Loretto Wagner, mother of local pro-life movement, dies

Photo courtesy Cathy Gansmann

Loretto Wagner, a mother of the local pro-life movement, died June 17. She was 81.

Visitation for Wagner will be 2-9 p.m. Monday, June 22, at Schrader Funeral Home, 14960 Manchester Road in Ballwin, and 12:30-1 p.m. Tuesday, June 23, at St. Clare of Assisi Church, 15642 Clayton Road in Ellisville. The funeral Mass will be 1 p.m. June 23 at St. Clare.

Born in St. Louis, she was married for 57 years to Raymond Wagner. He preceded her in death in 2013. They had six children, Anne, Mary, Raymond, John, Catherine, Elizabeth, 25 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

Shortly after the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, Wagner became a tireless advocate for the unborn. She participated in peaceful "sit-ins" at area abortion clinics and coordinated a rally in Downtown St. Louis that same year. In 1974, she helped found Missouri Citizens for Life (later renamed Missouri Right to Life).

In 1975 and 1976, a small group from Missouri traveled by plane to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. The next year, they chartered a bus, to give people a more "affordable" option to go to the march. Wagner coordinated the annual Missouri-Illinois Life Caravan until 1994, when she stepped down for health reasons.

In 1982, she co-founded Our Lady's Inn, a maternity home for women in need and their children. In 1986, the archdiocesan Pro-Life Committee (now Respect Life Apostolate) presented her with the Cardinal Carberry Award for outstanding achievement in pro-life activities.

In a 1998 Review story, Wagner offered her observations on the pro-life movement: "We were all very naive in the beginning in thinking that this was all going to be over pretty fast. But that wasn't the case, unfortunately. And it's been kind of a roller-coaster ride at times. ... But I'm confident we're going to win.

"The opposition has been quoted as saying that they think some day we're going to shrivel up and blow away," she continued. "But they ought to know that ... we're strong as ever. And it doesn't matter how hard the wind blows, we're not going to blow away, and we're going to keep coming back."

Wagner served as an advisor and strategist to political candidates and elected leaders and was a legislative lobbyist. In 1990, she became a founding member of Common Ground, which promoted dialogue between pro-life and abortion rights leaders. She was featured in Cynthia Gorney's 1998 book, "Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars."

Deacon Sam Lee got to know Wagner when he arrived in St. Louis as a young college student in 1978. He soon became involved in the pro-life movement, and Wagner quickly became a mentor and second mother, sometimes slipping him money for gas or giving him a meal.

"Loretto represented the best of the pro-life movement," said Deacon Lee, who heads Campaign Life Missouri, a pro-life lobbying organization. "She was faithful to God, she loved her family and worked overtime for mothers and their unborn children."

"Loretto was a legend and a role model who championed respect for and legal protection of all life," said Karen Nolkemper, executive director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate. "Her vision, courage and unwavering commitment to life inspired generations of pro-lifers in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and beyond."

Steve Rupp, president of Missouri Right to Life, only met Wagner a few times, but he's often heard her name come up among conversations with people in the pro-life movement.

"She's one of those people you hear phrases like, 'a pillar of the community,' or 'they left a legacy that will live for generations,' but in her case, all of those things were true," said Rupp. "They may not be effusive enough when you think about her as a mother, a volunteer, a leader and a woman of incredible faith. We're going to miss her."

Molly Corcoran Kertz, past executive director of the Respect Life Apostolate, recalled Wagner's "strong personality," something that was important as she worked with legislators. "She went to politicians of all levels and wasn't intimidated by them, but she also had this tender part of her, with things like Our Lady's Inn. She was always teaching and sharing the pro-life message."

Wagner had the perfect blend of strength and conviction, along with compassion and humility, not just as a pro-life leader, but also as a mother, said daughter Cathy Gansmann.

"We had our rules and boundaries, and she was determined to raise us with a moral compass," said Gansmann. "That encouragement to do what's in your heart was her hallmark. She knew how to sit and be with you and understand and encourage you to do your best. With her children, Mom was able to identify our strengths, build our self-esteem and pursue our life's path, one experience at a time. She took so much pride in watching each of our lives unfold."

"I have heard from so many the past few days about mom's ability to build them up, to teach, to mentor. With her loving kindness she drew people to her and she brought them to a higher place."

Burial will be in Resurrection Cemetery. 

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