Jean Arsenault retires after 18 years of
‘re-gifting’ the greatest gift of all


By Dave Jolivet
Anchor Editor
davejolivet@anchornews.org

FALL RIVER, Mass. — There’s a term that’s been around for a few decades, and its connotation is usually negative in nature. The word re-gifting is an action when one receives a gift from another, and usually because it’s not well-liked, the receiver gives it as a gift to someone else.

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Jean Arsenault, who recently retired from her position as assistant director of the diocesan Pro-Life  Apostolate, is a re-gifter. But there is one ginormous difference between her re-gifting and the social norm.

Arsenault, during her 18-year career in the Pro-Life Office has taken the most precious gift one can receive, the gift of life from the Almighty God, and has re-gifted it to countless people she has encountered or touched through the years.

“As I look back, my activity in the Pro-Life movement seems to span a lifetime,” Arsenault told The Anchor. “I come from a very large, welcoming family. When I think of my grandparents, I picture them with arms wide open to welcome anyone to their home, whether children, grandchildren, friends, or friends of the children and grandchildren, and sometimes strangers, too.

“There was always a smile, good conversation, and wonderful food for everyone. Though the message was not necessarily spoken overtly, growing up in this atmosphere I cannot imagine ever not welcoming anyone, whether in utero or not.”

It was that foundation that Arsenault brought to the diocesan Pro-Life ministry beginning in 2000 when she joined the apostolate on a part-time basis.

In 2001, Arsenault’s beloved husband died and she found it necessary to work full-time to support her family. “Fortunately, the apostolate was able to provide work on a full-time basis and I was able to begin my work full-time with Marian Desrosiers.”

It’s arguable who was more fortunate — Arsenault or the Pro-Life movement in the diocese.

“Jean joyfully gave 18 years of service to promote and protect the Sacredness and dignity of all human life to the diocesan Pro-Life Apostolate,” said Desrosiers, diocesan director of the ministry as well as Project Rachel. “She was the professional and compassionate voice heard when you contacted the office.

“Jean used her gifts and professional background to maintain a high level of service for all. She chose to remain quietly in the background which allowed us to be able to reach out throughout the diocese with educational programs for all parishes and schools.”

While Arsenault and Desrosiers wish there was no need to have a Pro-Life Apostolate, the sad fact is that there is a very active culture of death running rampant in the United States; a culture that fought to legalize the killing of infants in the womb, right to the very moments before birth; and a culture that seeks to legalize the killing of sick and elderly people, who instead of having full information about palliative care and pain-management at the end of life, are encouraged to take their own lives via physician-assisted suicide.

Arsenault, and others she’s worked with through the years, have seen past the smoke and mirrors others present to further their deadly causes. She heeded St. John Paul II’s call to build a culture of life to respect all of God’s Creation, from the moment of conception until natural death.

Arsenault and Desrosiers teamed up to lead the local fight for a culture of life.

“Working with Marian has been a special part of my life and one for which I am truly grateful,” said Arsenault. “I began to work with her, but more than just working with someone, she became a dear friend, a stalwart support, and an example of how important a prayerful and loyal woman can be in anyone’s life.”

“For many years, visits to prisons, speaking engagements, conferences, development of parish Pro-Life committees, pilgrimages to the annual March For Life in Washington, D.C., Project Rachel outreach [which ministers to women and men who have been involved in abortion], summer Pro-Life Boot Camp [which encourages and teaches young people to become involved in the culture of life], and many more outreaches could never have happened without Jean’s support and talents,” added Desrosiers.

While the Pro-Life ministry can at times be frustrating and discouraging, Arsenault has seen many encouraging signs in the fight against the culture of death. “It seems to me that young people are more aware of Pro-Life matters than they were when I was young,” she told The Anchor. “They are more involved. They are more vocal. They are more committed. This gives me great hope for the future. They know that in addition to attending the elevating March For Life each year (those who are able), they must bring this important message to their homes, their schools, their churches, their friendships and to any outreach they may have.

“This has been extremely gratifying to see — and hopeful. Contrary to the negative messages that we are fed daily, there are so many positive and uplifting messages that we see in our youth, but sadly, they are not given the same stage as others.”

Through the years Pro-Life ministry has been hard work, often with long days and at times seemingly swimming against the cultural tide, but those down times are far exceeded by the rewards and relationships developed working for such a just cause.

Arsenault reflected on some of her fondest memories over the past nearly two decades: “You would think that those fondest memories would be the large, successful events that took place, such as the March For Life or the annual Boot Camp, etc.,” she said. “Though all of that is true, I strongly believe that success in life is ‘relational,’ and there is nothing that compares to working and getting to know the wonderful people who come our way.

“On a case-by-case basis, I was privileged to meet and work with so many who are now friends and I cherish those relationships and the opportunity to form those relationships.

“Marian is blessed with a wonderful sense of humor and I believe it’s that sense of humor that has kept us bound for these many years. We’ve been through just about all the highs and lows that life brings to all of us and I know it’s the prayer and humor that has sustained us both.”

Desrosiers agreed, “Jean and I developed a strong friendship and prayer life together over the years which has made this ministry possible. We truly became family to one another. We supported each other through some very difficult moments in our ministry and personal lives, but also celebrated many joyful ones.”

Arsenault is already settling into her new routine, pursuing her hobby of making Nantucket baskets, reading and knitting. “Walking is also on the horizon,” she said, as well as spending time with “my two faithful companions, Napoleon and Willie (a miniature Yorkshire Terrier and West Highland Terrier) who are reveling in my retirement. Life is simple and fun.

“My daughter is about to launch her career just as I am bringing mine to an end. I guess there is some sort of poetic justice in that.”

But don’t expect her to stray from the ministry she holds so dearly. “I will continue to lend my support to the Pro-Life movement in any way that I am able,” she said. “I continue to read everything that I can in order to remain well-informed on life issues. I will also be happy to lend assistance in any special projects in the diocese that may need an extra set of hands.”

Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., presented Arsenault with a special award for her 18 years of service at the recent annual diocesan Pro-Life Mass.

“Jean is a true friend and someone who will always continue to help rebuild a culture of life,” said Desrosiers. “I wish her a healthy and joyous retirement for many years to come and continued prayers for many, many blessings.

Arsenault added, “I send prayers, thanks and hope to the Diocese of Fall River for allowing me to work with such wonderful and important life issues; for enabling me to come to know and love Marian Desrosiers and the wonderful example for all that she sets; and for providing me with a means to raise my family after the desolation of losing a beloved spouse. Many thanks indeed. God bless.”


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