United for Life celebrates 50 years of defending and promoting the sanctity of life

By Mary Powers

Fifty years ago, upon seeing the shifting conversation in abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe vs Wade, Father Francesco Filice and a group of Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco decided that the issue of abortion and the dignity of every person needed to be fought in the public square and in the arena of ideas. There was a need for an educational arm to promote the truth and dignity of every human life, countering the arguments of the emerging pro-abortion movement. Thus was born the first pro-life organization in San Francisco—United for Life.

Father Felice, then Dr. Filice, was a professor of biology at the University of San Francisco and was already working to counter abortion and overpopulation arguments in certain circles in San Francisco when he approached the Archdiocese about creating a group to educate others on the dignity of human life.[1]

Over the years, United for Life developed the first pro-life newsletter in the United States and coordinated on pro-life issues and activism across the state of California. The organization also developed a speakers bureau that included lawyers, scientists, students, and men and woman of other professions who traveled to schools, parishes, and other events to speak on the pro-life message.

On October 28, United for Life held a celebration in honor of their 50th anniversary at Star of the Sea Catholic Church in San Francisco. The event began with Mass and was followed by a banquet in the Star of the Sea gym. Those in attendance included pro-life dignitaries, local pro-life activists, and parishioners from across the Archdiocese. They recognized the work of Father Filice and also Mary Ann Schwab, one of the original founders of United for Life, who had recently passed away.

This year, the group honored Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone with a special award for defending the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death. In his keynote address, Archbishop Cordileone thanked United for Life and those present for their work to defend the unborn and support mothers and families.

“I am so impressed when I and see the great diversity of us ‘united for life;’ this great diversity of races and ethnicities, of expressions of our common faith in Christ, and those of all ages as well,” said Archbishop Cordileone.

The Archbishop encouraged attendees to continue their work in promoting the dignity life and walking with women in need despite the persecution and push-back from the modern culture.

“All those who have advocated for justice in an unjust society have suffered persecution,” he said. “Many of us are old enough to remember the civil rights movement, and those who suffered and, obviously, were killed for defending civil rights. Sadly, there is much hatred and hostility in the world today, and it seems to be growing in our own country. But it is your purity, goodness, affability, and compassion that will win them over. So, thank you for being witnesses to the truth.”

[1] Following the death of his wife Barbara, Dr. Filice entered the seminary and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1979. He served in the Archdiocese at many parishes and founded the Holy Family Oratory of St. Philip Neri. He died in 2015.