Father Frank Pavone, founder and national director of Priests for Life, and Janet Morana, executive director, were in Rome this past week on their annual visit that includes meetings in some offices of the Roman Curia. Father also teaches some courses at Regina Apostolorum seminary. We always get together several times during their visits, as we did this week – Monday night for dinner, Thursday night dinner at my house and the traditional meal the night before they leave for the States.

Yesterday, as we traditionally do their last night in Rome, we planned on going to 5:45 pm Mass at the basilica of Our Lady of the Angels and Martyrs with the Santa Susanna American Catholic community and follow that up with dinner at La Scaletta.

Thursday I had interviewed Janet about their Rome visit, the March for Life last month in DC and all the pro-life activities of Priests for Life. We talked at length about Vice President Pence’s appearance at the March in Washington and the pro-life, pro-religious freedom direction the Trump administration is embracing. The March for Life of course is dedicated to efforts to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion.

As we spoke Janet reminded me that someone we both know, Norma McCorvey, the ”Roe” of the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, was failing in health, and suggested that I interview her about this woman who made history in the U.S. and then spent a lifetime trying to undo that history.

It was Norma’s courageous decision later in life, to renounce abortion – the goal she had espoused as the plaintiff in Roe v Wade – and to denounce it as the deliberate killing of a human being in its mother’s womb that led her to turn her life around completely. She spent decades trying to overturn the law she had been instrumental in creating – even though she never set foot in court. She found out about the SCOTUS 1973 decision that legalized abortion the morning afterwards when she opened her front door and saw the headlines on the daily newspaper.

Nor did she ever have an abortion. Prior to 1973 abortions were illegal, even though some states had rare exceptions, such as the life of the mother being in jeopardy.

Janet and I agreed to do that interview and decided to meet before going to Mass yesterday. It took just under 15 minutes and we were soon on our way to the basilica.

After Mass, in the car on the way (we thought) to the restaurant, both Father and Janet were getting messages and tweets on their phone and we learned that Norma, after a battle with COPD, had died while we were in church. Father Frank called Norma’s daughter Melissa and, learning that the family was gathered around Norma’s bed, he prayed with them over the phone.

Father Frank returned to the apartment that Priests for Life has in Rome to briefly work on his computer and to take and make phone calls from his staff, the news media, etc. He did a Facebook Live (link is below) and wrote the letter you see below.

We eventually made it to the restaurant but dinner was punctuated by countless phone calls from the media. Janet handled calls from the Priests for Life staff as well.

I had time to remember how I first met Norma on Staten Island in November 2013.

Father Frank was celebrating the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood and the 20th anniversary of the founding of Priests for Life. There were several days of celebrations, meetings, Masses and meals. Norma was one of the many cherished guests at all the celebrations, and I had a number of meals – breakfasts, lunches and dinners – with her to learn her amazing story.

Here we are at the dinner celebrating Father’s ordination anniversary: Norma is in the center of the first photo –



She was so down to earth that I felt like I’d known her for years and yet, her story, from childhood on, was so totally unlike my life and my memories that I felt I was participating in a movie, something that was make-believe. It was not make-believe. It was history in the making.

The most striking part of her story was her feeling that, all those decades ago, because she was so young and vulnerable she had been used, deceived, misled by the lawyers she trusted to help her with their third pregnancy, an unwanted one.

Here, as promised, is Father Frank’s message written just an hour or so after Norma’s death yesterday at the age of 69:

I am sorry to have to inform you that a great friend of the pro-life movement, and of me personally, died a few hours ago. Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs Wade decision, was called home by the Lord today at 11:07am Central Time.

I got to know Norma in 1995, when she first became pro-life and was baptized by my friend Rev. Flip Benham. We stayed in touch regularly. Three years later I was privileged to bestow upon her the Sacrament of Confirmation as she entered the Catholic Church. Over the years, our Executive Director Janet Morana and I connected with Norma regularly, both on a personal and professional basis.

Despite the heaviness on her heart over the killing of some 58 million children since Roe vs. Wade, she always knew how to take the Lord’s hand and let his grace lift her up. She experienced the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat program to help heal her wounds (even though she never had an abortion herself), and she devoted herself in ways big and small to bring an end to the tragedy of abortion.

Friends, Norma’s story will live on. It is a story of hope. If she can convert, and find forgiveness from her involvement with abortion, then anyone can. And if she could say one thing right now to the world, I’m convinced it would be, “Learn my story, and have hope.”

You can see the Facebook Live video I made shortly after I heard of her passing — — and can see our press release as well as a lot of articles and interviews with Norma at

Also I am happy to tell you that in the coming months, we will be organizing special memorial services in various regions of the country to remember Norma, commend her to the Lord, and commit ourselves even more to live out the lessons her life teaches us. So please stay tuned for those announcements!

And if you have a moment, please

  1. a) Share this email and its links so that others may learn about Norma, and
  2. b) Send a message of condolence to her family by clicking here.

I’ll have more to say about Norma in the coming days on my Facebook Live broadcasts at Please join me there!

God bless you!



A great voiced was silenced over the weekend, the voice of a theologian, philosopher, diplomat, witness to Vatican Council II, a prolific writer, speaker and teacher, a mentor to countless numbers of people and, above all, a friend – Michael Novak.

Michael died Friday at the age of 83.

Over the years I’ve shared many special, indeed unique, moments with Michael, in Rome and in the U.S. We’ve broken bread together at a number of meals – mostly in Rome! – and had many fascinating conversations, on the set of television shows, waiting in green rooms to go on air, over dinner in a diplomat’s home, in the courtyard of the Swiss Gaurds residence in Vatican City (as you’ll see in the video below).

If Michael was present at an event, you knew that event would be special, that the day would just be better. He was soft spoken and that was one reason why you leaned in and listened intently to him when he spoke — that, in addition to the priceless stories he told, the insights he shared about Popes and presidents, the advice he’d give when asked.

Praise for a life well-lived is coming from around the world for Michael – all of it deserved, none of it exaggerated.

I am grateful the Lord put Michael in my life, even if only for brief moments. Because every moment with Michael was an enriching experience. Thank you for those moments, Michael.

Here is one of our last exchanges – the endorsement he wrote for my book, A Holy Year in Rome:

“I have been going to Joan Lewis for at least 35 years for practical guidance around Rome, and what she is hearing on the streets and from her many contacts in every sort of Vatican office.  Readers will be delighted by her newest guide to this city, from which scores of thousands will be in touch with what her many friends have been learning from her for years.  Joan Lewis is an unusual guide for two reasons: She loves Rome, and as an American has been soaking up its daily joys for more than three decades.  Second, she loves those who ask guidance from her and presents Rome in an informal, personal, and friendly way, like a companion walking at your side. Enjoy!”

And here is the video I took as Michael spoke at a reception offered by the Swiss Guards in 2014 on the occasion of the canonization of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II: