provided will almost always save a life.”

In addition to its two medical clinics, Life Choices operates Holy Family Center, a resource center where parents come to receive material assistance for their families. The center is stocked with clothing for expectant mothers, babies, children, and teens, as well as cribs, diapers, formula, canned food, toys, car seats, safety gates, bassinets, and baby tubs—anything and everything that families might need. These items are supplied free of charge to the 500 families that come each year to seek help. Parenting classes and mentoring for young families are also available.

Bishop Hughes told Fasanello that he often worried about where women facing crisis pregnancies could turn for help, but was reassured by Life Choices’ presence in the community. “He said that seeing all the baby things we had to share and our willingness to serve these young moms gave him great joy,” she said. “I really was impressed by his obvious heartfelt kindness and compassion. I saw a beautiful reflection of Christ’s love for his people.” She added, “Bishop Hughes’ praise for our work gave us great encouragement.”

Through its ultrasound program and material assistance for women, children, and families over the past 13 years, Life Choices has saved the lives of thousands of preborn babies who were at risk of abortion. Fasanello said that at the last count, 6,036 children had been helped by Life Choices.

Life Choices is currently working to repair a 15,860-square-foot, three-story building in Phillipsburg in order to open Grandma’s House, a home for pregnant or homeless women with children. According to Fasanello, other pregnancy shelters in the area don’t allow young children to stay with their mothers, or they accept only women battling substance abuse. Besides a safe place to live, Grandma’s House will provide rehabilitation and child care to help women achieve independence. It will offer educational resources that address domestic abuse prevention, life-skills mentoring, budgeting, health and nutrition, parenting, chastity, and adoption.

Continuing his legacy

When Bishop Hughes passed away on Christmas Day of 2012, Life Choices’ board members decided to find ways to honor his remarkable pro-life legacy. “His letters always promised that he would continue to be involved by keeping us in his prayers, even in eternity, and now his teaching and his strength [regarding] abortion is what led us to make this decision,” said Fasanello. And so it was that they started the Bishop Edward T. Hughes Memorial Scholarship, awarding $500 each year to an outstanding student who is also a parent and wants to continue his or her education.

But they didn’t stop there. When the Knights of Columbus gifted Life Choices with two new 4-D ultrasound systems (which display clear, three-dimensional images of a preborn baby in real time) in 2013, Life Choices’ board decided to pass along the center’s original, 13-year-old ultrasound machine so that it could continue to help mothers choose life for their babies.

“We took such good care of it that it still works extremely well,” Fasanello said. “We were looking at pictures of [the occasion] when Bishop Hughes blessed the machine. We thought, in honor of him, why don’t we think of a way to use it so that it helps underprivileged people in another country and continues its lifesaving work?” Thus, it has been donated to a diocesan-operated clinic in Uganda, the country with the highest abortion rate in East Africa.

Certainly this would please Bishop Hughes, who, in his homily on January 22 (the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decriminalization of abortion), 2006, made this statement: “Our concern for others, our care for the poor and the weak, our reaching out to victims of natural disasters, our unending quest for peace and social justice, our determination to abolish racism—all these testify to the sacredness of all human life and the dignity of every human person. We build a culture of life by the way we treat others.”

Does Life Choices have further plans to honor Bishop Hughes? Absolutely. Fasanello said Life Choices will continue its mission as long as there is a need, “spreading the gospel of life by providing tangible assistance to those in crisis pregnancy and families in need, educating the public at every opportunity about the miracle of human life, and building a foundation of prayerful support centered on the Holy Eucharist,” thereby fulfilling Bishop Hughes’ request that pro-lifers “never, never give up.”

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About the author

Teresa Murphy

Teresa Murphy is a freelance writer for the Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Metuchen diocese, and lives in Belvidere, New Jersey, with her husband, William, and son, James. To learn more about Life Choices, visit LifeChoicesOnline.org.