Pharmacists say rosary bolstered faith, courage
by Joe Bollig
ST. MARYS — It had been weighing on the hearts of Dan and Mary Sutherland for years: Should we stop selling contraceptives?
To do so could cause a lot of trouble.
The Sutherlands are small business owners, not activists.
“How could we do that?” Dan recalls thinking. “We’d be jeopardizing our livelihood. And is it our place to thrust this upon our public?”
The Sutherlands, both pharmacists and members of Christ the King Parish in Topeka, have owned a pharmacy in St. Marys since 2004.
Their dual mission has always been to care for their family — and their customers. And that was what they thought they were doing.
But that persistent doubt kept coming back, and they wondered if they really could reconcile their Catholic faith with selling contraceptives.
“We compartmentalized our lives,” explained Dan. “We regularly attended Mass, sent the kids to Catholic school, and followed natural family planning in our personal lives. But in our business life, our pharmacy was dispensing contraceptives.”
“As pharmacists, it was so troubling,” said Mary. “We both knew that all contraceptives could be abortifacients.”
The Sutherlands might have continued to straddle the fence if they had not received motivation from an unexpected source — their daily family rosaries.
In 2007, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph cosponsored a living rosary rally in Kauffman Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Royals in Kansas City, Mo.
As part of that effort, families were encouraged to pray the rosary together for the success of the living rosary rally. The rosary had played a part in the conversion of Dan, who had been raised a Missouri Synod Lutheran, but became a Catholic in 2003.
“It really just has helped us with so many graces and has brought Christ and his church to the center of our married life and our family life,” said Mary.
Soon, the Sutherlands discovered that the strength and unity that grew out of their bolstered prayer life helped them address their inner conflict.
“Before we began praying the rosary, occasionally the thought [of their contraceptive dilemma] would come into my mind, and honestly I’d push it out fast,” said Mary.
“It was a threat to our livelihood,” said Dan. “It was fear. What would [discontinuing the sale of contraceptives] do to our business, our livelihood, our professional lives — if we say we’re not going to do that?”
Would they alienate their customers? Would there be legal ramifications? They’d already taken several steps to make theirs a “pro-life pharmacy.” Wasn’t that enough?
The Sutherlands decided no, it wasn’t.
“Doing the will of God, whatever that was, became more important to both of us — regardless of the cost,” said Mary.
The Sutherlands took a big step forward in 2011 when they contacted the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.
“When we talked to [staff bioethicist] Father Alfred Cioffi, we told him, ‘Here we are. This is our business. What do we do?’” said Dan. “We thought we’d get a ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do this’ answer. We didn’t get that at all.”
Rather than an easy, black-and-white answer, Father Cioffi walked them through the issues and the church’s teachings, to help them form their own consciences.
Father Cioffi gave them six steps for discernment. The last was to find out if Kansas has conscience protection laws in place for pharmacists in their situation. Their progress was halted again in January 2012 when they discovered that Kansas had enacted only very limited conscience protection laws.
“That was a huge thing for Dan, because he’s the primary breadwinner for the family,” said Mary. “What do we do now?”
They continued to pray and trust that God would show them the way. Then, only a month later, Mary received an email from a friend, who knew nothing of their struggle.
The email was from Kansans for Life. They urgently needed medical professionals to testify at a hearing before the Kansas House Judiciary Committee for expanding conscience protection for Kansas pharmacists, nurses and doctors.
They’d told God they’d do whatever he asked, said the Sutherlands. So this came like a tap on the shoulder. How could they say no?
“We’re thinking this is part of the answer to our prayers, and Kathy Ostrowski [of Kansans for Life] said to me jubilantly, ‘You’re an answer to our prayers,’” said Dan. “I sat down that night, said a prayer to the Holy Spirit, and typed out my testimony.”
His testimony, and that of many others, contributed to the passing of the Healthcare Rights of Conscience Law in Kansas. It was signed by Gov. Sam Brownback in June 2012.
The Sutherlands then explained in letters to customers that they were making a business decision not to sell contraceptives. On July 1, the St. Marys Pharmacy truly became a part of the culture of life.
July 1 came and went — and nothing much happened.
“I had two of our three people ask me,” said Dan.
But for the Sutherlands’ faith life and consciences, the impact has been tremendous.
“We had to come to a point in our lives where we could say, ‘What if we lost our house and business because of this decision?’” said Dan.
“And we got to the point where we could say, ‘It’ll all be OK. If we do lose it all, so be it. But we’re living according to our faith life,” he added.