Father Dean Gaudio speaks to dinner attendees after receiving the 2022 Champion for Life Award. Courtesy photo
Father Dean Gaudio speaks to dinner attendees after receiving the 2022 Champion for Life Award. Courtesy photo

During its 31st annual Champion for Life Dinner Oct. 23, after a two-year break during the pandemic, Mary’s Child Pro-Life Ministry highlighted the advocacy and courage of two pro-life supporters whose example has set them apart.

Gathered with supporters from around the Diocese at The Shore Club in Spring Lake Heights, the dinner guests applauded the 2022 Champion for Life Father Dean Gaudio, parochial vicar in St. Theresa Parish, Little Egg Harbor, and Paul Garvey, who was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Since 1990, Mary’s Child Pro-Life Ministry has been hosting its honorary dinner; the organization 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.

Members of St. Mark’s CYO and St. Teresa of Calcutta youth ministry seniors served as emcees for the evening. Mary Reilly, president of Mary’s Child Pro-Life Ministry, opened with a story about how her daughter Moira saved a teen friend’s baby and how her sister’s presence praying the Rosary outside a clinic saved a couple’s baby.

“He that saves one person, saves the whole world,” Reilly said. “This is what Mary’s Child Pro-Life Ministry is all about, what all of us here tonight are all about: being a voice for the voiceless, being a presence, being a true friend who walks in the door when the rest of the world has walked out.”

Garvey, a longtime parishioner of St. Denis, was presented with the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award for True Courage. Despite enduring an injury 13 years ago in a tragic diving accident, his unwavering optimism kept him going.

“This accident has been so life-changing for the good, that I would never change it,” he said. Garvey’s advice to anyone who has been in an accident was to “Never give up … Faith, hope, and love add up to give us courage. I think of Jesus and all he did for us with carrying the cross; he had a lot of courage. His courage came from his faith, hope and love for the Father and for us.”

Father Bill Lago, St. Denis pastor, expressed, “Paul is a reminder to rise up and live out your calling, to live a life of courage.”

In the evening’s capstone presentation, Father Gaudio humbly accepted the 2022 Champion for Life award. He shared his parents’ devout faith in their words, “‘We gave you physical life, you give everyone spiritual life.’”

Inspired as a child by the Marian apparitions of Medjugorje, a small village in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Father Gaudio said the experience, “totally converted me” as a teenager, and he related to the stories of visionary Mirjana’s struggles in her young life to spread the Word of God following the apparition she witnessed in 1981.

Growing up in Sarajevo, Mirjana encountered many young women who had abortions, which challenged her to show empathy for them, avoiding judgment. Instead, she prayed for them to the Blessed Virgin Mary during the daily apparitions.

Like Mirjana, Father Gaudio shared his own struggles with those who are pro-choice, but through prayer, empathy and compassion, he peacefully asks others, “to not judge, not condemn … Pray for them, show empathy, show his love.” Through God, prayer and the Blessed Mother, his mission is clear: “To pray for those who do not believe, those who have not yet come to know the love of God.”

Demonstrating his fealty to the pro-life cause, Father Gaudio has for many years attended March for Life demonstrations hosted speakers from Rachel’s Vineyard and supported and defended the placement of flags on church lawns to represent the number of babies aborted daily in the United States.

St. Teresa of Calcutta parishioner Kathleen McGrorry attested that Father Gaudio “is a humble, Godly man who leads for God’s glory, not his own.”

Father Gaudio jokingly referred to his days of watching the movie “Cool Hand Luke” and his favorite number 37, which was Paul Newman’s character Luke’s inmate number. He pointed out the importance of those two symbols later in his life and their powerful meaning, as revealed in the Gospel of Luke 1:37, “With God, all things are possible.”

“Any good I have ever done, any good I will ever do,” he concluded, “it’s because of God and because of you people who helped me, supported me and loved me.”