by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was an all-star night at the 2015 People of Life Award dinner here on July 27, when honors were given to three pro-life pioneers who were there at the beginning of the battle against the “culture of death.”
The three who were recognized were: Nancy Valko, a nurse; Molly Kelly, a speaker and chastity educator; and Michael Taylor, a leader of pro-life organizations and campaigns.
They are among the 25 people who have received the People of Life Award since it was established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2007.
The annual awards dinner was part of the national Diocesan Pro-Life Leadership Conference July 26 to 29, hosted by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and sponsored by the USCCB.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., of the Archdiocese of Boston, presented the awards as more than 120 diocesan, state and national Catholic pro-life leaders and guests looked on.
The People of Life Award is given to Catholics who have answered the call issued by St. John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”), dedicating themselves to pro-life activities and promoting respect for the dignity of the human person. The honorees have made significant contributions to the culture of life.
“Last Sunday [were] the inductions into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
“This is kind of the Hall of Fame for pro-life work and ministry,” he continued. “Personally, I’m a baseball fan, but I’d much rather be here tonight. The achievements of those we recognize tonight are much more significant than those of any pro athlete.”
The evening was especially meaningful to Archbishop Naumann, formerly a priest and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and a member of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
“I feel personally gratified because I know each of the honorees,” said Archbishop Naumann. “I’ve worked with each one of them.”
The first honoree was Nancy Valko, from St. Louis.
She has worked as a nurse for 46 years in many areas, including critical care, hospice and oncology. She formerly served as president of the Missouri Nurses for Life, as a board member of the St. Louis Down Syndrome Association and as co-chair of the St. Louis Archdiocesan Respect Life Committee.
The second honoree was Molly Kelly from Philadelphia.
As the widowed mother of eight children, Kelly was a tireless speaker on chastity, prenatal development, and life-affirming options for pregnant girls.
Kelly is also the founding president of the Pennsylvania Educational Foundation and the Delaware Valley Alliance, which provides support for women with problem pregnancies.
The third honoree was Michael Taylor, from Alexandria, Virginia.
Taylor is counted among the founding fathers and mothers of the pro-life movement, active when efforts to legalize abortion on demand were being made on the state level, before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. Taylor was crucial to the first pro-life victory in the U.S. Congress prior Roe v. Wade.
He organized pro-life efforts both at the grass-roots level and for the U.S. bishops from 1968 to 1979. Taylor helped form the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment and later returned to lead it. He helped form the first bishops’ pastoral plan for pro-life activities. He is responsible for the success of pro-life postcard campaigns that shut down the congressional post office.
Taylor served as associate director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities from 1975 to 1979 and helped design the annual Respect Life Program. He is credited for reviving the National Right to Life Committee, and served as executive secretary and later executive director.
In closing the evening, Archbishop Naumann quoted Pope Paul VI, who said that what the church needs today is not so much teachers, but witnesses.
“These are great witnesses who we recognize tonight. So, we thank you Nancy, Mike and Molly for the great example you have given us,” said the archbishop.
“And really, everybody in this room could be honored for the hard work you are doing,” he continued. “But hopefully these examples, these witnesses, give us all motivation to continue our efforts to protect life, to protect conscience rights, to protect the weak and the vulnerable and rebuild a culture of life in our country.”