Special Articles

 

Francis X. Popper

1915-2008

Francis Xavier Popper was born in Jackson , Wyoming , and received his undergraduate degree in civil engineering in 1937 from what is now the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was a civil engineer and surveyor with the Coast and Geodetic Survey until 1968, when he joined the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission. At the Coast and Geodetic Survey, now part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, much of his work involved surveying in and around the waters of Alaska while it was still a territory. He retired in 1982. The Internet still has a number of articles about Francis and the work he did while a member of the Coast and Geodetic Survey.

An Army lieutenant in the Pacific during World War II, he received the Silver Star and two Bronze Star Medals. One Bronze Star Medal citation described how Francis, serving in the Philippines , witnessed a squadron of torpedo boats hit by an enemy plane and set on fire. He turned his engineer boat into the burning wreckage and aided by his crew, pulled the wounded survivors from the water.

In retirement, Francis was active with Holy Family Seminary church in Silver Spring and was active in the Pro-Life movement. He was a steadfast prayer warrior and sidewalk counselor until his 90s when he could no longer continue due to poor health.

 It was in the Pro-Life movement that most of us came to know and love Francis. I first met him as a prayer warrior near the Cigna Abortuary in Kensington , Maryland . At that site, the Pro-Lifers could not get near the front door of the abortuary, so Francis, his friend Bill Luksic, and I would hold signs near the sidewalk along Connecticut Avenue , a major throughway to Washington DC . Needless to say, Francis, Bill and I and others including Budne Reinke, Diane Reinke and Tharpa Roberts were the recipients of small items thrown at us along with many negative comments. Their work plus the hard work of others who prayed and attempted sidewalk counseling finally paid off, and the abortuary closed.

From the Cigna abortuary, Francis moved on to the abortuary on Georgia Avenue in Washington DC . It was here that Francis’s strong Christian qualities became evident. Always cheerful, he always had something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, "If I were any better, I would be twins!" He was a natural motivator.  Francis’s health declined to the point where he could no longer drive, so he often took a cab from his home in Maryland and got a ride home from me or our friend, Dick Retta, another sidewalk counselor.  He was in his late 80s and was not the tall man of his youth. He was in frail condition but kept on going. This had one advantage: women coming in for abortions would often refuse literature from the rest of us but accept it from Francis. 

When things were slow Francis would tell stories or recite poems he remembered.  One time when it was exceedingly cold as it sometimes is on a windy winter morning in Washington, Francis by memory quoted, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” by Jack London, just to keep us motivated and our spirits up.  He told me stories of his survey work in the boundary waters of Minnesota as he knew I had been there several times.  He was extremely knowledgeable, informative and interesting.          Although he liked to recount his experiences, he never touched on his war record and his medals. We found that information by surfing the Internet.

One of the stories from the front lines of the Hillcrest Abortuary concerned Dick Retta, an outstanding sidewalk counselor.  Dick would often go down to the abortuary during the week, and Francis would go with him as he didn’t want Dick to go alone and wanted to be there to support him. 

In a rare occurrence, a woman and man who had gone into the abortuary later came out and stood near the front door smoking while they waited for the abortionist to arrive.  Dick went over to talk to the woman and within a few minutes the man, who did not want Dick to talk his girlfriend out of an abortion, began to assault Dick.  He first held his cigarette near Dick’s face, then later threw a drink at him and kicked his bag containing extra flyers which flew all over the sidewalk. Dick had started to call the police using his cell phone when the man grabbed the phone and threw it across the street. He started to leave but then turned around and went after Dick again. It was about this time when Francis came to Dick’s rescue. Francis stepped between the man and Dick, raised his arms and told the guy, “Leave him alone!”  

Needless to say, Francis was no match for the younger, stronger man and fell to the ground when the man pushed him. Dick heard someone say, “He knocked the old man down!” At that, the man ran away, and Dick went over to help Francis. Already, two passersby were helping him up.  Francis emerged with a few scratches on his face and arm.  Police were called, but the man had disappeared.  This was another instance of his concern for others rather than his own safety. 

Francis’s language was always colorful.  One time he participated in a pro-life demonstration in front of a USCCB meeting.  When it was over, another demonstrator, Sharon DePoorter, took his arm, saying, “Let me help you so you can go to the next meeting.”  Francis replied, “No, go ahead. I don’t want to be a barnacle on the ship of progress.” 

As another counselor, Joan McKee stated, “He was always a cheerful presence, and I loved to think he, like Dick Retta, had so many children and was willing to reach out to rescue everyone else's.” 

The Hillcrest Abortuary finally closed, and Francis moved on to the Planned Parenthood Abortuary in Silver Spring .  Francis’s failing health (he was 90 years of age) finally overcame him, and he was unable to come to the abortuaries.  This did not stop him. He continued his pro-life work from his home in Silver Spring , attending Mass and other activities until his death.

Francis had lost his wife, Eunice Kelly Popper, in 1997.  He was survived by nine children, 23 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The Pro-Life community will deeply miss Francis X. Popper. It is said that we pro-lifers will meet all of the children we were unable to save when we get to Heaven.  I know Francis had a wonderful welcome home.

He was a hero to all of us.

Jim Fritz

 

 

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