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Issue Date:  November 9, 2007

Stephen J. Spiro
Catholic pacifist pro-life activist dies


In his obituary, longtime Catholic peace activist Stephen J. Spiro called himself a “political criminal.”

Spiro, who lost his battle with liposarcoma Oct. 23 in New Jersey, made sure he said his goodbyes to the scores of people he knew from close to 50 years as a consistent life Catholic pacifist, pro-life activist and war resister.

Two weeks before he died Spiro sent his son the obituary he personally wrote in the third person and instructed his son to make sure the announcement was sent out to various e-mail lists.

Spiro, 67, was born in the Bronx. He wrote that he applied for conscientious objector status “with the help of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, Thomas Merton and the Berrigan brothers,” but was denied. When he was drafted, he refused induction, and he was convicted of refusing the draft. His two-year prison sentence was eventually reduced to five years probation. He was later pardoned by President Gerald Ford, “but his family was always prouder of the conviction than the pardon.”

Spiro wrote that “he gradually became a biblical anarchist and a radical Christian pacifist.”

He retired from his work as a computer consultant and programmer in 2002, and became active in his parish and county Right to Life groups as well as becoming the New Jersey organizer for the Catholic Peace Fellowship. He operated information tables at parish and diocesan events, as well as at street fairs throughout New Jersey.

John-Paul Spiro, a professor of philosophy and literature at Villanova, said his father taught his three children about the Catholic faith from the perspective of peace and social justice. “I would then be shocked when I would talk to kids that I knew in church or kids that I knew in things like Scouts or whatever who were Catholics and to realize that for them Catholicism didn’t have anything to do with war, with the death penalty, with helping the poor, with any of that stuff,” John-Paul said. “It was a strange kind of awakening to a particular kind of American Catholicism that, as I did learn, was much more diverse.”

Stephen Spiro went to New York City’s Xavier High School, where he received the Jesuit education that made him a critical thinker, John-Paul said.

“He believed the way he saw the faith was the way the faith was,” his son said. “This was not a particular interpretation. This was actually real Catholicism. He wouldn’t be belligerent about it, but he would say, ‘I don’t understand how you can be Catholic and be anti-immigrant. I don’t understand how you can be Catholic and support war.’

“He would say, ‘If you knew the doctrines better, if you read the scripture better, if you really thought things through, you would understand that this is God’s position on these matters.’ ”

Spiro received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. “It was enough for him to know when politicians were lying or ignorant about economic issues, and helped confirm his anarchist beliefs,” he wrote in his obituary.

Spiro credited “the grace of God and the fellowship of Gamblers Anonymous” with helping him overcome a gambling addiction.

In an e-mail update Spiro sent to friends three weeks before he died, he wrote of a recent fall from which he was unable to get up. “The telephone was across the room, and the floor is ‘non-slip.’ Took me an hour to scuttle across to where I could knock the telephone off the table with my cane. ...

“I don’t mind death -- I almost look forward to it. But the process of dying is aggravating as all hell!”

John-Paul said that since his father’s death, the family has been flooded with e-mails, letters and calls. “People are calling him a prophet,” John-Paul said. “Of course it’s sad, but there’s also something really beautiful about it.”

Spiro’s wife, Diane Rankin Spiro, died in 2003. He is survived by a brother, Chris Spiro; two sisters Lyn Runfeldt and Jane Eagle; two other children, Judee Fiorello and Dan Spiro and one grandson, Justin Fiorello.

Spiro’s memorial Mass will be celebrated Dec. 1 at St. Francis Cathedral in Metuchen, N.J.

Patrick O’Neill is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C.

National Catholic Reporter, November 9, 2007

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