A Tribute to Detroit’s Pro-Life Warrior — By: Church Militant

Who are the greatest pro-lifers of our generation? In trying to answer this question, it’s almost impossible not to think about the outspoken religious and political figures who defend the unborn. As admirable and necessary as those vocal witnesses are, it’s my opinion that the greatest pro-lifers are the unknown and countless sidewalk counselors — that is, men and women who spend their days attempting to convince mothers, face-to-face, to choose life. Before retiring at 85 years old just a couple of months ago, this is exactly what a man named Dan Goodnow did nearly every single day for 25 years in Detroit, Michigan.

Abp. Allen Vigneron praying with Dan Goodnow 

Just over four years ago, a coworker of mine sent out a staff-wide email inviting people to become sidewalk counselors. In that email, he noted that the counselors were “mostly older people” and that he was “the only young person there.” As a 22-year-old at the time, I took up the challenge and decided to get started. I asked my coworker what my first steps should be, and he put me in touch with Dan, a man my coworker described in his email as a “living saint.”

In the late 1990s, Dan started the Detroit division of the “Helpers of God’s Precious Infants,” a sidewalk counseling organization originally founded in Brooklyn, New York, by Msgr. Philip J. Reilly. Monsignor Reilly, Dan’s mentor whose pro-life work stretches all the way back to 1967, had this to say about Dan’s decision to dedicate his life to saving the unborn:

Dan Goodnow, in an act of trust and generosity, left a very fine-paying and secure administrative position to begin the Helpers Apostolate in Detroit, Michigan. God has not been outdone in His generosity. Besides organizing each year large prayer vigils for life, in which bishops, priests, religious, and lay people have participated, Dan and other Helpers five days a week have counseled mothers approaching abortion mills.

By 2016, the Detroit Helpers apostolate, led by Dan, had saved an estimated 14,000 babies. As such, there were 14,000 mothers who — owing to the conversations, prayers and desperate pleas of elderly sidewalk counselors — chose life. At the time, Dan updated his pro-life mentor about God’s miraculous work happening in Detroit, to which Reilly commented, “You may recall the 1993 movie Schindler’s List which depicted the life of Oskar Schindler, who helped save 1,200 Jews from almost certain extinction in the 1940s. What will be the final number of ‘Goodnow’s List’? He is already at fourteen thousand and counting.”

Shortly after taking my coworker up on his invitation to become a sidewalk counselor, I found myself on 8 Mile Road at the Women’s Center of Michigan, one of two major abortion mills where pro-life helpers offer volunteer counsel. When I first started going out there, I’d simply just pray and watch. My coworker and Dan were typically the ones counseling, and I would occasionally ask them questions. A couple of months later, I finally built up the courage to start counseling too.

Throughout the years, I’d go out on 8 Mile most Saturdays to counsel. Many times I’d be out there with Dan, who did some of the most incredible work I’d ever seen. When a woman walked from her car to the front door of the abortion mill, Dan would counsel her until she was inside. Even when the door shut in his face, he’d always finish his sentence in the hopes that she’d hear something that would change her mind. When a mother would change her mind due to the counseling, we’d call it a “turn,” meaning that she walked away from the abortion mill with the intention of keeping — rather than killing — her child that day. Over the years, I witnessed Dan’s counseling result in many such “turns.”

Even the abortionist ‘Dr.’ Jacob Kalo, recognized Dan’s goodness.

Dan was absolutely relentless in his counseling, and he never had any fear of talking to people. This 80+ year-old man, who could barely walk, didn’t just counsel mothers who were oftentimes rude and angry; he counseled the men who were with them. One time, Dan tried offering post-abortive care pamphlets to a woman who had just gotten an abortion, and her boyfriend pushed him. Thankfully, I was there to catch him as he was falling.

Even the abortionist “Dr.” Jacob Kalo, recognized Dan’s goodness. According to Dcn. Gerald Smigell, a Helpers counselor since 2000, Kalo believed Dan to be a patient and prayerful person, one who leads an organization filled with good people. Kalo, on his way to murder preborn babies that we were trying to protect, would have to watch sidewalk counselors attempt to steer his “patients” away before he got inside. Over the years, I’ve seen Dan and Kalo talk briefly, but I believe that Dan’s greatest influence on Kalo — a man in obvious need of deep conversion — was his presence and work outside of Kalo’s “office” for more than 20 years. If Kalo ever repents, it will be because of Dan Goodnow (save the grace of God).

Dan Goodnow outside the Women’s
Center of Michigan in Detroit

Deacon Gerald recalls another time when a woman stopped by just to thank the sidewalk counselors for their work. She was specifically looking for Dan, who had counseled her a number of years ago and convinced her to choose life. Dan wasn’t there at the time, and so she spoke to Deacon Gerald. He asked her what Dan did that caused her to change her mind, and she told a story about how he followed her all the way to the bus stop to talk to her. She told Deacon Gerald that it was ultimately “his gentleness, but his perseverance” that moved her to not go through with the abortion. 

He recalls another occasion when a car stopped outside the abortion mill, and a man with triplets thanked Dan for his counseling a number of years ago. He stopped just to show Dan that his three children were a direct result of his sidewalk counseling.

A couple of years ago, the abortion mill I was at with Dan on Saturdays consistently had a number of abortion escorts there. (These are the people who attempt to block off pregnant women from the counselors as they walk into the building.) Although these people made it nearly impossible to get to the women going in for abortions, Dan never had a problem shoving his way to get to them. I remember watching him in awe doing that on a number of occasions.

Pope St. John Paul II proclaimed in 1995, “The distinctive mark of the Christian, today more than ever, must be love for the poor, the weak, the suffering.” Dan Goodnow embodies this distinctive mark. The coworker who introduced me to Dan a number of years ago reminded me that Dan’s work flowed from his prayer life. Almost every time I was out there with Dan, he’d take a break from counseling, drive to a nearby Catholic Church, spend some time in the adoration chapel, and then come back. So Kalo was right; Dan is a patient and prayerful person. But he’s also a model of courage, whose quiet and unknown example calls us all to our own conversion. Dan Goodnow, thank you.

— Campaign 31538 —

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