Modern Day Saints
Back in October 2006 it was Dick Retta who was there with Charlie Heise and me three days a week as we began our sidewalk counseling at the Hagerstown, Maryland, abortion center. We had occasional help from others, but mostly it was the three of us. Dick could only be there temporarily, so Charlie and I spent a lot of time praying for helpers from the local Catholic Church – St. Mary’s.
Our prayers were answered by the arrival over the years of three wonderful women. Each has several children and is a devoted Catholic pro-lifer. First to arrive was Gail Hoffman, then Angela Carroll and more recently Geri Doyle. Angela and Gail began as prayer warriors without any official pro-life counseling training, and we soon made certain they received professional sidewalk counseling training from Dick Retta. Geri came to us already well-trained and with years of experience at the abortuaries in Nebraska.
The Hagerstown, Maryland abortuary opened in 1979. Since then, dozens of wonderful, dedicated pro-lifers, both Catholic and Protestant, have been praying and counseling in front of the abortuary in all kinds of weather. There have been valiant efforts and a number of ‘saves’. However, in October 2006, Jeanne Nolan, a weekly counselor, felt they needed help. She asked me to participate. I agreed and recruited Charlie Heise and Dick Retta. Dick is an “old pro” who teaches a sidewalk counseling class and had over 250 saves to his credit. The three of us began an intensive and organized effort of sidewalk counseling three mornings a week before the abortuary opened until after the abortionist arrived.
Charlie took over scheduling the pro-life activities and keeping records of the times and numbers of women entering the abortuary, the abortionists, the workers, the saves and those who come and support the effort. He also provides the pamphlets, the signs, gifts for the expectant mothers, Birthright materials to give out and everything else.
On the day devoted to the Feast of the Guardian Angels, Dick and I agreed that we were indeed blessed with three angels sent by God. Since Charlie is at the abortuary three days a week, as dependable as humanly possible and the unofficial chief coordinator of the people praying and counseling at the abortuary, we decided to call the three "Charlie's Angels". When I told Gail this, she laughed and said because they prayed for help from the Holy Archangels Saint Michael, Saint Raphael, and Saint Gabriel; someone figured Angela could be given Saint Michael since she likes him so much. Geri chose Saint Raphael, and Gail was to receive Saint Gabriel. Gail had three blessed medals in her purse with the Archangels so she gave Angela and Geri their own Archangels and kept the Saint Gabriel Archangel medal for herself.
Of course the purpose of Charlie’s Angels is to convince women at the abortuary not to abort their babies. In this they have achieved a great deal of success. There has been an average of eight verified “saves” a month since we commenced our efforts at the Hagerstown abortuary in October 2006. We were so successful, the abortuary called in the escorts (we call them deathscorts), attempting to prevent us from talking to the women on their way into the abortuary. When only Charlie and I were present we did fairly well – we have had as many as three saves in one day. Now with Charlie’s Angels, the saves have increased to as many as four in one day. Our top counselor is Geri. She spots an abortion-minded woman or couple even before they have parked their car. She is often there kneeling at the driver’s side, talking to the couple and showing them flyers before they are out of the car. She is at work saving lives before the rest of us are aware of what is occurring. Once I spoke to a woman who sat in her car as she struggled with her decision, and I was getting nowhere. I sent Geri over to the car, and the woman changed her mind within ten minutes. The rest of us watch her work and are amazed at her persistence and results. Geri is very aggressive towards the deathscorts, keeping them occupied and nonproductive. She also works at converting the deathscorts to the pro-life side.
The Hagerstown abortuary is in a low-class neighborhood in a blue-collar town, only a few blocks from a huge Rescue Mission, and we often encounter the alcoholics, the drug users, and the down-and-outers. We are asked for money for everything from coffee to filling a prescription (which we have done for a person with a bi-polar condition). One day Gail told the prayer warriors about a powerful prayer by Father Mychal Judge, He was an NYPD chaplain who died at Ground Zero. It went like this: “Lord, Take me where you want me to go. Let me meet who you want me to meet. Tell me what you want me to say. And keep me out of your way. Amen.” A short while later, a man stopping to look at our signs asked us why we didn't get in trouble with the police for loitering. We explained it is a public sidewalk, and he said when he stands on the public sidewalk in front of the liquor store, he gets in trouble with the police. One of the pro-lifers asked him why he stands on the sidewalk in front of the liquor store, and he said, "...because I'm an alcoholic...a drunk." Gail asked him if she could put his first name on the pro-life report for prayers for him. Then she told him there are over 50 pro-lifers receiving the pro-life report who will probably be praying for him. He was truly touched that Gail asked, and he agreed. “Will” (his name) had a long story beginning with 18 years of Catholic school, including preparing for his career in a Jesuit law school, a wife and two toddlers, alcoholism, rehab and failure. Gail told him he should try asking the priest to pray for him and he should ask for the Sacrament of the Sick. He said it was funny that I mentioned that, because his Jewish friend, a lawyer, also told him to do that. Others on the sidewalk who counseled him reminded Gail later about praying Father Mychal's prayer and how awesome it was that we were able to be there to help this person.
All of the counselors told Will not to give up. They emphasized the power of prayer. MaryAngela, Angela and Gail gave Will a Rosary with the prayers, the Divine Mercy picture and Chaplet prayers, a brown Scapular, a green Scapular, a Miraculous Medal, blessed holy salt, and a phone number to call for help -- and even some homemade cookies. MaryAngela suggested to Will that he pray the Rosary for 54 days (a special novena) and keep moving forward, even if he has some relapses. She emphasized they would also pray the Rosary for 54 days for him and for all of the sick, poor, homeless, and suffering people, especially those who have problems with addictions, including two alcoholic men in their 70's who are homeless and live in the woods around Hagerstown.
Several weeks later Gail and her daughter, Christina, paid a visit to Saint Mary's for confession. Who did she see but Will, the man they had been praying for since they met him. Then Gail saw Angela, and they stepped outside to talk. Angela said she had seen Will walking in the rain just as she was leaving the abortion mill. She gave him her raincoat and took him to Saint Mary's to pray. She prayed with him for about an hour and then told him he should go to confession. He agreed and went to confession immediately. It was then that Gail realized Angela hadn't been home yet after her very long day in the heavy rain in front of the abortion mill. Her shoes and pant legs were still soaked.
Angela is also adept at talking to the deathscorts. While she was on vacation, one of the deathscorts kept asking about her. This deathscort, whom we shall call David, kept asking when she would be back. When she returned the first thing he wanted to talk to her about was confession. Later, Christina, coming from St. Mary’s Church, coincidently brought with her a “St. Michael” booklet and a “How to Make a Good Confession” pamphlet. Angela offered these to David and he chose to keep the pamphlet on Confession. Angela and David spent some time talking in private. Several weeks later Angela asked the deathscort to meet with her again. He agreed to meet her at a restaurant downtown after he was through escorting. .At the end of the day, Gail, Geri, Angela and Christina left to get Chinese food before Geri drove Angela over to see David. After dropping off Angela, Geri returned to the restaurant to talk and pray for Angela and for the conversion of David. Angela was to call Geri for a ride home after talking with David. They waited two hours before the call came.
While they waited, Geri, Christina, and Gail went to the downtown library on Potomac St. and took a walk downtown in the beautiful weather. They could see Angela and David near the restaurant. When she finished talking to him, Angela came over smiling to sit down on the steps with the others but said she was too excited and would stand to tell us what happened. They told her we had been praying hard for her and for David. She said we must have been because she felt the Holy Spirit did all of the talking. Angela told Gail as they were on their way over to see David, she and Geri had prayed the prayer she always prayed to the Holy Spirit: “Holy Spirit, be my guest, help me always do and say what's best.”
Angela indicated it went well, and he listened to her and was following her (or the Holy Spirit speaking through her) pretty well. She said David likes Mary Magdalene and the Gnostic gospel of Mary Magdalene. She told him about the books of the Bible which were rejected and said he knew some of that already. Angela told him she's praying that Mary Magdalene will show him the true Gospels of Jesus. She said everything seemed to fall right into place. Right after she gave him the Gideon New Testament and read from the Psalms book she told him, “It is important that you read the Bible every day.” She said he looked down and noticed a little paper on the ground. On the front page it read, “The Lord is present with you.” Inside was a beautiful psalm, and on the back cover was noted: “It is important to read the Bible everyday!” Angela didn't think she could have planned it any better. She said David was amazed and told her she should hold onto that paper!
Angela had developed a rapport with David before she found out he liked Saint Mary Magdalene. Gail found the Saint Mary Magdalene holy card and medal in a religious goods store and asked Father Collin to bless them. Gail told Father who she would give them to and asked him to pray for him. Many others are also praying for him. Just before Easter the seminarians who come on Saturdays told everyone there including David to have a Blessed Easter! David was touched and remarked that the people in front of the abortion mill were different from some so-called religious people, and he was impressed by them. I guess “they will know we are Christians by our love.”
After Gail, Geri and Christina finished discussing Angela’s talk with David, they walked back to their cars in the library parking lot. As they were walking, they passed a water pipe tobacco store. Suddenly, Geri asked, "Where's Angela?" Well, Angela could not pass that store without stopping to talk to them about the tobacco they sell for the water pipes or something like that. She really went in to talk to and pray for them.
Angela came out, and they all started toward the library when Geri asked, "Now where's Angela?” They had just passed the door to the “Mystical Keep,” so they knew where she must have disappeared. At least 20 young people were sitting around tables playing Magic Cards; possibly also playing Dungeon and Dragon games, and various odd, probably demonic and satanic-leaning games. Geri needed to leave, so they looked inside and saw Angela weaving in and out through the tables. Her lips were moving, and Gail said, "Angela's praying in there." Geri didn't want to bother her so Christina went inside and spilled some holy salt.
Angela came outside and told the others what happened inside the store. She said she was looking intensely at something when the store owner came over and asked if he could help her. She shook her head “No!” and went on walking and praying for everyone in there. Angela stuck out like a sore thumb in her white shirt walking among all of those seated young people in dark T-shirts. She stood out like an Angel! She's a true inspiration to us all.
While Gail was driving Angela home from a previous trip downtown, Angela asked if she could stop at the library to drop off a rental CD or DVD. Angela was evangelizing as she walked towards the library door. She saw a young man wearing a cross with a group of young people. She held up her Rosary of the Unborn and began telling them about it! They told her they had always wanted Rosaries and asked if she had any more! She came over to Gail and asked if she had any Rosaries. Gail had only one Rosary, but she had a few blessed Miraculous Medals, a Scapular, and some Holy Cards. Angela made sure they had enough for everyone and started giving them out.
One man asked if they were starting a Church because he would like to join a Church! They told him they were not, but were Catholic, and he was welcome to go into Saint Mary's Church any time during the day to sit or kneel and be with God, truly present there. He told them he'd better not go inside the church because he might get in trouble. He said he had just come from court and had gotten in trouble for “fussing with a police officer.” He admitted it was not an excuse, but he had been drinking since the death of his mother. He seemed alone, and Charlie’s angels told him that God loves him. This was the Thursday before Divine Mercy Sunday, so they told him about the Love and Mercy of God. At 3:00 p.m., Angela suggested they pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for this man. Gail gave him the Divine Mercy booklet from Saint Mary's with the prayers, and they prayed the chaplet. When they were finished, he thanked them and said he was watching them pray each prayer and move their fingers over the beads, just as his priest friend had done. He was very touched by their prayers and concern for him. They invited him to stop and see them in front of the abortion center or at Saint Mary's Church and told him it was fine for him to go inside Saint Mary's Church during the day, that he would feel better if he spent time in there with Jesus. He told them that he goes by often and might stop to see them. Then several other men showed up and they were given holy cards, and Gail gave them some extra groceries from her vehicle.
These angels could give us all lessons in evangelization. As Gail told me, “I'll pray that we get more people involved in pro-life work in Hagerstown. They don't know all of this good stuff that they're missing!
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