PHILADELPHIA, PA, February 17, 2014 ( – John Patrick Stanton, 86, the father of 12 children, 46 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren, and thousands of pro-life activists across the Philadelphia region, died at noon January 31, days after triple bypass surgery at Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.


He founded the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia and is known by civil authorities, politicians, inmates, servicemen, unwed mothers, schoolchildren, Catholics, the Irish, and others as a humble hero with unwavering faith, a saver of lives.

Mr. Stanton died on the feast of St. John Bosco, a man with whom he shared a name and the simple rule of cheerfulness and duties done well; he was serenaded to sleep by Irish songs sung by the large family that surrounded his bed.

“How did he keep it going?” asked his son Patrick in reference to his father’s steadfast pro-life witness, which he began even before Roe v. Wade.

Patrick recalled a trip he took with his dad to Ireland where they visited the Ballintubber Abbey. The church stood roofless after a British attack, but faithful still knelt in the snow for Mass.

“That’s where he got it,” Patrick said. He inferred that the people of that abbey and his father had the same determined Irish spirit – one that wouldn’t give up a fight.

Mr. Stanton was an Irishman, a hard worker, a family man, a role model to men and youth, a protector of women and children, but most of all, a servant of God. Faith determined his life and he believed God gave him a mission to defend all life, which he did until he died.

On January 27, doctors were worried that Mr. Stanton might not survive surgery. He assured them he could still do pushups on his fingertips.

Mr. Stanton used humor and faith to encourage, but he also met people where they were, making up the difference himself with trust in God, fasting and prayer.

“He didn’t tell you that you lacked courage – even though he knew he had more courage – he was open to accepting whatever it was that you could give in the moment,” said Mary Daly, president of Generation Life, a national pro-life and chastity organization that Mr. Stanton co-founded.

Mrs. Daly received letters from Mr. Stanton during his three month incarceration at Snyder Co. Prison, in Selinsgrove, Pa, where he started a prayer meeting with inmates and led the Rosary. He had refused to pay an abortion center what he believed was an unjust fine.

“On yellow legal paper, he would outline all the things he wanted me to do,” Mrs. Daly recalled. “I said, ‘I can do this and this, but not that.’ And he was OK with that; he blessed me where I was.”

Mr. Stanton was arrested more than 40 times, had lawsuits filed against him and suffered physical abuse. Politicians and police knew Mr. Stanton well, but his deeds for mothers and babies were often known only to those he served. He delivered diapers, painted houses, stood outside abortion centers in the rain, fasted and prayed. And it is this faithful witness that pro-life people and civil authorities alike won’t forget.

Recently Mr. Stanton met Mrs. Daly for lunch, where he said his last words to her, “Be not afraid.”

“It is difficult work,” Mrs. Daly said. “John knew that, but he was never discouraged.”

An Irish gentleman and family man

God and family were the fuel for Mr. Stanton’s fight. He was the fourth and last child of Irish immigrants, and lived his whole life in the square mile community of Jenkintown. He attended Immaculate Conception Church and parish school, graduated from Northeast Catholic High School in 1945, and served in the Navy after World War II.

In 1950, Mr. Stanton graduated from La Salle College with a B.A. in Business, and met his wife Harriet Marie Althouse, a kindergarten teacher, in the library.

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Mr. Brothers remembers that Mr. Stanton offered to show this new Jenkintown resident the town’s sights. The next day, Mr. Stanton was in his future wife’s classroom washing the blackboards. The Stantons married at St. Stephen’s Parish Church in North Philadelphia on Oct. 7, 1950.

The two loved each other deeply, but Mr. Stanton wasn’t partial in his respect towards women.

“Mr. Stanton was an utter gentleman. Even as a very old man, he insisted in carrying heavy boxes and opening doors for me,” said Cristina Barba, executive director of Generation Life. “He reverenced me by his chivalry. It taught me so very much about my value and dignity.”

Andrea O'Reilly, former director of a Center City crisis pregnancy center Mr. Stanton helped found, said Mr. Stanton also helped her carry heavy items; when she offered to help him, he would smile and say, “My mother would not approve.”

Mr. Stanton painted the walls of that center, called weekly to ask what the current needs were, and showed up regularly with diapers and baby food. He even brought Mrs. O’Reilly flowers and wrote her a “beautiful letter,” which he gave her the last time she saw him – at the Pro-Life Union’s annual Stand Up for Life dinner, which Mr. Stanton helped create, and draws some 1,500 each year.

Mr. Stanton supported his family through business management first at Philadelphia’s Brown Instruments, a division of Honeywell Corporation, in the early 1950s before he moved to B & F Instruments in Cornwells Heights, Pa.  He worked for nearly 25 years for Sherman Car Wash Inc. of Palmyra, New Jersey, and retired in 1990.

Though Mr. Stanton had a big voice, especially in the pro-life movement, he was a simple man of small statue. He fasted often and usually had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and apple for lunch. After Mr. Stanton’s death, Patrick found just a few coats, a couple pairs of pants and a few shirts in his dad’s closet. “Yet, he always looked like a gentleman,” Patrick said.

In 1998, Mr. Stanton earned a master's degree in religious education and a certificate in Catholic Social Ministry from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.  He taught religion classes at Catholic high schools, Holy Family College, and served as a religious education teacher at Immaculate Conception Parish. 

Even as an old man, Mr. Stanton taught when he visited Catholic schools on two of his favorite days: St. Patrick’s Day in March and Our Lady of Guadalupe Day in December.

“He would come out to speak at Carroll’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass and every year I asked the kids, ‘Do you want me to get a different speaker?” remembered Barry Kirsch, a math teacher and moderator of the pro-life club at Archbishop Carroll in Radnor who prayed with Mr. Stanton outside abortion centers on Saturday mornings for 25 years. “They always replied, ‘No! We love that man!’”

Patrick found a thank you card from third and fourth graders at St. Francis Xavier School in Fairmount. It said, “Dear Mr. Stanton, Thank you for teaching us about great St. Patrick. You are a true evangelist.”


Mr. Stanton was also involved with the Greater Philadelphia – South Jersey chapter of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, and the Archdiocesan Marian Consortium of Catholic Lay Organizations. He served as historian to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Sean McBride Division in Glenside, Pa., and was part of the Christmas crèche Committee that annually displays the Nativity Scene in Center City Philadelphia.

A devotee of Irish music, Mr. Stanton was proud of the family’s musical troupe, the Stanton Family Irish Singers — though his son Patrick said his pop’s voice was a bit out of tune.  This “army,” as many call the Stantons, entertained countless at nursing homes, retirement centers, and community arenas. 

Kyleen Finnegan, director of Generation Life Philadelphia, prayed weekly for two years outside abortion centers with Mr. Stanton. She remembers watching the family band one St. Patrick’s Day at the Irish Center in Philadelphia.

“He brought so much joy to the whole room,” Mrs. Finnegan said of Mr. Stanton. “He knew that life was fun. He knew both joy and suffering, and he wanted the people he served to have that same experience – love, and everything that goes with that. He never condemned anyone; he just wanted to share the beauty of life with people.”

Advocate for life

The busy-ness of career and social engagement did not deter Mr. Stanton from the pro-life mission in his heart. And his large family was the joy that fueled his God-given duty.

The Stanton family often prayed together outside abortion centers. “Pop” also sent his offspring on missions to help people. Patrick thought he would get a break when his dad was in prison, instead he got phone calls to assist the prisoners.

Mr. Stanton was a “man of action,” said Damian Wargo, co-founder of The King’s Men, a Catholic men’s group dedicated to ending pornography, which shares office space with the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia.

“The Pro-Life Union, the biggest pro-life organization in Philadelphia, was built on the holiness and prayerfulness of Mr. Stanton and people like him,” Mr. Wargo said. “His witness is unmatched. He is the ultimate leader by example.”

Mr. Stanton founded the Pro-Life Coalition of Southeast Pennsylvania in 1971, now the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, which he directed until 2006 and for which he continued to serve in various capacities until he died. He also established the state-wide Pro-Life Federation, co-founded the Pro-Life Educational Foundation, and was treasurer for the Pennsylvania branch of the National Right to Life Committee.

Outside abortion centers

Mr. Stanton spent three mornings a week outside abortion centers across the Philadelphia region.

“He fasted every day. One summer, I insisted he drink water and I think he did it just to quiet me,” said Regina O'Reilly, Pro-Life Union board member, who prayed outside abortion centers with Mr. Stanton for more than 40 years. She took to heart: “Even if the child is killed, someone has to be there to mourn for that child.”

Philadelphia’s Civil Affairs Unit Captain Stephen Glenn and Lieutenant Joseph O’Brien knew Mr. Stanton for years, and last saw him outside an abortion center only weeks before his death.

Mr. Stanton was his “usual, upbeat self,” when he welcomed busloads of young adults from Nebraska to pray with him, Cpt. Glenn recalled. “To tell you the truth, I thought he would live forever.”

“Everybody knew who he was,” Lt. O’Brien said. “All the times he stood outside the abortion clinics, he thought was worth it if he could stop one person from having an abortion.

“He was a persistent individual, who believed strongly in what he did. I have to admire him for that.”

Cpt. Glenn remembered when Mr. Stanton welcomed him to Civil Affairs; he also recalled Mr. Stanton’s regular letters of objection to the police department for abortion clinic protection.

“I told him it was necessary under federal guidance to keep the clinics open – it was our duty,” Cpt. Glenn said. “He never took it personally.”

Lives saved

Though the clinics were open, appointments were not always kept.

Patrick shared a few stories, among many, where women thanked Mr. Stanton for inspiring them to choose life for their children.

One woman saw Mr. Stanton and Mr. Brothers praying outside Planned Parenthood. She told them, “I’m having my baby because of you.”

Another woman stopped by the school where Mr. Stanton’s daughter works, and told her, “Your father’s responsible for me not having an abortion.”

Tyhisha Hudson, who considered aborting her son, met Mr. Stanton in 2007.

“When I first met Mr. Stanton my family had been living in a fixer-upper home for about a year and needed much help with different things,” Mrs. Hudson said. “My husband David and I had found out that we were pregnant for the fourth time and were very much considering getting an abortion with our unborn child who is now Josiah.”

The Hudsons told the Pro-Life Union their situation and Mr. Stanton told them they could handle it with faith in God. At the time, their family of seven lived in a house with only one habitable room.

Mr. Stanton painted and fixed the house, and was a role model to their boys, taking them to Mass, camping, skiing, movies and more. He became a lifelong family friend.

“Mr. Stanton stepped into our lives, made us feel like family,” said Mrs. Hudson.

A 27-year-old woman named Brianna attended Mr. Stanton’s viewing Feb. 4. Her life had been spared through Mr. Stanton’s witness.

Unwavering faith in God and man

Edel Finnegan, director of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, remembered a political meeting after the Kermit Gosnell case for which pro-life and pro-abortion people gathered. She recognized an abortion center worker who was pregnant, and felt sick that this woman led others to abortion. She mentioned it to Mr. Stanton, who astounded her as he walked over to the woman, congratulated her and blessed her and her baby.

“It is really easy, when getting involved in a cause to lose sight of why. People get lost in the enormity of it all, but not Mr. Stanton,” Ms. Finnegan said. “He was a leader, but he never called himself that. It was always about the unborn child for him.”

Patrick remembered his desire to “deck” an abortion center escort who continually taunted his pop for years. He watched in awe as his father approached that man and said, “Today, I am offering my Mass for you.” 

Another time, he watched as his dad was hit in the face with a can of mace while praying outside Planned Parenthood. The case went to court, but Mr. Stanton let the man go.

Mr. Kirsch, also remembers a time when Mr. Stanton showed “true Christian spirit.” Mr. Stanton attempted to counsel a woman going into the abortion center when her boyfriend knocked Mr. Stanton down. The police took the man around the corner to the police station, and “John, as a true Christian, bailed him out,” Mr. Kirsch said.

Patrick remembers once his pop took his 7-year-old brother Anthony to pray at an abortion center. “He put a ‘Jesus Loves You and Your Child’ sign on a pole. Three motorcycle guys came up and kicked it down.”

Mr. Stanton put the sign back three times before he told the men, “Don’t do it again,” and “they got on their motorcycles and left,” Patrick said. “He wasn’t afraid of anyone.”

Pro-Life Union board member Bill Wohglemuth wasn’t sure if Mr. Stanton wanted a refreshment when he entered a bar at 10:30 a.m. after they had prayed in the rain together outside the Gosnell facility. He saw his friend, of a different generation, stand in front of the bar and tell college partiers in a “huge voice,” “You should be ashamed of yourselves. Your parents and grandparents wouldn’t approve. Change your lifestyle.”

“Their mouths were open, they put their drinks on the table and quieted down,” Mr. Wohglemuth recalled. “He showed the wisdom of what’s wrong and had the courage to correct it. He was a very brave warrior in the pro-life movement.”

Leaving a legacy

This year, the Pro-Life Union created the John and Harriet Leadership Fund “to help support leadership training and mentorship to a new generation of pro-life leaders,” said Tom Shakely, a brand and identity consultant and vice president of the Pro-Life Union’s board. It is a part of the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia, and was ironically formally established the day Mr. Stanton died.

“In our time we’re taught to believe we can only have strength in numbers,” Mr. Shakely said. “I think John’s whole life is a testament to the fact that great movements start with great individuals.”

Ms. Barba, who became a pro-life leader through Mr. Stanton’s mentorship, was inspired that he believed in her, and in all youth. She never knew her biological grandfathers, but said Mr. Stanton filled that role when she met him as a teenager.

“He trusted us and had great confidence,” she said. “While I had so much to learn, He never spoke a cross word to me, but taught me so very poignantly by his example.”

Final farewell

The delicate lament of a tin whistle pierced the packed Immaculate Conception Church in Jenkintown February 5 as three generations of Stantons processed by Pop’s coffin with red roses. They honored a man, with the perseverance of an old Irish abbey, a man whom homilist and Pro-Life Union Board Member, Fr. Chris Walsh, called a falcon. Fr. Walsh noted Mr. Stanton’s incredible vision, dedication to his home and family, and tight hold on his faith.

The motto for Mr. Stanton’s alma mater, North Catholic, home of the Falcons, is: “I have taken hold and will not let go.”

“John took hold of Christ and did not let go,” said. Fr. Walsh. “He will remain an exemplary model for what it means to be ‘pro-life’ for the generations to come.”