An order of sisters, a former state Catholic Conference leader and an archdiocesan social justice director received the 2014 People of Life Award for lifetime commitment to the pro-life movement during a July 28 ceremony at the annual Diocesan Pro-Life Leadership Conference held this year in Charleston, South Carolina.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), presented the awards to the Little Sisters of the Poor, Sheila Hopkins and George Wesolek (awarded posthumously).
More than 150 diocesan, state and national Catholic pro-life leaders and guests from across the country attended the private awards dinner sponsored by the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.
The People of Life Award recognizes Catholics who have answered the call outlined by Pope John Paul II in The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae, 1995), dedicating themselves to pro-life activities and promoting respect for the dignity of the human person. It is bestowed in honor of their significant contributions to the culture of life.
The Little Sisters of the Poor were recognized for their dedication in serving the elderly poor and for doing so with integrity in the face of pressure to compromise their Catholic principles. The Little Sisters are an international congregation of women religious founded 175 years ago who serve 13,000 elderly poor in 31 countries, with 30 nursing homes/assisted living facilities in the United States. The HHS mandate would make the Little Sisters facilitate access to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraceptives in their employee health plan or face punitive fines. Because they serve and hire persons who are not Catholic, the Little Sisters are not considered a “religious employer.” In September 2013, they filed a class-action lawsuit, Little Sisters of the Poor vs. Sebelius, to persist in their ministry without having to violate their beliefs.
Sheila Snow Hopkins was honored especially for her 11 years as director for social concerns and respect life at the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (2002-13), where she represented the bishops of Florida on issues of human life, dignity and social justice before the legislative and executive branches of government as well as public and private sector organizations. Married 44 years, Hopkins and her husband, Maury, have three children and three grandchildren. Hopkins has served as an advisor to the USCCB’s Committee on Marriage and Family Life (2003-05), on the boards of the Florida Pregnancy Care Network and of the Florida Community Loan Fund, and on Florida’s Commission on Marriage and Family Support Initiatives and the Child Abuse Prevention and Permanency Council. Over 38 years, Hopkins held many positions with the National Council of Catholic Women and its diocesan and state affiliates in Florida. She will soon be installed as the national Council’s president-elect.
George Wesolek was honored posthumously for his decades spent advocating for the unborn and other vulnerable populations. From 1985 until his death at age 70 in April, he served as the director of public policy and social concerns in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. His leadership addressed a spectrum of social issues, including: protection of the unborn, Catholic principles of marriage, refuge for undocumented immigrants, affordable housing, health care access, healing from violence in the streets and alleviation of poverty. He played a key role in building the West Coast Walk for Life into a major pro-life event. In 2012, he spoke in defense of religious liberty at the “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally in San Francisco. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said “the passing of George Wesolek marks the end of a great deal of history in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, not just in terms of length of time but also impact on the mission of the Church.” His wife, Geri Wesolek, and one of their four daughters received the award on his behalf.
The Little Sisters, Hopkins and Wesolek join 22 other People of Life recipients since the Pro-Life Secretariat inaugurated the award in 2007. More information on the bishops’ People of Life Award, previous recipients, and the People of Life campaign is available online: www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/people-of-life.