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Santorums Honored for Service in the Cause of Life

Former senator and his wife receive highest non-academic award.

Posted: Friday, March 19, 2010

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Santorum Poverello

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Watch Senator Santorum's acceptance speech

STEUBENVILLE, OH—"It is truly a joy in these times to celebrate a married couple for their witness and their service to the Church, society, and the world," said Michael Hernon '94 , vice president of Advancement at Franciscan University and master of ceremonies at the Poverello Medal Reception recognizing the Honorable and Mrs. Rick and Karen Santorum.

Held at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, on March 11, the event drew over 100 guests including U. S. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry and former U.S. Congressman Mike Ferguson.

University President Father Terence Henry, TOR, presented the Poverello Medal, Franciscan University’s highest non-academic award, to Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

"We are here to honor a Catholic married couple whose pro-life witness inspires us all to keep fighting the good fight," said Father Henry.

The fight, said Santorum, "is about an attitude within the health care system that says some lives are more valuable than others, that not all life is equal. We know this acutely in our family.”

Alone at the podium, Santorum explained, "If you want to honor somebody tonight, honor my wife, who's at the bedside of our daughter right now and doesn't leave it unless I'm there, who fights every day for that life."

Isabella Maria Santorum was born 22 months ago with Trisomy 18, a chromosomal disorder.

"We were told three days after Isabella's birth that the condition she had was 'incompatible with life,'" said Santorum. "These children have lung issues. So Karen asked for oxygen. The doctor said, 'You have to understand. You just have to learn to let her go.' Mama Bear and the claws came out, and within 30 seconds she had a scrip for oxygen to bring home. But this is what it's like, day in, day out," caring for a special needs child.

"We have had the great blessing of getting to know a lot of parents in the 'special needs' community whose children have Trisomy 21 [which causes Down Syndrome]. And the stories I could tell you of the battles just to have them delivered, just to get them even palliative care, just to get them even the minimum of feeding and water, because this world looks at them as less, looks at them as 'dis-abled.'

"And you know what? It's hard to embrace that cross. In this country, even as faithful Catholics, it's hard to accept what God has given you. That's why 90% of these children are aborted, even by Catholics—because you just don't want to embrace the cross.

His wife, Santorum indicated, is someone who has embraced the cross. "I wanted you to know how special the person you're honoring is—it isn't me. It's the really special person who's at home, who wrote Letters to Gabriel." (The book chronicles a mother’s love and Rick and Karen's heartbreak over their son Gabriel’s premature birth and death.)

Currently a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Santorum noted, "Very few people who are pro-life fight for life. Why? Because you stick your head out of the foxhole and people start shooting at you. They change your description from 'the conservative senator from Pennsylvania' to 'the ultraconservative senator from Pennsylvania', the 'theocrat,' the 'zealot,' the person who's trying to shove their faith down your throat.

"Every caricature you can imagine comes at you because you've decided to take on an issue that you're not supposed to take on," said Santorum. "It's okay, they'll give you a break, even the left will let you go if you just vote pro-life. It's different if you stand up.

"In politics, if you don't have a spouse who's right behind you every step of the way, it's very easy to keep quiet, very easy to keep your head down. Karen would never let me keep my head down. She is the real gift to this country who allows me to do the work that I do.

"The significance of the award is always related to the respect that you have for the body that is bestowing the award on you," Santorum said. "Karen and I were deeply moved by the recognition and see it as an encouragement to continue to serve our country and the Church. We are deeply grateful."

Among those gathered to honor the Santorums was U. S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska) MA '96, who recounted visiting Santorum's office when Santorum was first elected. "You didn't know me—I was just a kid! But I watched you take on the powers that be. I watched you hang in year in and year out, saying the tough things and doing the hard things, standing for what is right, standing for what is good, and ultimately trying to build a more just society.

"I'm so grateful for your leadership, not only in the state of Pennsylvania, not only for America, but for inspiring those who are in your wake."

Vice chairman of Franciscan University's Board of Trustees and Event Chairman Robert C. Smith said, "Rick and Karen Santorum exemplify what we as Catholics all should be—very, very visibly pro-life in everything we do."

The Poverello Medal is the highest non-academic honor awarded by Franciscan University of Steubenville. Named after St. Francis of Assisi, who was called Il Poverello ("the little poor man"), the award commemorates organizations and individuals who, through great strength of character and the practice of Christian charity, have imitated St. Francis in their love for and service to the poor. Past recipients include Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Senator Mark O. Hatfield, and Charles W. and Patricia Colson.

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