Fr. Paul Marx dies

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ST. CLOUD, Minn. - Benedictine Father Paul Marx, the founder and former president of Human Life International in Front Royal, died March 20 in Minnesota at St. Cloud Hospital. He was 89.

A funeral Mass for Father Marx was to be celebrated March 26 at St. John's Abbey Church in Collegeville, followed by interment in St. John's Cemetery.

"In the 40-year pro-life career of Father Marx, and through his 3 million miles of world travel, Human Life International saw the blossoming of the world's conscience about the issues of life," said Father Thomas J. Euteneuer, Father Marx's successor as the organization's president.

His predecessor "put pro-life 'on the map' in a literal sense and through his efforts gave the world direct and organized opposition to the culture of death," he said in a statement.

Father Euteneuer urged "all who love life" to pray "that his passing may serve as a reminder of the courage necessary to defend life in these days when life is under attack from every direction."

Often referred to as "the father of the international pro-life movement," Father Marx visited all 50 states and 91 countries in his four decades of pro-life activism.

Father Marx, who was born Benno William Marx on May 8, 1920, in St. Michael, Minn., liked to point out that he was born 10 days before the late Pope John Paul II, who once told him: "You are doing the most important work on earth." The pope called him "the apostle of life."

He was born the 15th child in a family of 13 girls and four boys; three of his siblings died in infancy. He was raised on a dairy farm that was in the Marx family for five generations, but he did not have any interest in farming.

He was raised in a religious family, for whom daily Mass was essential. Young Benno became interested in the priesthood and at age 15 went to St. John's Preparatory School. Benno's older brother, Benedictine Father Michael Marx (1913-93), entered the novitiate the same year.

In high school Benno earned a number of academic and athletic honors. By his senior year, he was captain of the football and track team, president of the student council and dramatic club, wrote for the school newspaper Prep World and was salutatorian of the senior class.

He went on to St. John's University, graduating in 1939. Two years later he entered the novitiate at St. John's Abbey, receiving the name Paul. He professed vows as a Benedictine monk on July 11, 1942, continued his seminary studies and was ordained a priest on June 15, 1947.

Even before his ordination Father Paul was a prefect, teacher, and coach at the prep school where he taught history, religion, and English from 1942 to 1952.

He attended The Catholic University of America in 1952 and received a master's degree in sociology in 1954 and a doctorate in 1957.

As a teacher of sociology, he emphasized the family, and natural family planning became a specialized area for him. Some years later he founded and was senior editor of a publication called the Review of Natural Family Planning.

Father Marx founded the sociology department at St. John's University in 1957 and was department chair until 1970. He developed and founded the Human Life Center at St. John's, 1972-80. In 1981 Father Paul founded the Human Life International in Washington and served as its leader until 1999. He retired in 2000.

He founded the Population Research Institute in 1989.

Father Marx wrote several books, including "The Death Peddlers: War on the Unborn," 1971; "Death Without Dignity: Killing for Mercy," 1982; "Confessions of a Pro-Life Missionary," 1988; "Fighting for Life," 1989; "The Flying Monk," 1990; "The Warehouse Priest," 1993; and his autobiography, "Faithful for Life," 1997.

President Ronald Reagan once wrote in a letter to Father Marx, "You can be proud of all you've done to summon this nation and others to reflection and positive action on issues affecting the sanctity of human life. God bless you."

A biography of the priest on the Web site of St. John's Abbey said Planned Parenthood "labeled him as 'public enemy No. 1.'" The site said he "was driven in his belief that life begins at the moment of conception, that life is a sacred gift from God, and that the family is the most important unit of society. His fight was vigorous against abortion, contraception, sterilization, euthanasia and child abuse."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010