In April 2018 Fr. Jeffrey Stephaniuk of the Eparchy of Saskatoon was given the Dombowsky Award for his many years of service in the cause of the protection and promotion of human life and dignity.
The Dombowsky Memorial Award was established by the Saskatchewan Pro -Life Association to recognize individuals for dedicated service to promoting respect for all human life. The recipients are always those who have given of themselves, as did the Dombowskys (founding members of Moose Jaw Right to Life) without reservation, to promoting the right to life in Saskatchewan.The Dombowsky Memorial Award was unveiled for the first time at the SPLA Annual General Conference held in Yorkton, November 2 – 4, 1990. The first recipients of the award were the Dombowsky family.
Fr. Jeffery was unable to attend the awards ceremony due to ill health but wrote the following acceptance letter originally published in Choose Life News, June 2018.
“I shall not die, but I shall live: and shall declare the works of the Lord.” Psalm (117) 118: 17
Thank you for this recognition as the 2018 Dombowsky Award.
At the 2017 SPLA Convention in Moose Jaw, the convention participants all had the opportunity to meet a great number of the Dombowsky family when Cecilia Forsyth was honoured, and responded with such a gracious speech.
If not for my illness, my hope would have been to receive such an award ten or more years from now! During my leave of absence, I have been making an incredible recover, so thank you for all your prayers! I will reinvent myself, or perhaps a better phrase would be to renew and be renewed in the best of human renaissance and Christian grace, and return to this work in the pro-life movement.
I became the editor of Saskatchewan Choose Life News in 2011, taking over from long-time editor, John Sidloski. Andy Tahn became editor after me and then I returned several editions later. I benefitted from the improvements he had made. I have also been a Pasquia Pro-Life representative to SPLA, and my work as a priest with Rachel’s Vineyard Saskatchewan has greatly influenced the identity I have as a pro-life priest, not to mention learning principles of human psychology from Rachel’s Vineyard that have helped me immensely as a husband, and especially as a dad to six girls.
There are times in research and writing for Saskatchewan Choose Life News that certain sentences get developed as helpful phrases of what we are saying, and trying to find the words to say. I’d like present some of these now as summary of the development of my thought during my involvement with Saskatchewan Pro Life Association:
- Openness to life is at the centre of true development” – Pope Benedict XVI. This is the phrase we engaged on a plaque we presented to President Bush in Saskatoon in 2009. The context is the role of government in creating an environment in which the stress of getting by in daily life for ordinary people does not compel them to abort their children for fear of lack of financial resources. It also exposes the act of discrimination against financially poor people, pressuring them to abort their children.
- “If, and I hope God will never permit that – the Pope was saying that abortion was killing nobody, I would stop being a Catholic for scientific reasons, because no moral authority can make me believe that discarding an early human being is not discarding a human being.” Dr. Jerome Lejeune, speaking at the Trial for Life in Regina in 1983. This phrase is also helpful against the summer jobs attestation and can be re-phrased in this manner: “If the federal government was saying that abortion was killing nobody and that participation in Canadian public life is forbidden unless the attestation is made, then I would suspend participation in Canadian life because no political authority in a democracy can make me believe that discarding an early human being is not discarding a human being.” The other problem with the attestation is that under this model, someone must die, as Ted Byfield has written, in order for women to gain equality with men.
- Related to Ted Byfield’s comments are those of Dr. Theresa Burke, founder of Rachel’s Vineyard, and author of Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion. Equality with men now means unrestricted access to abortion and freedom from the consequences of sexual behaviour. However, when someone regrets their abortion, explains Dr. Burke, rather than being allowed to grieve, they are being told, “you want to play in a man’s world, then be a man.” She writes that women are expected “to put their own moral beliefs about abortion ‘on hold’ for sake of respecting a ‘woman’s right to choose’… We have chosen to tolerate the deaths of unborn children for the purpose of improving the lives of women. This moral compromise is disturbed, whoever, when women speak about their broken hearts after an abortion.”
- On a “right to abortion”, a pillar and non-negotiable assumption motivating the summer jobs attestation, what Gregg Cunningham, founder of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform has written in an American context is very useful for us in Canada: “a “right” to abortion is only possible so long as pregnancy is fraudulently defined, he writes, manipulating words like embryo, pre-embryo, product of conception, and the “political fiction that pregnancy does not begin until the implantation of the embryo in its mother’s uterus. The goal of this “shrewdly crafted” language, he explains, is meant to “obscure the humanity of the baby and the violence of the procedure.”
- One of the titles for a newspaper article I am particularly happy with comes from the Canadian Centre or Bio-Ethical Reform: “Abortion hurts women because it intentionally kills an innocent human being.” One other phrase is that is the following: “injustice that is invisible inevitably becomes tolerable.”
- Another title is this one: “A public safety amendment the minister of public safety refused to support” The context is Molly’s Law, championed by Cathay Wagantall, MP for Yorkton-Melville. It became a public safety amendment that Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Public Safety, refused to support. As Jeff Dunham, Molly’s father commented, “Although I appreciate your condolences… I need to hear you say that you will acknowledge my daughter – Molly – as the HUMAN BEING she was. I need you to acknowledge the horrible reality of our law the way it is written.” The death of Ashley Richards near Weyburn, Saskatchewan, on the job in a construction zone, is our provincial version of Molly. She was a mother with child at the time, which was not taken into account during sentencing once a guilty verdict had been secured.
- Finally, by way of conclusion, I return to the first statement, “Openness to life is at the centre of true development”. Viktor Frankl, famous for surviving the concentration camps, and his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, has this quote: “The religious man experiences his existence not only as a concrete task,” namely, preoccupied with the physical life and day-to-day existence, “but as a personal mission, which is given to him by a personal Being,” that is, the essential value of relationship in developing an identity as a mature and maturing individual human being, experiencing life in a truly human sense, including making use of the rational life of reason and will in our human nature.
Life of the body, life of the mind, life of the soul.
“Thus he sees his task transparently, namely, in the light of Transcendence; he alone can in spite of all say “yes” to life under all conditions and circumstances – in spite of all, in spite of distress and death.”
To my mind, he is describing Simeon, who receives Jesus as virtually a newborn, into his arms, and exclaims the insight of openness to life that includes seeing life in death, in his imminent death from old age. It is a baby whose tangible life in its own body makes possible this abstract insight from the world of ideas, just as true and real as the little infant.
Simeon then exclaims: “Now you can release your servant O Lord, according to your word in peace, because my eyes have seen your salvation…”
Openness to life at all times, including to the life of babies, is my theme as a pro-life priest since at least 2015 when I spoke to this idea during a Divine Liturgy at the Saskatchewan Pro Life Convention held that year at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic parish in Saskatoon. If a person is open to life and new life at all times, you can confidently say you are following your conscience and responding to the will of God for you in your life at this time.
Say “’yes’ to life,” become a person who “in spite of anything that life brings, still faces his existence with a basic conviction in the worthwhileness of life.”
These quotes have been meaningful to me over the past several years in this context of openness to new life, and is the beginning of an explanation for the nature of the culture wars in which we are engaged, what political philosopher Jacques Maritain writes in the phrase, “All our values depend on the nature of our God.”
This recognition mean a great deal to me. Thank you.
“Your mercy, O Lord, is better than life itself; in thanksgiving I will praise your name” Psalm 62
Father Jeffrey Stephaniuk