Father Dean Gaudio, parochial vicar in St. Theresa Parish, Little Egg Harbor, is nominated as this year's Champion for Life. Courtesy photo
Father Dean Gaudio, parochial vicar in St. Theresa Parish, Little Egg Harbor, is nominated as this year's Champion for Life. Courtesy photo

Returning after a two-year COVID-19 hiatus, the Mary’s Child Pro-Life Ministry has opened ticket sales for its 31st annual Champion for Life Award Dinner.

Set for Oct. 23 at The Shore Club, 700 Hwy. 71, Spring Lake Heights, the event will begin with a 5 p.m. reception and buffet dinner to follow at 6 p.m. The dinner will honor Father Dean Gaudio, nominated as the 2022 Champion for Life, and Paul Garvey will be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for True Courage.

Mary’s Child Pro-Life Ministry represents the Monmouth County parishes of St. Catharine-St. Margaret, Spring Lake; St. Denis, Manasquan; St. Mark, Sea Girt; St. Rose, Belmar; St. Teresa of Calcutta, Avon-by-the-Sea, and Holy Innocents, Neptune. The organization has been hosting dinners in honor of pro-life advocates since 1990.

“When we had our first dinners, we always tried to have them on or around Respect Life Sunday,” said Mary Reilly, president of Mary’s Child Pro-Life Ministry and CYO director in St. Mark Parish. “They signify the ultimate victory of life over death.”

The ministry has made it a point, she said, to include high school youth who are members of the parishes’ CYO programs or other youth ministries, even inviting them to act as emcees and speakers. “It is a wonderful way to include them in our pro-life work as well as allow them to develop public speaking skills.”

Father Gaudio, parochial vicar in St. Theresa Parish, Little Egg Harbor, was nominated as this year’s Champion for Life by a parishioner of his former pastorate in St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish.

“Father Dean preaches from the pulpit often in a non-confrontation, non-political, loving way about the importance of the protection of unborn babies,” said St. Teresa of Calcutta parishioner Kathleen McGrorry. “He makes it clear that our Lord has a purpose for every single life and that God does not make mistakes.” 

That attitude, McGrorry said in her nomination letter, extends to all ages and circumstances – attested to by many parishioners who shared with her their experiences, “stories of how Father Dean was the face of God in their lives and the lives of their broken families … he comforted and aided so many people, whom he taught that there is strong purpose for their lives, and to lean into their struggles and to trust God’s will for them.”

During his time at St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, McGrorry continued, Father Gaudio invited representatives of Rachel’s Vineyard to speak – a ministry that assists both women who have had abortions and those close to them to heal post-abortion.

“[He] permitted the placing of flags on both church lawns to create a visual of how many babies are aborted each day in the U.S.,” she said, referring to the parish's two worship sites, St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, Avon, and Ascension Church, Bradley Beach. “When faced with opposition … he stood his ground and refused to remove the flags. … He supported the work of our pro-life ministry whether it was the selling of roses or renting a bus for parishioners to attend the pro-life rally in Washington, D.C.”

The Champion for Life Award dinner not only recognizes those who distinguish themselves in protecting and defending human life, but also raises money for charities that Mary’s Child Pro-Life Ministry supports – among them, Birthright, Madonna House, Good Counsel Homes and Several Sources Shelters.

“Our annual dinners are important because we recognize that our unborn brothers, like Jesus, are continually lied about, denied, and abandoned,” said Reilly. “All they have in the world are those in the pro-life movement who speak and act on their behalf. All that many of the mothers who choose life have are the organizations that house and feed them when no one else will help them.

“When we come together each year,” Reilly continued, “one can't help but feel that the victory for the unborn is all but assured because pro-life champions are many, and they recognize the condemned and crucified Jesus in all of their unborn brothers and sisters.”