There will come a day in this country when future generations will look back on legal abortion with the same shame and abhorrence that we now look upon slavery. In that future those who stood up for the unborn will be regarded as heroines and heroes. On that day no name will be more praised than that of Father Norman Weslin.
Father Weslin followed an extremely unlikely path to the priesthood. Born 80 years ago to Oscar and Hilma Weslin, he was the 16th of 18 children, the first ten of whom died in infancy. The family lived in Iron City in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A tough land, it often produces tough people, and Norman Weslin was no exception. Always in trouble in school, a bright spot in his life was his future wife Mary Lou who he met in the fifth grade. She was Catholic and he was Lutheran, but that made no difference to him. As they reached high school age she became the center of his life.
At 17 he joined the Army and asked Mary Lou to marry him. She flatly refused unless he made something of himself. Perhaps to the astonishment of both of them he did. He graduated from Officer’s Candidate School in October of 1951 and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He went on to artillery and missile school at Fort Bliss, Texas. While there he converted to Catholicism and he and Mary Lou were married.
He then attended Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia which began his association with the 82nd Airborne. Unfortunately, it was here that he began to drink heavily and became, in the words of Father Weslin, for the next twenty years “a hopeless alcoholic”. While stationed in Panama in 1952 he almost killed Mary Lou while driving drunk. The doctor treating her after the collision told him that she had suffered a massive brain concussion and was going to die. A nurse gave him a green scapular and told him to pin it to Mary Lou’s pajamas and pray, “Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us, now and at the hour of our death.” He did so. Against the odds Mary Lou fully recovered and left the hospital three days later.
While on assignment in Japan Mary Lou and he adopted their children, two Japanese-American kids, a 2 month old boy and an 11 month old girl. (Along with his kids, Father Weslin now has two grandchildren and a great-grandchild.) After Japan it was back to Fort Bliss, where Weslin graduated at the top of his class in nuclear missiles. High level positions followed. He served tours of duty in both Korea and Vietnam during his career in the Army.
All during this time Weslin continued to drink heavily. In 1963 he accidentally set himself on fire while trying to restart a barbecue grill and nearly burned himself to death. The drinking continued until 1968 when he retired from the Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Joining Alcoholics Anonymous, he turned his life completely over to God and has never drank a drop of alcohol, other than that contained in the accidents of the Blood of Christ, since that time.
Turning his life over to God was not just a phrase to Norman Weslin. He began to read some of the spiritual classics of the Faith, including the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross and he especially was touched by Saint Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary. He received a master’s degree in theology from the Roman Catholic School of Applied Theology at the University of Berkley, of all places, and was disgusted, in his words, at the heresy and blasphemy taught at that institution.
In 1969 he began his involvement in the pro-life cause when he led the fight in Colorado to defeat a bill legalizing abortion. Mary Lou fully shared his passion for the pro-life cause.
Mary Lou and Norman planned to spend their retirement teaching Indian kids on a reservation in Montana. These plans came to a tragic end on July 2, 1980. A car rear-ended the Weslin’s car which their daughter was driving, and Mary Lou was killed. After her loss Norman was buried in grief for some time. Ironically the driver of the car that struck his car was drunk at the time. Norman personally forgave the driver. Pulling his life back together, he transformed their home in Colorado Springs into the Mary Weslin Homes for Pregnant, Unwed Mothers. To date over 226 mothers have stayed at the home prior to giving birth to their children.
In 1982 Weslin entered the Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales, Wisconsin to begin his studies for the priesthood at age 52. This was during the misrule of Archbishop Rembert Weakland. After two years the orthodox, and outspoken, Weslin was kicked out by the academic dean after Weslin refused to attend a class he believed taught heresy. He continued his studies at Mater Dei Seminary in Spokane, Washington. After ordination he joined the Oblates of Wisdom Order.
Prior to his ordination Father Weslin had taken part in abortion blockades at abortion clinics, once with Bishop Austin Vaughan, his spiritual adviser. On retired status from his Order in 1988 he decided to take part in an abortion rescue in Atlanta. He and 260 other pro-lifers were sent to Key Roads prison. While there Father Weslin, for attempting to say Mass, spent nine days in solitary. Imprisonment can often be surprisingly productive for those willing to use the time to think, as Father Weslin did. During his time in solitary Father Weslin came up with the idea for the Lambs of Christ. This would be an organization which would engage in civil disobedience at abortion clinics and thereby buy time for women to change their minds about aborting their kids.
Father Weslin immediately began to carry out his plan. By 1992 he was successful enough that Time magazine had an article on the Lambs of Christ which may be read here. Father Weslin has been imprisoned since 1988, 70 or 80 times, he has lost count. Occasionally he has been found not guilty by juries , but usually he is convicted and goes to jail. After he gets out he goes on to the next abortion clinic.
To its ever lasting dishonor, the administration of Notre Dame had Father Weslin arrested on May 15, 2009 when he protested the granting of an honorary degree to President Obama, the most pro-abortion president in our nation’s history.
Professor Charles E. Rice, Emeritus Professor of Law at Notre Dame, wrote this letter to the President of Notre Dame, Father Jenkins:
September 21, 2009
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana 46556
Dear Father Jenkins:
Professor Fred Freddoso has shared with me the response on Sept. 17th by Dr. Frances L. Shavers, Chief of Staff and Special Assistant to the President, to Fred’s email of that date to you asking that Notre Dame request dismissal of the charges against the persons arrested for trespass on the campus in relation to the honoring of President Obama at Commencement. Dr. Shavers responded on your behalf to Fred’s email because, as she said, “the next few days are rather hectic for [Fr. Jenkins].” I don’t want to add to the hectic burden of your schedule by sending you a personal message that could impose on an assistant the task of responding. I therefore take the liberty of addressing to you several concerns in the form of this open letter to which a response is neither required nor expected.
First, permit me to express my appreciation for the expressions of support for the pro-life cause in your September 16th “Letter concerning post-commencement initiatives.” I know, however, that in a matter as significant as this, you will appreciate and welcome a respectful but very candid expression of views. In my opinion, the positions you have taken are deficient in some respects.
In your Letter of Sept. 16th, you rightly praise the work of the Women’s Care Center (WCC) and of its superb leader, Ann Murphy Manion. I commend you on your statement that the WCC “and similar centers in other cities deserve the support of Notre Dame clubs and individuals.” Your praise of the WCC and similar efforts, however, overlooks a practical step that Notre Dame, as an institution, ought to take. That would be for you, on behalf of Notre Dame, to issue a standing invitation to the WCC to establish an office on the Notre Dame campus to serve students, faculty and staff if, in the judgment of the WCC, that would be desirable and effective. Such would give practical effect, right here at Notre Dame, to your words in support of the WCC and similar efforts.
Your Letter announced your formation of the Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life. Rather than offer a detailed evaluation of my own, I note my agreement with the personal analysis of William Dempsey, ND ’52, President of the Sycamore Trust, calling attention to “the obviously deliberate exclusion from Task Force membership of anyone associated with the ND organizations that have been unashamedly and actively pro-life: the Center for Ethics & Culture and the ND Fund for the Protection of Human Life. Nor was the student representative chosen from the leadership of the student RTL organization or from anyone active in last year’s student alliance protesting the honoring of the President, ND Response. It is hard to resist the inference that this is as a move toward marginalizing the Center and the Fund, neither of which receives any University support the way it is…. Finally, it is unsettling but instructive that this announcement comes a day after Fr. Jenkins’ annual address to the faculty in which he described his goals for the year, which included increasing female and minority faculty representation but not a word about the most crucial problem facing the university, the loss of Catholic identity through the failure to hire enough Catholics to restore the predominance required by the Mission Statement. This is a striking falling away from [Fr. Jenkins’] wonderful inaugural address. The fact that ND did nothing to serve the pro-life cause until forced by the reaction to the Obama incident testifies to the fact that, without a predominance of committed Catholics on the faculty, any pro-life efforts launched under pressure will in time fade away. The risk, and surely it is real, is that this initiative and the publicity ND is generating about it will deflect attention from the fundamental problem besetting Notre Dame….But I return to where I began: A project that deliberately excludes from participation those who have courageously manned organizations standing against the faculty attitude toward the pro-life cause ought to be regarded with suspicion.”
My main concern in this letter arises from your statement in your Letter that “Each year on January 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, the March for Life is held in Washington D.C. to call on the nation to defend the right to life. I plan to participate in that march. I invite other members of the Notre Dame Family to join me and I hope we can gather for a Mass for Life at that event.” I understand that Notre Dame students have invited you to participate with them in the March. The problem arises from an aftermath of Commencement. On this I refer back to Chief of Staff Shavers’ response to Professor Freddoso’s request that Notre Dame ask dismissal of the charges against those arrested. Dr. Shavers states that “these protesters were arrested for trespassing and not for expressing their pro-life position.” That is misleading. This is not an ordinary case of trespass to land such as would occur if a commuter walks across your lawn and flower bed as a short-cut to the train station. Notre Dame is ordinarily an open campus. Those 88 persons, 82 of whom are represented by Tom Dixon, ND ’84, ND Law School ’93, were arrested not because they were there, but because of who they were, why they were there and what they were saying. Other persons with pro-Obama signs were there but were not arrested and not disturbed. Serious legal and constitutional questions are involved, arising especially from the symbiotic relationship between the Notre Dame Security Police, who made the arrests, and the County Police. This letter is not a legal brief. Rather I merely note that it is disingenuous for Notre Dame to pretend that this is merely a routine trespass case.
The confusion is compounded by Dr. Shavers’ statement that “Under Indiana law, however, Notre Dame is not the complainant in these matters and so is not in any position to drop or dismiss the charges.” That sentence is half-true and half-false. Notre Dame is the complaining victim of the alleged trespass. Whether to dismiss the charges, of course, is for the prosecutor to decide.
Dr. Shavers states that “Notre Dame officials have been in regular contact with the prosecutor’s office on these matters, and, in consultation with the University, the prosecutor has offered Pre-Trial Diversion to those for whom the May incident was a first-time offense. As described by the prosecutor, this program does not require the individual to plead guilty or go through a trial; rather, the charges are dropped after one year so long as the individual does not commit another criminal offense. We understand that most of those arrested have chosen not to take advantage of this offer and obviously we cannot force them to do so. In essence, the choice of whether or not to go to trial belongs to the defendants.”
Pre-trial diversion could change their status as convicted criminals. But it is only because of the actions of Notre Dame that they are treated by the law as criminals in the first place. Notre Dame continues to subject those defendants to the criminal process. If they entered pretrial diversion they would each have to pay hundreds of dollars in costs, which would amount in effect to a fine imposed on them, with the concurrence of Notre Dame, for praying. Most of the 88 are in straitened financial circumstances. The imposition on them of such a fine would be a serious hardship. Instead, Notre Dame ought to state publicly that it has no interest in seeing those prosecutions proceed in any form and that it requests the prosecutor to exercise his discretion to dismiss all those charges unconditionally. Given the prospect of 88 or so separate jury trials, probably not consolidated, in cases involving potentially serious legal and constitutional issues, such a request by Notre Dame would surely be appreciated by the taxpayers of St. Joseph County.
Those 88 defendants were on the other side of the campus, far removed from the site of the Commencement. They are subjected by Notre Dame to the criminal process because they came, as individuals, to Notre Dame to pray, peacefully and non-obstructively, on this ordinarily open campus, in petition and reparation, as a response to what they rightly saw as a facilitation by Notre Dame of various objectively evil policies and programs of Notre Dame’s honoree, President Obama. Those persons, whom Notre Dame has subjected to legal process as criminals, are neither statistics nor abstractions. Let me tell you about a few of them.
Fr. Norman Weslin, O.S., 79 years old and in very poor health, was handcuffed by Notre Dame Security Police as he sang “Immaculate Mary” on the campus sidewalk near the entrance. He asked them, “Why would you arrest a Catholic priest for trying to stop the killing of a baby?” The NSDP officers put him on a pallet and dragged him away to jail. St. Joseph County Police were also there. I urge you to watch the readily available videos of Fr. Weslin’s arrest. If you do, I will be surprised and disappointed if you are not personally and deeply ashamed.
Such treatment of such a priest may be the lowest point in the entire history of Notre Dame. You would profit from knowing Fr. Weslin. Notre Dame should give Fr. Weslin the Laetare Medal rather than throw him in jail. Norman Weslin, born to poor Finnish immigrants in upper Michigan, finished high school at age 17 and joined the Army. He converted from the Lutheran to the Catholic faith and married shortly after earning his commission. He became a paratrooper and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the 82nd Airborne Division, obtaining his college degree enroute. After a distinguished career, he retired in 1968. As the legalization of abortion intensified, he and his wife, Mary Lou, became active pro-lifers in Colorado. In 1980, Mary Lou was killed by a drunk driver. Norman personally forgave the young driver. Norman Weslin was later ordained as a Catholic priest, worked with Mother Teresa in New York and devoted himself to the rescue of unborn children through nonviolent, prayerful direct action at abortuaries. In 1990 at Christmastime, I was privileged to defend Fr. Weslin and his Lambs of Christ when they were arrested at the abortuary in South Bend. One does not have to agree with the tactic of direct, non-violent action at abortuaries to have the utmost admiration, as I have, for Fr. Weslin and his associates. At Notre Dame, Fr. Weslin engaged in no obstruction or disruption. He merely sought to pray for the unborn on the ordinarily open campus of a professedly Catholic university. The theme of Notre Dame’s honoring of Obama was “dialogue.” It would have been better for you and the complicit Fellows and Trustees to dialogue with Fr. Weslin rather than lock him up as a criminal. You all could have learned something from him. His actions in defense of innocent life and the Faith have been and are heroic. Notre Dame’s treatment of Fr. Weslin is a despicable disgrace, the responsibility for which falls directly and personally upon yourself as the President of Notre Dame.
The other “criminals” stigmatized by Notre Dame include many whom this university should honor rather than oppress. One is Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, who has become pro-life and a Catholic actively trying to spread the word about abortion. Those “criminals” include retired professors, retired military officers, mothers of many children, a Catholic nun in full habit, Christian pastors, several Ph.Ds, and Notre Dame grads. They are, in summary, “the salt of the earth.” They came, on their own, at their own expense, and not as part of any “conspiracy,” from 18 states. They came because they love what Notre Dame claims to represent. They themselves do represent it. But one has to doubt whether Notre Dame does so anymore.
Clearly, Notre Dame should do all it can to obtain the dismissal of those criminal charges. This has nothing to do with one’s opinion of the tactics of rescue at abortuaries. It is simply a matter of you, as President, doing the manifestly right thing.
Please permit me to speak bluntly about your announced purpose to participate in the March for Life and to “invite other members of the Notre Dame Family to join me.” Notre Dame should have had an official presence at every March for Life since 1973. But until now it never has. Notre Dame students, with the encouragement of Campus Ministry, participate in the March but the University, as such, has not done so. To put it candidly, it would be a mockery for you to present yourself now at the March, even at the invitation of Notre Dame students, as a pro-life advocate while, in practical effect, you continue to be the jailer, as common criminals, of those persons who were authentic pro-life witnesses at Notre Dame. When the pictures of Fr. Weslin’s humiliation and arrest by your campus police was flashed around the world it did an incalculable damage to Notre Dame that can be partially undone only by your public and insistent request, as President of Notre Dame, that the charges be dropped. In my opinion your attachment to the March for Life, including your offering of a Mass for Life, could give scandal in the absence, at least, of such an insistent request to dismiss those charges. Your decision to present an official Notre Dame presence at the March could be beneficial, but not in the context of an unrelenting criminalization by Notre Dame of sincere and peaceful friends of Notre Dame whose offense was their desire to pray, on the campus, for the University and all concerned including yourself. If you appear at the March as the continuing criminalizer of those pro-life witnesses, you predictably will earn not approbation but scorn—a scorn which will surely be directed toward Notre Dame as well. As long as you pursue the criminalization of those pro-life witnesses, your newest pro-life statements will be regarded reasonably as a cosmetic covering of the institutional anatomy in the wake of the continuing backlash arising from your conferral of Notre Dame’s highest honor on the most relentlessly pro-abortion public official in the world.
In conclusion, this letter is not written in a spirit of contention. It is written rather in the mutual concern we share for Notre Dame—and for her university. I hope you will reconsider your positions on these matters. Our family prays for you by name every night. And we wish you success in the performance of your obligations to the University and all concerned.
Charles E. Rice
Notre Dame Law School
As one might expect, Father Jenkins has done nothing to stop the shameful prosecution of Father Weslin and the other 87 protesters. The case goes on. Recently the pro-abortion Judge to which the case was assigned, Jenny Pitts Manier, recused herself from the case. This was just days after lawyers from the Thomas More Society representing the protesters had filed an appeal in regard to the issue of recusal after her initial decision not to recuse herself. Bizarrely, the Judge has filed disciplinary charges for bringing the motion for recusal against the attorney who brought the motion. Among other accusations of bias against Judge Manier was the fact that she is married to Notre Dame Professor Edward Manier. That alone should have caused the Judge to immediate recuse herself. That Edward Manier is also a pro-abort and a dissident against Catholic teaching on sexual matters made her recusal even more of a necessity. That she attempted to stay as the Judge on this case speaks volumes about the bias she may have harbored against the defendants. A motion to dismiss all charges will now be heard by the new Judge assigned to the case.
Father Weslin of course has not allowed the Notre Dame prosecution to slow him down. On November 5, 2009 he was arrested for lying down in front of Speaker Pelosi’s (Affectionately known by me as the Lying Worthless Political Hack.) office to protest abortion coverage in the proposed health care legislation. (This was prior to the passage of the Stupak Amendment barring coverage for abortion in the legislation subsequently passed by the House.) He is now subject to federal prosecution for this protest. This shouldn’t bother Father Weslin much. He has noted in the past that Federal lockups normally have better food than state lockups!
At 80, I have no doubt that only the Grim Reaper will prevent Father Weslin from giving witness against the monstrous evil of abortion. What he is doing is not for everyone. I would never do it. However, the pro-life cause has much work to perform and many tasks that people can assume. It is always important for any movement confronting a manifest evil in society to have some members of the movement who are willing to peacefully protest and go to jail for civil disobedience. In the struggle against an earlier manifest evil, slavery, there were abolitionists willing to go to jail for their belief that it was wrong to treat men as chattel. Abraham Lincoln was not among their number, but he always honored those abolitionists willing to do so in order to place a spotlight on the evil of slavery. That is what Father Weslin has been doing for two decades against the unspeakable evil of abortion, and that is why I honor him.