Loretto Wagner Memorial Award
Why We March
We join hundreds of thousands of pro-life people from all over the U.S. and other countries to peacefully protest against the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion.
We go to Washington, D.C. to meet with and tell our Federally elected officials from Missouri that legalized abortion is wrong and that taxpayer s should not have to pay for other people’s abortions.
Loretto Wagner. What a woman!
She took her outrage, sadness, and disbelief at the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and turned them into years of tireless work to restore respect for God’s gift of life.
One of her earliest efforts was the leadership of the Missouri Life Caravan, an annual bus trip to Washington, D.C. on the anniversary of that infamous decision. From the beginning, Loretto envisioned large groups of St. Louis metropolitan area pro-lifers traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with their federal legislators to express concern for protecting innocent human life and to participate in the March for Life.
She challenged as many as possible to come with her. And, as years went by, more and more Missourians joined the trip to stand for life. What began with a few cars in 1974 grew to 10, 15, 30 bus loads over time.
Through rain, snow, cold, and sleepless nights . . . to this day Missouri Life Caravan continues. Loretto’s challenge accepted!
The Loretto Wagner Memorial Award has been established to recognize a person (or persons) who has (have) gone above and beyond in hearing her plea to be a part of the Missouri Life Caravan . . . to speak for the voiceless, to stand for the sake of those threatened, and to put forward a determined effort to defend the unalienable and paramount right to life.
Loretto Wagner is the reason why so many Missourians come to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life.
On June 17, 2015, Loretto Wagner passed away. She was, to quote Doug Johnson, National Right to Life’s Federal Legislative Director, a force of nature. In Loretto’s own words:
“On January 21, 1973, I was a wife and mother of six children. On January 22, 1973 I became an activist. It was on that infamous date that the U. S. Supreme Court handed down a chilling decision that legalized abortion on demand, anytime, anyplace, for any reason. What it meant was that an innocent unborn baby was no longer safe in its mother’s womb and could be killed and discarded like trash.
My disbelief and horror turned into energy. We would march in the streets. We would be those people. We would NOT let up! We would NOT GIVE UP!
On October 21, 1973, the first Pro-Life Rally was held in front of the Historic Old Court House in downtown St. Louis. It was an overwhelming success. It sounded a war cry all over the country inspiring countless rallies. The headlines read, “Missouri Shows the Way!” Well over 30,000 people stood in solidarity ready to fight for the unborn citizens now under siege by Roe v Wade! Speeches were delivered by some of the most respected, high profile figures in the pro-life movement, such as Senator John Danforth, Senator Thomas Eagleton and Dr. Mildred Jefferson. Our motto became – MOTIVATE, EDUCATE, ACTIVATE!
It became clear that this explosive energy had to reach our nation’s capital. At this time, Nellie Gray was organizing a rally in Washington, D. C. set for the first anniversary of this infamous decision, January 22, 1974. For two years, St. Louisans would board planes to join the D.C. contingency. In 1976, a man named John Henry collaborated with me to find a way for more people to reach Washington, D.C. and meet their legislators head-on….thus the creation of the Missouri-Illinois Life Caravan. In the first year, one bus pulled away from beneath the St. Louis Arch, heading for Washington, D.C. However, as the years progressed this caravan would expand to well over 29 buses with many others coming from other points around the bi-state area and Kansas City.”
1977=1 bus, 1978=2 buses, 1979=5 buses, and the numbers increased from there. In the early years, Missouri Right to Life and the Missouri Life Caravan were regularly recognized at the March for Life Rally as the state who came the farthest. Missouri led the March for Life in 1990 after the Webster decision.
Loretto always emphasized why we march – to peacefully protest the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. We go to Washington DC to meet with and tell our Federal officials from Missouri that legalized abortion is wrong and that our tax dollars should not have to pay for abortions. We march to impact pro-life legislation.
Loretto often said that this trip to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life is truly a pilgrimage, it was never meant to be a sightseeing trip. We get on the bus, drive through the night, meet with Missouri legislators, march, visit our legislators’ offices, and then return home, driving again through the night. She also said this bus trip was designed to keep costs down so many Missourians could participate.
In the early years of the bus trip, pictures of Loretto at the March for Life show her surrounded by reporters. She had a special gift for dealing with the media before, during and after the bus trip. She had the courage to make these conversations personal, about abortion and end of life issues. She also taught many of us that we must have the courage to gently change hearts.
But the March for Life and the Missouri Life Caravan wasn’t all that Loretto was passionate about. Loretto, in the midst of America’s abortion debate, organized a national group called Common Ground which brought together both sides of the debate to recognize similarities rather than differences.
Loretto was also a founding member and president of Our Lady’s Inn, a shelter for women in crisis pregnancy, which now operates two facilities, one in St. Louis and one in St. Charles.
Each one of us needs to re-commit every day why we stand for life and why we march. Until the Planned Parenthood videos released in the summer of 2015, the pro-life movement was losing its passion – let’s re-ignite that passion.
Loretto Wagner Memorial Award Recipients
Tribute: Thank you for this honor. I accept it on behalf of all those who have graced the front lines in this battle and do so even as we meet. I was fortunate to know Loretta, and while this young upstart was a pain in the neck to her at times, I was originally drawn to rescues when I saw Loretta and other Missouri Citizens for Life leaders sitting in. Never got a chance to thank her for that. So ‘Thank you, Loretta’.
Generation Life: I love your enthusiasm. You lost a third of your peers at the hands of abortionists and I think you know as survivors what a special place you have in ending this madness. Never let anyone take away your voice in this great struggle. Never.
I have a brief message for you in particular as we approach the eve of our Nation’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, a man who inspired my activism. Straight from his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech which I watched live on TV as a 10-year-old and which he delivered just a few blocks from here. In 1973 had we heeded his advice we would not be gathering here today. For that I apologize. Listen carefully as King spoke to those in that movement who urged caution and patience in THAT civil rights struggle: ‘This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. NOW is the time to make justice a reality for ALL of God’s children. It would be fatal to the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.’
Every one of us in this room knows that babies are dying. That just five blocks from here even as hundreds of thousands of us gather ostensible to protect those children, many are being ruthlessly killed. Something is terribly wrong with this picture. As long as this holocaust persists, we must never overlook the urgency of the moment for those for whom there will be no tomorrow if we do not succeed.
We say that actions speak louder than words. Perhaps the world has not heard our words over the past half century because they were drown out by our actions.
Generation Life, my dream is that you will heed those words better than we did. Take to the front lines in massive numbers as did those of that other Civil Rights movement. Were those people fearful? You bet. Did they suffer? YES. Was it worth it? Yes. Yes. YES.
Will they lock all of us up? Possibly. But if the price of our freedom is that the most innocent and helpless among us are ruthlessly killed, how free ARE we?
2018 Barbara Ring
2017 - All pro-life Missourians who participated in the 2016 'Snowmageddon' March for Life and made the long journey back home.
On Jan. 22, 2016 at approximately 1 pm, it began to snow in Washington, D.C. It was expected as many of us began walking up Constitution Ave. to the Supreme Court for the 2016 March for Life. By the time I started to walk past the U.S. Capitol Building, it was snowing sideways. Other Missourians who arrived in D.C. the day before for youth rallies and the March made the decision early the morning of Jan. 22nd to forego the March and start driving back (Vincentian Marian Youth). They and others back home became prayer warriors for all those who traveled after them. All the passengers on the Missouri Life Caravan weighed the risk of getting caught by the blizzard or standing up for life and choose LIFE.
The caravan had a plan to leave right after the March and stay ahead of the impending storm. The journey home to Missouri that Friday night was going as planned for the Missouri Life Caravan and countless other March for Life buses, heading north and west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The snow kept falling, but as fate would have it traffic slowed to a stop on the turnpike becoming a jam.
The cause of the jam was an accident involving two tractor-trailers that blocked all of the westbound lanes on the turnpike. In the time it took to clear the accident, the constant snow, in turn, rendered the turnpike impassible and all vehicles immobile.
For the next 30+ hours, hundreds of people, mostly pro-lifers returning from the March for Life in D.C., were stranded, including all the Missouri Life Caravan busses. Being stranded on the turnpike in a bus didn’t stop our Pro-Life agenda. Instead it accelerated it. Social media blew up as many stranded high school and college-aged pro-lifers communicated with family and friends, forcing the national media to pick up their stories. Many church services were conducted on that stretch of the turnpike including the now infamous “Turnpike Mass” where young people from the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul built a snow altar and held a Mass for approximately 300 people.
The Missouri Life Caravan did its part. We celebrated two Masses. Provided food and water to other people who were stranded. We dug cars out of the snow so that they could move when the time came for them to leave. We were in contact with the Post-Dispatch, Fox2now and KSDK. We gave two interviews via Skype and sent many pictures, many of which appeared on local news websites. Then after not moving for 24 hours, the Missouri Life Caravan moved into a Red Cross center. A big shout out to residents of Bedford PA who set up the Red Cross center in their high school where we took refuge late Saturday night.
Some of the social media comments I read included “God has us on His wings”, “Life is always worth standing up for”, and one from a young woman from Wisconsin “Actually I am really stoked that the weather sucks every year (for the March for Life). It’s great because it’s that much better a testimony, the unborn are worth it.” This quote sums up the attitude of the passengers on the 2016 Missouri Life Caravan. When one of the bus captains asked his passengers if they would stand up for the unborn and march next year even if facing the threat of another blizzard. The answer was an overwhelming YES.
2016 - Tom Lacey
Tom Lacey, a veteran of World War II and the Battle of the Bulge, was 47 years old when he heard on the radio that the Supreme Court had legalized abortion in America. It was then that Tom decided to take action and became pro-life.
Tom, now 90, has since been on almost every Missouri Life Caravan to Washington, D.C., serving as a bus captain for most of those trips. Even through bad weather, bus breakdowns, and other delays and sacrifices, Tom believes that it’s a minimum price to pay to take a stand against abortion.
Tom certainly answered Loretto Wagner’s plea to come on the annual trip. We are most grateful for Tom’s efforts to go above and beyond and be a part of the Caravan. And we hope that he can continue to join us as long as abortion is still legal in America.