NEW YORK, N.Y., March 2, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Not too long ago, it would have been unimaginable that an atheistic Jew and leading U.S. abortion rights advocate, who was personally responsible for the abortion deaths of perhaps 75,000 unborn children, would be called a “faithful and courageous servant of the Lord” by the homilist at his Catholic funeral Mass.
And yet that is what Fr. Gerald Murray said of Dr. Bernard Nathanson in St. Patrick’s cathedral Monday in New York during the Mass presided over by Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
Much has been written about Bernard Nathanson since his death last week. More was revealed on Monday during the homily, by his eulogist at the end of Mass, and later at a special reception for his many pro-life friends who were enthusiastically welcomed at the Manhattan Church of Our Saviour by its famous pastor, Fr. George Rutler.
Twelve priests concelebrated the funeral Mass with the archbishop, including Father John McCloskey, who guided the repentant abortionist into the Catholic Church, Fr. Joseph Howard, American Bioethics Advisory Commission director, and the renowned Fr. Benedict Groeschel.
A large contingent of Sisters of Life were present as were many pro-life leaders who all came to say farewell to a dear friend and great ally in the struggle to defend the unborn.
Fr. Murray, who gave what many said was a magnificent homily, related that it was his “privilege to bring the consolation of the sacraments to Dr. Nathanson at his home” for the past two years.
In his remarks Murray said, “God’s grace is made ever more manifest when He chooses unexpected apostles” such as Bernard Nathanson, who had experienced “years of deep involvement in what he called ‘the satanic world of abortion.’”
Fr. Murray called Dr. Nathanson “a fearless advocate of the self-evident truth that it is a grave injustice to kill people before they are born.” He continued: “Heroism is called for. True heroism is never easy and is only possible through God’s grace. We acknowledge today our gratitude to a true hero who would not abide such grave injustice in our land. In doing so, we too recognize the Hand of God in the life of Dr. Nathanson.”
The Hand of God was the title of the moving book that Nathanson wrote about his journey from the “culture of death” to the “culture of life”.
Athina Aston, who worked for Nathanson for the past 17 years arranging his numerous pro-life speaking engagements, legal case testimonies and communications, did the first Mass reading. Athina later told LifeSiteNews that in the past year she still saw Nathanson two or three times per month to do his work, even as late as two weeks before his death.
One of the things that impressed Athina about her pro-life evangelist employer was “all his energy for pro-life and going to the conferences, going from one city to another, from one country to another. The calls wouldn’t stop.” Even when Nathanson was battling cancer for the past 8 years, which Athina was not aware of until the last year, she said, “he was in the office every time I came.”
Chris Bell and his wife Joan Andrews Bell, who spent nearly 5 years in prison for her pro-life activities, also read during the funeral mass liturgy. Chris got to know Nathanson at a New Jersey Right to Life convention in 1986 when the former abortionist, even though he was still “somewhat of a professed atheist, was fasting before speaking on behalf of the unborn.”
Ten years later, after Chris and Joan were married, Nathanson asked Joan to be his godmother when he became a Catholic in 1996 – baptized and confirmed by Cardinal O’Connor in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Joan asked Dr. Nathanson to deliver their child and the Bell’s continued to visit and call him, with Joan’s last call being a few weeks before his death.
At the end of the Mass, lawyer Tom Moore presented an eloquent and passionate eulogy for his close friend of 30 years. Moore related that Nathanson “not only championed the rights of children before birth, but also of children after birth” and that this was how the lawyer “knew him best.”
Moore advocated on behalf of what he called, “defenseless ones after birth devastated and destroyed through negligence.” He related that Nathanson spoke on their behalf in his cases as an expert witness, “with the same ardor and fervor as he did of the unborn.”
Moore told LifeSiteNews afterward that Bernie, as all his friends called him, “was a consummate expert in obstetrics” and that he frequently did this work for him, “even before he became an advocate for the unborn. And his Dad did it before him.”
In his closing remarks Archbishop Dolan acknowledged all those present and thanked them for their steadfast efforts on behalf of the unborn. Of Dr. Nathanson, he said, “Thanks be to God for his life, thanks be to God for his prophetic courage. We need it now more than ever.”