The joy and sorrow of modern day pregnancy served as the topic of the evening at the seventh annual benefit to support the St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center. EWTN Radio personality Gloria Purvis delivered an address that explained the troubles she had on her journey to have a child.
Bishop Richard J. Malone opened in the Feb. 27 event at the Millennium Hotel in Cheektowaga by thanking the record-breaking 400 people in attendance and warning them of legislation that could make abortions legal even after the child could live outside the womb.
"No one can accuse us in the Diocese of Buffalo of only caring for the unborn child. That is our primary focus, but we also care about the parents of that child, and want to walk the journey," he said. "Pope Francis calls it accompaniment. We want to accompany women and/or couples who are in these situations where there is a pre-born child at risk. So, we have the right things in place in this diocese, thanks to all of you and many others."
Purvis, who holds a degree in human development and family studies from Cornell University, told some personal stories of becoming Catholic at the age of 12, and how she faced opposition to her long-desired pregnancy.
She grew up in Charleston, S.C., which has a small Catholic population, and an even smaller black Catholic population. Although, not from a Catholic family, her parents wanted her and her siblings to have the best education, so they sent them to Catholic school.
At the age of 12, as punishment for participating in a food fight, Purvis and her fellow students were told to sit in adoration. While seeing her principal, Sister Carmelita, praying in adoration, something happened to Purvis.
"I still remember the sensation," she said. "My body was consumed with fire. I was set on fire, but it didn't burn. At that moment, gazing upon the Lord in the monstrance, I knew that It was real and It was alive. Just like that."
When Sister Carmelita began to prepare Catholic students for confirmation, Purvis told her teachers and parents she would become Catholic as well. When presented with the tasks of weekly Mass, prayer and meatless Fridays, she agreed.
Her siblings followed suit, with the family's support. Her Baptist grandmother insisted she see Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II when they come to South Carolina.
"I keep thinking, what a blessing that my parents didn't stand in the way of my becoming a Catholic, but I think I stood in the way of my becoming an actively pro-life Catholic," Purvis said. "I believed what the Church taught. I had no qualms with what the Church was teaching about anything. But, I was happy to go to just sit in a pew on Sunday, go to Mass, pray my rosary, and not eat my meat on Friday."
Years later, married, living in Washington, D.C., she was reciting the Creed when another lightening bolt of faith struck her. "When we get to the part of the Creed where we say, 'I believe in the Holy Spirit and the Lord, the giver of life.' It was like, 'Bam.' I had what I can only call a very quick, short, brief chastizement from God. It changed my life," she said.
Thoughts and fears that she was too silent regarding the sanctity of life flooded her. Purvis said she fell to her knees and began to hunger for what the Church teaches. She became a sidewalk advocate, praying outside abortion clinics. At the same time she and her husband were using Natural Family Planning to start their own family.
Fifteen years went by with no children. A doctor explained, in non-medical terms that her body was "jacked up" and she would not have children. After a near-death experience of her mother, the family visited the grotto of Lourdes, France, said to have healing powers. Both Purvis and husband said a prayer for children while in the baths. Just a couple years later, she was pregnant.
Happy as she was, her doctor suggested termination due to her age and medical history. Her child might have "issues" and be a "problem."
"I was really taken aback, because I really believe that the medical profession believes in a women's choice. Well, they only believe in a choice when the child is perfect according to their standards," she said, adding the termination could have taken place right there, and her husband would never know she was pregnant.
During ultrasound, the technician looked for a reason to terminate. "If my child needs something, you share that with the doctor," Purvis told him. "I am not here to talk termination. I felt like I was running the gauntlet to get to delivery. This is another aspect the Pro-Life Movement needs to recognize. They say they're pro-choice and respect women's choice. I can tell you my experience with medical doctors is just the opposite. It has been, 'You're child's not perfect. You need to terminate.' I kept hearing that over and over. I was fighting every time I went in."
Purvis went on to talk about how she had a steady income, husband and insurance as support during her pregnancy. Many women don't.
"Imagine the stress and anxiety they're under. Imagine the worry. Imagine the pressure," she said. "Is it any wonder some do choose abortion? I would say it's not a free choice because they've been pressured. They've not been given any help or resources. I would say this is why we have to support places like the St. Gianna Pregnancy Outreach Center and the Mother Teresa Home, places that give women support. I can guarantee you, when they get that help and support, they encounter Jesus."
Having traveled the country, Purvis said St. Gianna Center and Mother Teresa Home are the finest in the nation. She also praised Bishop Malone for not shying away from speaking about public policy.
At the end of her speech someone called from the audience. "I have to know what happened to the baby." Lourdes Grace is now a healthy 7 year old, born two days before Christmas.
The St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center Benefit Banquet is held annually to raise money to support the increasing need to provide clothing, car seats, strollers, diapers and bottles to families that are referred one of St. Gianna's four locations in Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua and Cattaragus counties.
"When I think how in 2009 we started in a little room at the St. Vincent de Paul Center, which was about 8 by 12, then we were bursting at the seams and had to take stuff upstairs to the warehouse. We opened up our first center. We know have four centers with helped over 1,500 families this year," explained Cheryl Calire, director of Pro-Life Activities for the Diocese of Buffalo.