Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 22, 1960 when ground was broken for St. Philip Church, East Windsor.
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demarco halfThe year 1938, like all years, had its problems: Hitler seized control of the German army and placed Nazis in key posts. The Civil War in Spain continued unabated on its path of destruction. Benito Mussolini published an anti-Jewish/African manifesto. Winston Churchill condemned Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia. The League of Nations declared Japan to be an aggressor against China. It was a year in which certain factions did not agree that Jews, Africans, Spaniards, Czechs and Chinese were fully human.

Yet, like all years, there were areas that remained unaffected by a climate of turbulence. The beginning of human life was not an issue that was caught up in a maelstrom of cultural confusion. There was no reason to distort or contaminate its scientifically documentable reality. And so, Margaret Shea Gilbert, a name that is not remembered by many, wrote a small book entitled Biography of the Unborn, in which she described, with grace and biological precision, the beginning of human life.

"Life begins for each one of us," she wrote in her opening paragraph, "at an unfelt, unknown and unhonored instant when a minute, wriggling sperm plunges into a mature ovum or egg. . . . It is at this moment of fusion of the sperm and ovum (a process called fertilization) that there arises a new individual who contains the potentialities for unnumbered generations of men."

The general public looked favorably on Gilbert’s book. It was not controversial in the least. The Williams & Wilkins Company, a leading publisher of scientific and medical works at the time, honored it by awarding its author a prize of $1,000 for "the best book on a scientific subject for general reading." Ten years after its initial publication, Readers’ Digest widened the book’s readership in 1948 by publishing it in a condensed form. 1938 was an island of serenity concerning the origin of human life despite what was going on in the rest of the world.

The fertilized egg, or zygote, contains all the information it needs to direct its development to the point where it attains consciousness and resembles other adult human beings. World class geneticist Jérôme Lejeune, the discoverer of trisomy, states that "as no other information will enter later into the zygote, the fertilized egg, one is forced to admit that all the necessary and sufficient information to define that particular creature is found together at fertilization. The zygote’s end is implicit in its beginning. Human life, therefore, begins at fertilization."

There is a widespread presumption that science marches on quite independently of cultural influences. This view is naïve in the extreme, as history has shown.  One need only consider the immense political pressure placed on scientists in Nazi Germany and in Stalinist Russia.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said it well in his treatise Medical Essays in the mid-19th century, when he remarked that "medicine, professedly founded on observation, is as sensitive to outside influence, political, religious, philosophical, imaginative, as is the barometer to the atmospheric density." In theory, he said, medicine "ought to go on its own straightforward inductive path," but in practice there exists "a closer relation between the Medical Sciences and the conditions of Society and the general thought of the time, than would at first be expected." He was speaking not only about medicine, but about science in general.

Cultural influences are always present and affect scientists as well as those in any other discipline. 1938 was turbulent in many ways, but in that year the science of embryology that pinpointed the origin of human life was allowed to proceed according to its own objective standards. The climate also allowed people to read about the origin of human life without cultural prejudice. The widespread belief in progress is somewhat mythical. We would be wise to recognize the occasional lapse into regress.

Catholics, however, will find rich meaning in the fact that the Nativity takes place exactly nine months after the Annunciation.

Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, and a regular columnist for

St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.