Sunday, January 31, 2016

(168) The 2016 March for Life Pilgrimage, Encounter With Pro-Abortion Demonstrators, and a Blizzard........An Unforgettable Adventure

Stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76/70) with over 500 vehicles for up to 32 hours, including our two buses from southeastern Ohio, a busload of students from Iowa built a snow altar on the side of the interstate.  It was an act of faith since they did not have a priest with them.  However, word got around and six priests showed up, including one with 600 hosts.  Soon 500 students gathered for this beautiful impromptu Mass in the boonies along the highway near New Baltimore in south central Pennsylvania about half way between Somerset and Bedford in the Allegheny Mountains not far from the Allegheny Tunnel.  For a video click on  There’s more photos at   Another such Mass (unconfirmed) was reported to the West on I-70 which shoots off the Turnpike.   According to another account, the priest only had 30 sacred hosts and, while breaking them into small pieces to give communion to some 500 pilgrims, they seemed to multiply…….miraculous if true.  For coverage of conflicting accounts, click on   In any event the greatest miracle of all is the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ that occurs at every Mass all over the world. 

            On Thursday night, the day before the March for Life on January 22, we watched a dramatization of the Donner Party on the Weather Channel in our Maryland Holiday Inn.  The wagon train with 86 people left in June for the allure of California, expecting to arrive in September.  However, instead of going the normal southern route, the party decided to follow a tip and take a “short cut” through the Rockies of northern Nevada with an ox pulling and the men pushing each wagon up the mountains.  The short cut turned into a long cut and they were stuck in the snow and lived in an improvised shelter.  Half of them died of starvation and the rest somehow survived, thanks to the dead that helped them.  Was this a harbinger of what was to come with our two covered wagons?

            Let’s digress to the very beginning of the journey when we left St. Louis Church  - Gallipolis at 4:30 am Thursday January 21 with Fr. Tom, our pastor and five others from our parish plus a couple from St. Joseph - Ironton.  Timmy and Chrissy Stapleton with their two lovely older daughters, Aubrey (11) and Riley (10) as well as Fr. David Schmidt decided to go separately in their reconstructed four wheel drive Chrysler Aspen SUV.  The Stapleton clan rebuilds salvage cars for a living…….a small industry in the Crown City area. 
          After picking up passengers from Sacred Heart -Pomeroy, St. Ambrose – Belpre, St. Paul's and Christ the King (Ohio U) in Athens, and St. Francis Xavier – Parkersburg, we had a full bus.  The northern bus had people from the four parishes of Noble County, St. Bernard’s – Beverly, St. Mary’s Basilica – Marietta, Assumption – Barnesville, Christ Our Light – Cambridge, St. Mary's in St. Clairsville, etc.  

    Of my six marches this came closest to being a pure pilgrimage/retreat.  A pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place to pray.  There isn’t much holy in Washington, but we did make this journey to pray.  Of course, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a Basilica, where we attended the solemn Vigil for Life Mass, is indeed a very holy place.  Also holy is the St. John Paul II Center, the Franciscan Monastery, etc.  In pilgrimages of the Middle Ages, pilgrims went by foot for weeks and encountered highway robbers and the weather.  Our pilgrimage was much easier than that, but we were not without hardship and sacrifice which we offered up for Life.…….an end to abortion, euthanasia, and illicit research that destroys fertilized eggs and utilizes aborted fetuses.     
         Fr. George of St. Francis Xavier – Parkersburg led the Rosary and the Chaplet of Diving Mercy on the way there and twice on the very long 31 hour trek back.  We watched six inspiring and thought provoking movies on the trip…….Our Lady of Guadalupe, “Boy in the Striped Pajamas” in Auschwitz, Fatima, “Bella”, “Man for All Seasons” (St. Thomas More), and “For Greater Glory (Blessed José Sánchez del Rio)”.  
            We were privileged to have with us Sharon Colvin, Director of Development of the Pregnancy Resource Center (PRC) out of Athens  She gave us two seminars on the bus, one each way.  On the way back we discussed our encounter with the pro-abortion demonstration.  Sharon brought out that about 40% of women who have had abortions attended church regularly.  About 70% identified themselves as Christian.  Roughly a third of all women over the age of 45 have had an abortion.  Thus many women in our midst have had abortions.  Two thirds of the women believed that abortion was murder before their abortions, but fear drove them into it……..fear of shame, fear to their reputation, fear of the ire of their parents, the disruption of their careers.  Very common is that the boy friend  and even the mother push the girl into the abortion.  This shows the great importance of fostering a loving pro-life mentality in the home.

          Notice the caps that one of the women made for all of us……90 all together.  She even runs marathons.  Those black and white caps really helped us to stay together in the big crowd.  Since they kidded me about getting lost two years ago (I lost them because they met across from the Supreme Court building, not in front of it).  I was saying that it’s less stressful to follow the black and white hats.

National Prayer Vigil for Life.  After checking in at our motel in Hyattsville, MD, we took two Metro commuter trains to the magnificent Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  I went down the center aisle and somehow found two seats just before it was blocked off.  I couldn’t bear to see an empty seat with so many people standing.  So I got permission to look for a woman or elderly person.

To my surprise almost all of those alone were young…….in their teens and twenties.  The future of the pro-life movement is full of hope.  Finally, a beautiful young woman asked for the seat……Kendra Burger, the Director of Educational Outreach for Iowa Right to Life.  She related how she started a Students for Life group at Simpson College, a very liberal school, where she was majoring in Opera.  Kendra related that someone put sugar in her gas tank and another cut the valve stems from her tires.  The administration made it as difficult as they could.  Jacob Hoback of Sacred Heart – Pomeroy, a music major and recent on-fire convert discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood, is trying to do start a Students for Life Chapter at Ohio U.  Hopefully, he will contact Kendra.  Her most beautiful voice to my right gave me a concert within a concert.  She reminded me of the great pro-life Irish singer, Dana Scallon (see and listen to Dana Rosemary Scallon - “Little Baby in My Womb” on  May Kendra also use her great gift for the pro-life cause!
The procession of concelebrating priests (including our pastor, Fr. Hamm), bishops, and cardinals took some 20 minutes.  The choir was heavenly.  Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York was the principal celebrant and a great homilist.  His story about the poor woman who left her new born baby in the empty crib of St. Patrick’s Cathedral before Christmas was inspiring.  Last year Seán Cardinal O'Malley, the Archbishop of Boston had the same role.

Why Do We March?   One sign answered that question.

  • To preserve families.
  • To preserve families.
  • To tell the truth about what it means to be human.
  • Standing for life is standing for women.

     Our March Before the March. The next day we were expecting the worst as the Weather Channel was predicting.  Our organizers, led by John Spencer (a field agent for Knights of Columbus insurance), decided to have our own march before the March, an hour before the official 1 pm start so that we could quickly exit Washington and avoid weather delays.  I passed up the pre-March rally to meet my godson in the Archives Building at 9th and Constitution, a few blocks away from the starting point at 15th and Constitution.  The Archives has a fabulous museum with the original Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Since 1776 we fought for the inalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  For almost a century slaves were excluded and for the next century the civil rights of blacks remained an issue; today we are fighting for the right to life of the most defenseless of all…….the unborn.

I was unaware that my godson would not enter the building since all of Washington was starting to close down late in the morning.  I left to meet my group at noon, but regained contact with Dan who was held up.  He decided to accompany me on our mini march despite having left the Church and being “pro-choice”.  Since the streets weren’t blocked off yet, we had to go against the current.  In other years we saw people of all ages, mostly youth with their elementary schools, high schools, and colleges.  Last year I noticed students from Ave Maria University, Christendom, Franciscan, Benedictine, colleges from the Midwest, etc.  Notre Dame alone brought 14 busloads of students and a few professors from South Bend, Indiana. 

This year John Carroll U of Cleveland and Franciscan University of Steubenville among others had busloads of students.  Inspiring was Fr. Chester Papan of Noble County and Fr. David Schmidt of Sacred Heart Point Pleasant, both recovering from hip and knee surgery respectively, who nevertheless made the trip.  As always, there were babies and very young kids.  They add so much to the atmosphere because this March is all about babies.

We obtained signs that were distributed by the Knights of Columbus, Students for Life, and Americans United for Life.  There included “Quitting takes courage”; “Defend Life”; “I am the Pro-Life Generation”; “Yo soy la Generación Pro-Vida”;  “Team Life”; “Life counts”; "Standing for Life is standing for women"; "Why we march -  to preserve families"; “Fewer women would have abortions if the womb had windows” by Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a former abortionist who admitted his responsibility for 75,000 abortions after seeing the light of truth and becoming a great pro-life fighter.

       Another sign quoted Abraham Lincoln: “No law can give me the right to do what is wrong”.  In addition we had a quote by Martin Luther King.  It might have been the very relevant "Our lives begin to end when we stay silent about things that matter".

 The Pro-Abortion Counter Demonstration.  At the end point, the Supreme Court where the legalization of abortion occurred on January 22, 1973, a counter demonstration of perhaps 75 feminists awaited us.  They were dressed in apparently bloodied white pants for back alley abortions.  Their angry chants communicated bitterness and hate with signs such as “Abortion on Demand --- No Apologies”.  We later learned that eight of them were arrested.  In the 43 Marches since the fateful Roe v. Wade Decision, I know of no pro-life marcher ever having been arrested.  People from our group knelt down in prayer and we all prayed the “Our Father”.  One of the priests shouted back: "We love you".   Dan was impressed, not only from our going to Washington on January 22 year after year in all kinds of weather, but also the contrast between the peaceful and prayerful pro-life group and the angry boisterous pro-abortion demonstrators.

Many actually believe that a baby is not a baby until it takes its first breath.  Certainly, these are hurting women who have had abortions.  Post Abortion Trauma is very very real. There are many many women who suffer tremendous guilt and depression.  Many resort to drugs and some are even suicidal.  We took the Metro, a block away back to our motel where our "covered wagons" were waiting.  We had no desire to get stuck in Washington if all of the roads out were closed down.  Since all government offices were closed by noon, it is questionable how many legislators and officials noticed us, but we were there, our witness and prayers.  We know that God will still bring good out of this weather.  He actually has because of increased media attention.  The driver of another bus was healed of a prior abortion.  Some day, our nation will respect life from the womb to the tomb……..from conception to natural death.  Some day we will have a culture of life and love, not death.
For our two “covered wagons” it was “Westward Ho” and Home through the snow and the mountains at about 2 pm on Friday.  Instead of taking our normal route I-68 West and WV 50, we tried to circumvent the blizzard by going north to the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76/70) and I-70 W and I-77 South through Marietta.  It turned out that our short cut was a long cut.  The storm changed course and got ahead of us.  One car had an accident; a truck hit him; a bus tried to get around them and got stuck.  Under blizzard conditions some 500 vehicles were stuck on the eastern slopes of the Allegheny Mountains a few miles from the Allegheny Tunnel between Bedford and Somerset.  According to another version, one or more 18 wheelers couldn’t make a steep grade and jackknifed, blocking everyone behind.  That was about 6:30 pm.  That was really irrelevant since it was questionable whether we could have made it through 18 inches or more of snow. 

Tim Stapleton and his crew went through the southern route.  That may have been even more dangerous for us.  Tim drove under almost white out conditions.  He didn’t even know where the road was at times.  Hitting the rumble strip was reassuring.  They prayed to Our Lady of the Snows for her intersession.  Lo and behold, they got behind a semi and followed its red back lights the rest of the way.  They made it back at 3 am while we were still hunkered down on the Turnpike which was closed.  I-70 and I-79 were also closed for a while.  

      We passed the time by sleeping, reading, praying, playing cards, watching videos, playing in the snow, having great fellowship and joking amidst Michael’s macabre jokes “We’re going to die”.  We survived on potato chips and granola bars.  The water was getting low, but we had a lot of snow we could use.  One of the priests used the snow to brush his teeth. Since our bus was topped off at 87 gallons of gasoline, it idled all night, providing sufficient heat.  However, our backsides got a little sore.  It would have been scary being stranded in a car.
The covered wagons of the Donner Party couldn’t get through the snow of the Rockies.  Our buses couldn’t get through the Appalachians until the highway was plowed.  The Turnpike employees were working overtime to clear the road of snow and any wreckage.  The National Guard was called; they checked for the safety of people in cars. 

      There was one jackknifed semi after another along the road.  Finally, after 17 hours at 11:30 am, we were on our way.  It was clear sailing the rest of the way.  To our surprise, the roads were clear with over a foot of snow on the sides.  Although the students of Franciscan University accompanied by their president, Fr. Sean Sheridan (see his letter in the Appendix) and my daughter's roommate Elizabeth, were close to us, their eight buses were stranded for 32 hours and obtained food and shelter from the National Guard.  They also left earlier than usual as we did.  I wonder why they were stuck for 15 hours longer than us.  Other buses were headed for all points as far as Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, South Dakota, etc.
The secular press reported that “hundreds” of faithful braved the weather.  You’re kidding me!  Every year it’s the same.  Usually the secular media ignores the March and if it takes any notice at all, it grossly underestimates the numbers.  We had hundreds stuck on the turnpike alone.  There were certainly thousands in the March itself.  Typically it’s about 300,000.  In some years it may reach 500,000.  It’s enough to mobilize the Washington police and close down the 20 block path (about 2 miles) up Constitution Avenue and around the Capitol Building and past the Supreme Court.  There was even a rumor that the city would cancel the March for Life permit.

Next year come with us for another adventure (who knows what it will bring?) or at least watch the Vigil Mass at 5:30 the night before and the Rally and March at 11 am on January 22 on EWTN, the Catholic Cable Channel or via the internet on  Many thanks to the Catholic Women’s Club and the Knights of Columbus who helped to underwrite this adventure. For more photos click on (our thanks to Michael Stapleton). 


We invite accounts by other pro-lifers who were stuck on the Turnpike.  I'm especially interested in the snow altar and the veracity of the possible miraculous multiplying of the sacred hosts.  Was there another Mass on the side of the highway at another location?  The Mass on Pennsylvania Turnpike between Bedford and Somerset is well covered in the media and confirmed. You can put your own observations in the Comments section or send them to me at  I will be happy to add them in this appendix.   


January 24, 2016

Dear Parents: 

When you look back over your life, what do you remember?  Often we recall the moments where the unexpected collides with our plans to create an adventure.  As most of you know, our trip this year to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life was an adventure we will long remember.
While I was sorry for the long delays that our students, staff, friars, and faculty endured with me on the return trip, I was not sorry to have made the journey. Instead, I found my heart filled with gratitude.

First, I was grateful that our students chose to brave winter's worst to show love for mothers and unborn babies. Franciscan University students have braved January weather many times before to give a courageous and compassionate voice to those who cannot speak.  You can be proud of your students - their commitment is both challenging and humbling.

Second, while this storm came on faster and on a different course than expected and our earlier-than-usual departure from D.C. proved fruitless, I am grateful for the spirit of the cooperation that occurred on our motor coaches.  One of the reasons the University sends buses to this event is that we know so many of our students will participate, regardless of whether we send buses or not.  As a result, we want to offer the availability of the safety of motor coaches rather than individual vehicles for them.
While we will probably have mixed emotions about the PA turnpike in the future, we will also remember the conversations, the movies, and the moments of laughter and prayer as each bus faced down the long hours of waiting. Multiple times I was thankful that most of our students had chosen to ride in motor coaches rather than drive. I did offer a prayer for any students who were not riding in our coaches.

Please join me in asking a prayer of blessing for our coach drivers.  These seasoned professionals skillfully returned us home safely and in good spirits.  When I think of the 500 vehicles stranded with us - truckers, student-athletes from Duquesne and Temple universities, elderly couples, young families - I realize that in comparison, with our full gas tanks, heated coaches, movies, and restrooms, our adventure was safe and fairly tolerable.

Most of all, however, I am grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ for the good that came out of our situation - the increased media attention brought to the March for Life, the bus driver with another group of marchers who was healed of a past abortion, the witness of the outdoor Masses celebrated by two parishes - and for the good that we will only see in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead, or only when we enter into our heavenly reward.

As always, please don't hesitate to contact me with your thoughts, suggestions, and affirmation.  Thank you for your ongoing thoughts and prayers.  You have entrusted us with your students and your support.  We do not take either lightly.  Together, let's continue to be courageous in our pro-life and pro-woman witness, ever committed to building a true culture of life and love.

In Christ and St. Francis,
Father Sean O. Sheridan, TOR

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