Saturday, 02 March 2024
Bill and Peggy Devlin with their family Bill and Peggy Devlin with their family Devlin family

Life is a human justice issue - A pro-life family legacy

Editor's note: The following is part of a series of articles highlighting pregnancy help legacies within families.

Bill and Peggy Devlin became involved in pro-life efforts on Long Island, New York, when the state legalized abortion in 1969. They watched with concern as abortion was gradually accepted in a few states before it became a political issue. As active Catholics the Devlins are pro-life, and they saw the pro-life issue as a human justice issue much like the civil rights issue.

Peggy and Bill Devlin/Devlin family


In 1970 the couple participated in a walking pilgrimage from Long Island to Albany, New York, stopping along the way to encourage pro-life involvement at local parishes. 

Peggy Devlin was removed from the State Assembly for protesting abortion along with a few others, including a rabbi.

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“Back then there were a few people drawn to the issue who started parish ‘human life committees,’” she said. 

“Members of the [altar and rosary] society were responding to the threat to unborn life before there was much organization,” Peggy Devlin said, remarking how the U.S. Catholic Church began responding when the national bishops’ conference formed a pro-life office.

When the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the U.S. in 1973, a small group of Long Islanders felt there had to be a dramatic condemnation and voice for life. 

Bill Devlin and a few others sat around March for Life founder Nellie Gray’s table and came up with the idea of the first national March for Life. A man who owned a bus company, worked with Devlin to coordinate buses from Long Island and parking in Washington D.C. Even without the benefit of the Internet for connecting people, about 20,000 showed up that first year.

The 1975 March for Life, Bill Devlin at left/Devlin family

As abortion became a big political issue, Bill Devlin realized that, while politics is the art of compromise, finding the least objectionable way can be dangerous.

“Generally partial victory is better than no victory,” he said, “but not with pro-life. It’s the ultimate category.”

When Bill and Peggy Devlin’s daughter Margaret completed college, she felt called to a vocation with the Sisters of Life, an order of nuns whose mission is the protection and sanctity of life. She entered the novitiate for the order in New York City in 1999.

Sister Mary Gabriel and friend/Devlin family

Now having taken the name Sister Mary Gabriel as part of her vocation, she recalls growing up immersed in the love and defense of life. 

“My parents were witnesses of faith, living for something beyond themselves,” she said. “They showed us that how we respond to God’s gift of life matters.”

“They had a passion for justice,” Sister Mary Gabriel said. “I was in utero at the first March for Life, and our family went every year. We did life chains and my parents tried to enlighten people to public school curriculums and how that could impact young people on human life and sexuality.”

Tweet This: My parents were witnesses of faith, living for something beyond themselves. They showed us that how we respond to God’s gift of life matters

“I am so grateful for the heroic witness of love that was the fabric of life growing up in our family,” she added. “The generosity of people defending those they’d never meet, living so much for other people, encouraged me to give my life to the Lord.” 

Sister Mary Gabriel and Sisters of Life at the March for Life/Devlin family

Now pro-life voice in defense of the unborn is also coming from among the Devlins’ 17 grandchildren.

Granddaughter Aidan held a mother and baby collection at her New Jersey parish, with shopping bags full of diapers and clothes donated to a local pregnancy center. 

“When I was in 10th grade, I attended the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar,” she said. “During a group activity we had to come up with a way to take action towards a particular issue in our community. My group agreed on the topic of teen pregnancy.”

“This was a tricky topic because my views were not the same as my peers,” Aidan Devlin said. “When my peers suggested abortion clinics as one of the ways to prevent teen pregnancy, I knew I couldn't continue in that direction.”

That prompted her to reach out to her parish in New Jersey and propose the idea of a pregnancy center drive connected to Mother’s Day. Her parish youth leader welcomed the idea and had her announce the collection after Sunday Masses. The donations were donated to Siena House, a shelter in the Bronx that provides support to mothers. 

Aidan Devlin plans to hold the Mother’s Day drive again this spring.

Patty Knap

Patty Knap is a certified pregnancy counselor, faith formation teacher, ABA therapist for autism, and freelance writer from Long Island.  


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