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Joan Crown, ‘face of Respect Life,’ retires

Departure of ‘good and faithful servant’ marks end of 37-year era in local ministry

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PowerPoint depicts an early newspaper article featuring Joan Crown’s pro-life work.

Photographer: ANNE DIBERNARDO | FC

PowerPoint depicts an early newspaper article featuring Joan Crown’s pro-life work.


DAVIE | The retirement of pro-life icon Joan Crown marks the end of an era for the Archdiocese of Miami Respect Life Office.

Hailed as a trailblazer by her peers, Crown is the longest serving pro-life leader in the 41-year history of the archdiocesan ministry. She began as a volunteer in 1981, when the ministry was still in its infancy – just eight years after the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe vs. Wade decision legalized abortion on demand in the U.S.

To honor her legacy, more than 100 Respect Life supporters and benefactors gathered for a Mass and reception last month at St. David Parish, under the fitting banner, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

“I believe she has saved hundreds, if not thousands, of pre-born children and has helped so many mothers to be mothers, and fathers as well,” said former Respect Life Director Father Jordi Rivero, who concelebrated the Mass with Father Alfred Cioffi, the ministry’s spiritual director, and St. David’s pastor, Father Steven O’Hala.

“She really was the face of Respect Life in the Archdiocese of Miami for all these years and she will be greatly missed,” said fellow pro-life warrior Father Dominic O’Dwyer, pastor of St. Malachy in Tamarac, who was unable to attend the event.

He credited Crown with bringing people in the various Respect Life offices together and especially promoting Project Rachel and the importance of post-abortion healing for women who had abortions.

“With a minimum of help she put a lot of personal time and effort above and beyond the call of duty,” Father O’Dwyer said. “She was tremendous both to us, the clergy, and to everybody she would meet.”

Former members of the Archdiocese of Miami Respect Life ministry, Sister Carmen Ors, left, and Sister Maria Jose Socias, of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, pose for a photo with Joan Crown at her retirement reception at St. David Parish Oct. 20.

Photographer: ANNE DIBERNARDO | FC

Former members of the Archdiocese of Miami Respect Life ministry, Sister Carmen Ors, left, and Sister Maria Jose Socias, of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, pose for a photo with Joan Crown at her retirement reception at St. David Parish Oct. 20.

Powerpoint image of Joan Crown pictured with her granddaughter, Stella. It was shown as part of a presentation on Crown's life and times at a reception in her honor Oct. 20 at St. David Parish in Davie.

Photographer: ANNE DIBERNARDO | FC

Powerpoint image of Joan Crown pictured with her granddaughter, Stella. It was shown as part of a presentation on Crown's life and times at a reception in her honor Oct. 20 at St. David Parish in Davie.

Barbara Groeber, former educational coordinator of the ministry, who retired in 2016 and began her career with Crown, recounted her friend’s first exposure to pro-life work in 1981. She had been invited by a neighbor to attend a talk given by the recently deceased Father Daniel Kubala, founding director of the ministry, to promote awareness about abortion. It proved a pivotal moment for Crown who, shocked at learning that women could abort their child during all nine months of pregnancy, made a life-long commitment to defend the unborn.

“Most people, when they hear these things, get kind of sad and go about their everyday lives, but Joan became the first volunteer program coordinator to run the ministry’s second facility in South Broward,” Groeber said.

In 1984, Crown became associate director of the ministry and in 2006 she was appointed director, succeeding Father Rivero.

“Joan started down this path of a total yes to God. It is one of those things like becoming a parent, you look back and think, if I knew what was involved, I wouldn’t have the nerve to do it,” Groeber said.

In fact, she added, “it hit me that as much as Father Kubala gave birth to this ministry, Joan has always led with a mother’s heart. She has totally imitated the Blessed Mother.”

And once she heard the call, “there is nothing that could deter Joan from this mission,” Groeber said. “Her ability to respond to every obstacle that was in her path in this continuing, raging battle for life is incomprehensible. I have never known anyone who has been knocked down, gotten back up and be stronger than ever than Joan. Strength like that is only from God.”

 

OBSTACLES, GROWTH

Despite those many obstacles, the Respect Life ministry experienced tremendous growth with Crown at the helm. There are now five pregnancy care centers located throughout the Archdiocese of Miami serving hundreds of clients each month. Each of the pregnancy centers is equipped with ultrasound technology, ready to introduce a new mother to her unborn child. The father's mentoring program, Project Joseph, also has helped hundreds of fathers become responsible parents.

Yet as far as Crown is concerned, “the battle” continues: to counteract the willingness of so many today to take the life of their own children in order to solve social problems, as well as the hesitance of many to recognize the urgent need to change minds and hearts to stop abortion.

She cites the words of St. John Paul II: “A nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope.”

Incoming Respect Life Director Juan Guerra poses with his predecessor, Joan Crown, during her retirement party at the Pastoral Center Oct. 4.

Photographer: CRISTINA CABRERA JARRO | FC

Incoming Respect Life Director Juan Guerra poses with his predecessor, Joan Crown, during her retirement party at the Pastoral Center Oct. 4.

“Our plan to end abortion remains the same, to support and love each person in a crisis pregnancy until they are able once again to have hope and to see their child for the blessing that he or she really is,” said Crown, whose motto in ministry was inscribed above her desk: “Why has such privilege been granted to us, to defend Him in his least ones?”

Her plans for retirement include spending more time helping her daughters and grandchildren and, like Groeber, continuing to serve as a Respect Life volunteer “wherever I am needed.”

 

MEMORY LANE

During the Oct. 20 tribute, a PowerPoint presentation led guests on a poignant trip down memory lane. It featured images of Crown in her heyday educating the public and legislators about all the pro-life issues, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the pregnancy help centers, and taking high school students each January to the March for Life in Washington, D.C.

Respect Life volunteers also took the opportunity to tell Crown how her witness to the Gospel of Life impacted them personally and professionally. But it was Sister Maria Jose Socias of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary who brought Crown to tears when she serenaded her with a flawless, acapella version of “As I Kneel Before You.”

“I admire her enduring dedication and determination,” said Eugene Cunningham, president of St. Malachy’s pro-life ministry, Mary for Life. “She’s a great warrior for the Gospel of Life – our own Joan of Arc, so she was aptly named.”

Crown thanked everyone, paying special homage to her husband, Chic, who attended the event along with her family. “I could not do what I did all these years without his support.”

She also took the occasion to pass the baton to her successor, Juan Guerra, who attended the event with his wife, Mary Kate, and their four daughters. She reassured everyone that they prayed for months before interviewing for a new director, so that the choice would be God’s.

“I ask all of you to keep Juan and his family in your prayers,” Crown said.

Guerra pledged to continue Crown’s legacy and mission so that all life, from conception to natural death, would be recognized. Father Rivero extended a special blessing over Guerra, invoking the Holy Spirit to give him the graces he needs to persevere.

This article originally included the wrong last name for Sister Maria Jose. It is Socias, not Macias.

Comments from readers

Judith Mary DiPietro - 11/29/2018 10:11 AM
Such a beautiful story on Joan Crown's retirement from the Respecct Life Office. She is truly admired by all. God Bless to her on her retirement.

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