Father Paul Marx, OSB
The Apostle of Life
Born on May 8, 1920, in St. Michael, Minnesota, Paul Marx was the 15th of 17 children born to devout Catholic parents, Elizabeth and George Marx. The example of his parents gave him an instinctive understanding of the sanctity of life. From this family came two priests and two nuns. He received his bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN, continued studies at the University of Minnesota and the Catholic University of America, where he earned a Doctorate in Family Sociology in 1956. He completed postgraduate work at Harvard, the University of California and the American University.
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1947 and became part of the faculty of St. John’s University. In the 1960s, Fr. Marx became actively engaged in promoting the sanctity of life, writing his first pro-life article in 1967. He applauded the release of Humanae Vitae in 1968 with its condemnation of abortion, sterilization, and contraception, but found himself increasingly scandalized in the months that followed by the widespread dissent that greeted this teaching of Pope Paul VI. Determined to defend what he saw as a prophetic document, Fr. Marx founded the Human Life Center at St. John’s University, in 1972.
Fr. Marx’ outspoken defense of life quickly gained him a national reputation, but sparked criticism within his own community. Many there were uncomfortable with his condemnation of contraception and his opposition to abortion. Fr. Marx was gradually ostracized by many of his confreres as well as a number of bishops, priests and theologians.
In 1974, following the infamous Roe vs. Wade decision, Fr. Marx was forced to leave his beloved St. John’s Abbey. With a few dollars and an old car given to him by his abbot, Fr. Marx drove to Washington, D.C., where he received assistance from a few layman friends. He continued his pro-life work and in 1981 he renamed the Human Life Center and founded Human Life International (HLI). For years he operated HLI from a warehouse in Gaithersburg, MD, providing pro-life books, pamphlets, films, videos, posters and fetal models to followers all over the world. A good part of his material covered Natural Family Planning (NFP) and alternatives to abortion. It was here that I met Father Marx. My oldest son, Mike, was on a visit from California where he was very active in pro-life work.* As I lived in Maryland and it was only a short drive to the famous warehouse, Mike encouraged me to go with him to visit Fr. Marx. This was my introduction to the pro-life world and NFP. My life changed forever. Mike and Father made me aware of the enormity of the anti-life forces at work and my need to be involved.
During his apostolate, Fr. Marx visited over 90 countries promoting the “Culture of Life,” urging local pro-lifers to organize and defend life from conception to natural death. He promoted numerous world conferences, supplied mountains of NFP and pro-life material to pro-lifers all over the world.
He authored a series of books that provided information to pro-life groups across the world. The first book he wrote was after he infiltrated a major anti-life conference in 1971. What he learned at the conference he published in The Death Peddlers: The war on the Unborn. It became a sensation in the pro-life movement and sold over a million copies. He continued to publish books until his autobiography in 1997 called Faithful for Life. During his lifetime, he wrote thirteen books.
In the 1980s and 1990s the movement grew in such size that in 1996, HLI constructed a building in Front Royal, VA, and moved their warehouse inventory and other facilities to this location. Under his direction, and with God’s grace and the help of generous donors, Fr. Marx founded many organizations across the globe including the Population Research Institute (PRI), situated in the same building as the HLI headquarters.
HLI grew to become the greatest pro-life organization in the World. With all of this attention the International Planned Parenthood Federation labeled him "Public Enemy Number One.“ He also drew considerable attention from those who should have been on his side. He stood up to the American bishops at a time when most of them babbled about a “seamless garment.” Some in the pro-life movement found his style of management challenging. The latter may have been his undoing, as in 1999 Fr. Marx stepped down from the leadership of HLI. As he often said, ”The truth shall set you free, but it won’t make you any friends.” He retired to St. John’s Abbey, but continued to be actively engaged in the fight for life. He attended and spoke at numerous conferences in the Midwest, California and in London, England, as late as 2004 at the age of 84.
Father Marx was admired by pro-lifers all over the world. Pope John Paul II told him, "Fr. Marx, you are doing the most important work on earth." Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, said, "Fr. Marx was, first and foremost, a priest who was not afraid to be a prophet. He knew that his mission in bearing witness to the Gospel and in fostering love of God and neighbor compelled him to speak up for our smallest neighbors, those in the first moments and weeks of life. He undertook countless initiatives, made seemingly endless trips, gave innumerable talks, wrote a warehouse of articles and books, and inspired countless people in the effort to build a Culture of Life.”
Father Thomas Euteneuer, who is currently the president of HLI, said, "When the fight for life is finally won people will look back at this dark age of destruction and wonder who opposed the onslaught. Standing among the greatest champions for life will be Fr. Marx, not only for his own work, but for the work done by the countless other pro-life warriors he inspired.” Stephen Mosher, head of PRI, said "He rarely slept. He would work until 2 or 3 AM. Then he would sleep . . . get up at 7 AM, have his prayers, have breakfast. He never received a letter that he didn't answer, and he never received a phone call that he didn't return."
Above all, Father Paul Marx was a visionary and a prophet. He predicted the abortion and euthanasia resulting from contraception. He knew the dangers of organizations that promoted these evils. He foresaw the demographics that are eliminating whole cultures in Europe. He knew the mortal harm that birth control would cause everywhere especially the loss of the faith of Catholics.
Father Paul Marx’s favorite quote was “A truly Catholic life is not the easiest and most satisfying, but the hardest and least comfortable. The more serious we take Catholicism the more tasks and obligations await us.”
Those of us in the pro-life movement can only say, ”Amen!”
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