Rosemary Connell: A Life Lived For Others
by Siobhan O'Kane
I met Rosemary Connell on April 3, 2008. I will never forget that day because she changed my life in one afternoon, much like she has changed and saved the lives of numerous people. I was fifteen then, and did not know that I was being introduced to a woman who would become one of my greatest and most trusted friends.
Rosemary has been involved in the pro-life movement from the beginning of abortion's rampant assault on children in the early 1970's. She took her own children in strollers to the annual March for Life. She was involved in Operation Rescue when the outcry against abortion was enough to compel people to block the abortuary's doors.
Her official record shows three arrests and a served sentence of five months in a woman's prison in Ontario. Her crime? Disturbing a society from a lethal slumber that, through its complacency, permitted the deaths of millions of children.
The part of the record that cannot be seen on paper are the number of children who are alive today because she is there to save them when the rest of society abandons them. It shows four biological children, four adopted children, foster children, and numerous pregnant women with no home or family who were taken in by her. It shows countless hours of caring for children with disabilities, offering their parents respite, with a love that a mother has for her own children.
How can one person sacrifice so much? Four years after meeting her I am still asking myself that same question. I cannot even remember all the stories. She gives anyone who asks for help all the money in her wallet, a room in her home, or the food in her fridge. She goes out of her way to help others.
Her efforts in the pro-life movement have been inexhaustible for decades. In 1997 Rosemary decided that people needed to see what abortion really looks like in order to grasp the horror of what was happening. It was then that she adopted a strategy that would take Ontario, and later Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, by storm. It started with a dozen people and a dozen images. Today it is one of the largest volunteer based pro-life organizations in Canada with over 250 regular street activists. Rosemary not only founded the organization, but was the first person in Canada to take the abortion images to the streets in the form of large signs.
When I met Rosemary in 2008, she had already been leading Show the Truth for eleven years, organizing and participating in over a thousand demonstrations exposing abortion in all its horror to hundreds of thousands of people. The fruits of her efforts may not all be seen, but there are some hopeful stories that confirm the effectiveness of Rosemary's method. Show the Truth went to southern Ontario a few years ago, and met a woman who had encountered the graphic signs on her way to her abortion appointment 11 years before. She shared that she had decided to keep her little boy, who was 11 years old by that time. This is just one of countless stories of minds changed and lives saved- all because of one woman's resilience and conviction that the truth must be shown for the killing to end. Now, Show the Truth has exposed abortion to Canadians over 2000 times since its inception.
Through all her battles against abortion, Rosemary has maintained a simple, compassionate, and admirable personal life. She is a role model to everyone who knows her. For me she is a mentor, a friend, a constant ear, and a voice of reason and moral guidance.
Early in our friendship Rosemary's husband explained a philosophy that the two had decided to live by throughout their marriage: Money they earn does not belong to them, rather, they are stewards over the money. I experienced her generosity the winter she insisted upon buying me top of the line boots and shoes, replacing the running shoes that I had been wearing. She refuses to let anyone do without when she has the means to make the situation better. I believed each story her friends and husband told about her sacrifices and generosity, and I personally experienced it many times.
One morning Rosemary informed me that I had an hour to study for my written drivers test, which would allow me to cover more ground during activism. Since it was an opportunity to expand my pro-life efforts, I agreed, frantically studied and finally passed after writing the test a fifth time. Rosemary patiently waited with a smile, paying for each new test, telling me I could not leave without my learner's permit. She called it an investment, one she willingly and gladly made. Nothing is too big or too small for Rosemary to help with.
As her long-time friend and fellow activist Ann Marie Tomlins said, “I often think the reason Rosemary is able to accomplish so much is because she really knows how to love unconditionally. And she really loves all the unborn children and their mothers and that love is strong enough to overcome obstacles”. This is very apparent to me each time I recall the story of how Rosemary had opened her home to a young woman facing an unplanned pregnancy. She lived in the Connell home --which was already busy and full with Rosemary's children-- for a few months during her pregnancy, and several months following the birth of her daughter. Now, over twenty years and two children later, this woman is still in close contact with Rosemary and her husband who both continue to offer support and love.
A woman of small stature, her willpower is immovable. These stories were shared by her family and friends throughout the years, proving just how humble she truly is. I am honored to live and work alongside someone who never backs down from the force of opposition, or succumbs to the fear that might prevent the rest of us from matching her pace. As her husband once told me, “Rosemary has been running uphill since we met and I'm still chasing her. She never slows down”. I know that in years to come, when abortion is a part of history, generations will look back at the lives of those who fought and won, and be inspired by Rosemary.
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