Final respects for one who stood for life, family
Snow, sleet, rain, and ice fell, along with trees and limbs, the day John Patrick Stanton, 86, was buried.
'Twas fitting. Inclement climate never slowed him down or put a halt to his endeavors.
"Mr. Stanton had no concerns about weather," said Edel Finnegan, executive director of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia - the group Stanton started, as the Pro-Life Coalition of Southeast Pennsylvania, in 1971. Neither did the crowd that traveled to Jenkintown's Immaculate Conception Church through a blizzard to pay respects to this son of Emerald Isle immigrants, a feisty man of faith and family who loved all things Irish.
I, too, was determined to be counted among those commemorating this good man who granted me an interview back when I was a novice freelance writer with barely a published word. For me, Stanton personified true leadership, complete with the virtues of courage and humility, that so many others pretending to be leaders today lack.
Over time, I came to view this good man as a great one. And greatness is hard to find.
So I joined about 400 people attending Stanton's funeral Mass that dicey morning of Feb. 5. They included the elderly, the middle-aged, young adults, teens, toddlers, and babies. There were 16 priests and the Stanton Family Singers. The U.S. Marine Honor Guard for Stanton, a U.S. Navy veteran, was staffed by his grandchildren. Their salutes during Taps brought tears to almost all of our eyes.
About 1,100 people had filed through the church during the five-hour viewing the previous night, according to Tom McGoldrick of the Joseph J. McGoldrick Funeral Home. This came as no surprise. The unassuming Stanton was a people magnet, the type of person who easily conversed, befriended, and worked with individuals from all walks of life.
In his homily, the Rev. Chris Walsh compared Stanton to "a proud falcon," the symbol for Stanton's alma mater Northeast Catholic High School. Just as "the falcon stays in one place in life and always comes home," said Rev. Walsh, "John was born, raised, and settled in Jenkintown with Harriet," his wife of 63 years. Harriet and John raised their 12 children there and welcomed all, including pregnant women who were burdened with hardships, into their home. The couple had 46 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Stanton supported his brood by shaping operations for Honeywell Corp., B&F Instruments Co., and Sherman Industries. After retirement, he labored full time to build a culture of life. Whenever he worked in the Pro-Life Union offices, he went home for lunch with Harriet.
"Pop led by example," eldest son Patrick Stanton said in his eulogy.
For 30 years, John Stanton stood outside of area abortion clinics three days a week, his son recalled. His dad had prayed outside Kermit Gosnell's clinic in West Philly for 12 years before it was closed.
Patrick noted that a woman named Brianna was among the mourners at his father's wake. John Stanton had saved her from being aborted after meeting her mother outside of Planned Parenthood's abortion facility at 12th and Locust Streets more than 25 years ago.
John understood that being born is the most basic of human rights. And he was prepared to save a life like Brianna's as the ultimate objective of social justice.
When mocked by those who opposed his pro-life views, John Stanton turned the other cheek - most of the time. Once during a protest outside an abortion facility, Patrick recalled, John put up a sign saying, "Jesus loves you and your child." Three men in motorcycle gear kept strutting over and knocking down the placard. John repeatedly propped it back up. After the third time, the wiry activist marched over to the bulky bikers and told them to knock it off. They did.
Things sometimes got rough in the early days of pro-life demonstrations, Patrick said. He remembered bruises on his father's face, a face that was also sprayed with mace. And, in 1992, John was incarcerated upstate at Snyder County Prison.
David Boldt, the former Inquirer editorial page editor who liked John Stanton while respectfully disagreeing with him on abortion, wrote about the imprisonment:
"Stanton and three others went to jail earlier this year for contempt of court after they refused to pay the legal fees of an abortion clinic they had picketed in violation of an injunction. The lengthy and complex civil litigation involved defies easy summarization, but the bottom line for Stanton was that he preferred to go to jail rather than 'pay money to an abortion company.' He stayed in jail for 90 days and still hasn't paid.
"The case didn't get much attention, which sort of surprised me. We don't have all that many prisoners of conscience in America, and it seemed to me that if he had been, say, an activist for an oppressed ethnic or racial minority group, he and his colleagues would have gotten at least a brief moment in the national media spotlight."
Even some who held opposing views on abortion respected John. As Boldt aptly wrote, "He exudes decency and goodwill."
That decency included "utmost respect" toward women and goodwill for those with troubles, noted Finnegan of the Pro-Life Union. "Mr. Stanton was so sweet. He'd say to the girls, 'You're a beautiful mother.' "
"In all my time working with him, for seven years, it was not about him, it was not about Mr. Stanton," she said. "He was a visionary who never once lost sight of the humanity of the unborn child and the difficult situation faced by the mother. In every child and woman, he saw the image and likeness of God."
May this humbly heroic gentleman, who so generously shared his family's faith and values in order to rescue the most vulnerable in this life, rest in peace with his Maker in the next.
Marybeth T. Hagan is a freelance writer in Rose Valley