Facing Evil: A Woman from Chadwicks - Part Six

This is Part Six of a six-part series of news columns that detail the human side of the heart surgeries that took place in the 1950's. How one doctor gave life to many and how one of those people made that life worth living. How that one person - as mother-to-be and then as a mother - was used as an example to nurses of the future that had arrived in Philadelphia. This last article in the series will explain how a life, while not perfect, was made worth living. How knowing that life, no matter how short in duration, could be used to confront silence in the face of evil. Nurses General Nursing Article

Facing Evil:  A Woman from Chadwicks - Part Six

The Leighis Chronicles

To read the story from the beginning, go to How One Doctor Gave Life to Many and How One of Those People Made That Life Worth Living - Part One

A Woman from Chadwicks (Part Six)

Evil comes in many forms. Sometimes, evil includes violence. But sometimes, evil involves silence. A willingness to suspend belief in compassion, in kindness, in equality, and in respect. A willingness to allow darkness to envelop your life.

As a teenager, my mother traveled by bus from her home in Pennsylvania to visit relatives in North Carolina. As she traveled south, the seating arrangements changed. It was the 1940’s. In the South. Blacks had to move to the back of the bus. Near Washington, a woman and her baby got on the bus. There were no seats in the Negro section of the bus and the African-American woman was not allowed to sit in the seats reserved for white people. The woman had to stand, while holding her baby, in the Negro section of the bus.

My mother told the woman that she would hold her baby. The woman handed my mother her baby. When the woman’s stop arrived, my mother handed the baby back to the mother.

I asked my mother why she helped the woman when “custom” dictated she turn her head. All the others on that bus did not notice or did not care to notice that specific mother and her baby. Why did she intervene?

She said that that woman appeared exhausted – likely after a day’s work and needed some help. It was simply an act of humanity.

She explained that while no words were spoken directly to her, other white people on that bus did give her looks of disapproval. While they did not approve of my mother’s actions, none of the white people took any steps to stop her from holding the baby.

My mother’s presence indicated clearly that she was going to help that woman and her baby.

According to my mother, the African-American woman did not say anything either. But my mother indicated that the mother’s eyes reflected the acceptance of the act of compassion.

Knowing that she was weak physically gave her the strength to confront evil. She did not care what others on that bus thought of her.

Years later, I saw first-hand how women like my mother could overcome those around them and have the strength to confront evil.

You see, a darkness spread over our nation in the 1980s. We were confronted as a society with a disease that we had not seen before – AIDS. AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).


For some, AIDS was considered God’s vengeance against those that had committed sin. For others, it was a disease that would make them into untouchables. Literally. For some, the sin and vengeance were passed on to children born of the untouchables.

We learned very clearly as a society that there were specific values on human life.

A community as forward-looking as the City of New York was enveloped in that darkness.

As I have mentioned several times, to me, there is no such thing as a coincidence. Instead, I believe most everything happens for a reason. In many cases, that reason may not be known for some time – even decades. Some of us die before ever knowing what that reason may be.

In the late 1980s, I made a number of speeches in churches and a synagogue in the City of New York. The intent was to encourage people to become foster care parents and adoptive parents for children with AIDS through The New York Foundling and The Salvation Army as well as to encourage people to go to Beth Israel Medical Center (now known as “Mount Sinai Beth Israel") to hold and comfort babies with AIDS.

My view was that if a society was willing to abandon children, there was likely no hope that that same society would be willing to help adults in similar situations.

To help the adults living with AIDS, we had to first help the children living with AIDS.

It was a time in our nation’s history when decisions on what to do – and most importantly, what not to do – were based on fear, prejudice, and rejection. Where many of the official leaders did not lead.

Many people in the City of New York – and throughout our nation – had turned their backs. Just like those riders on the bus near Washington.

Americans pretended that we weren’t really abandoning people – babies – in hospitals because of fear, prejudice, and rejection. Darkness had become a way of life.

To directly confront that darkness, I spoke at religious services that represented a variety of faiths – Roman Catholic, Reform Jewish, American Baptist, United Church of Christ, and Pentecostal. People of different races and with roots in various ethnic groups were addressed – Irish, Dominican, African, Italian, Hungarian, Mexican, and others. Four of the churches included mostly gay congregants.

In a number of cases, we brought foster care mothers to these churches.

With their babies.

Babies with AIDS.

Babies that we knew were going to die soon. There was then – and there is now – no cure for AIDS. At that time, there was also no effective treatment for babies with AIDS. (Thankfully, there are treatments available today.) A typical death at that time was beyond horrible. One of the ways of death was that the baby’s brain would implode.

After each of the speeches in the City of New York, I and the mothers with their babies would greet the congregants.

It was at those churches that I saw the reflection of people like Alice McDonough.

Where communion was part of the religious services at some of those churches, people still lined up to receive the communion host from their pastors. Pastors who had just held a baby with AIDS. Fear was being directly confronted. In the midst of the darkness, some leaders actually led.

But it was after the religious services that it became obvious to me that goodness would eventually confront the evil of this darkness – this silence of abandoning human life because of fear, prejudice, and rejection.

Congregants – almost always women – would line up to kiss or to touch the baby that had come to their church. Very few men would do the same. But almost all of the women present wanted to comfort that baby.

Alice McDonough understood those women.

She initially did not want me to do those speeches. She was afraid of what people might do to me. What people might say.

Again, she was a woman of her time.

But she understood the need to confront evil. She understood why those foster mothers would take a child – a baby – into their homes, even while others remained silent and turned their backs. She understood why the women in those churches would step forward to kiss or to touch a baby that was considered untouchable.

I knew that she felt that way because of her ways of confronting evil.

So, as I explained earlier, while the death of Alice Marie McDonough was a sad occasion, it was far more a celebration of her life and the lives of many, many people who made her life possible.

In addition to joining with her husband, she’s now joined her parents, her sisters, other loved ones, Dr. Glover and much of his medical team. I’m sure they’ve had much to discuss. Afterall, it’s been years since they last saw each other.

It’s been an eventful time.

I end this news column with the prayer that my mother would recite most often as she would sleep:

“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

While she did not always live by that prayer, she never stopped trying.

The Funeral Mass Card of Alice McDonough in 2009.


To read the entire story, please go to:

How One Doctor Gave Life to Many and How One of Those People Made That Life Worth Living - Part One

Life-Saving Surgeries: A Woman from Chadwicks - Part Two

Dr. Robert P. Glover - the Surgeon Who Saved My Mother's Life with Pioneering Heart Surgery - Part Three

Blood of Chester, Norristown, and Coatesville: A Woman from Chadwicks - Part Four

Blood and the United States Army: A Woman from Chadwicks - Part Five

Facing Evil: A Woman from Chadwicks - Part Six

If you have a question or a suggestion about nursing, please contact Richard McDonough at [email protected].

Your question or suggestion may be used in a future news column.

© 2019 Richard McDonough

Richard McDonough is a freelance journalist whose work has been published in a number of digital news sites, newspapers, and magazines in the United States and in Europe. He’s also broadcast business news for a television station. Mr. McDonough was honored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews with the Gold Medallion Mass Media Award for outstanding contributions to better human relations and the cause of brotherhood. One of the approaches utilized by Mr. McDonough is civic journalism. The concept includes investigative efforts showing people how to solve civic problems and enhance civic opportunities. Several key elements include presenting the facts in a way that provide context to each situation; going to the original source for information, when and where possible; not presenting both sides of an issue, but instead, presenting all sides of an issue – whether that be 2 sides or 17 sides; and attributing all key facts to specific sources. A portfolio of his work can be viewed at TwoCents.News. Mr. McDonough has been active in charitable activities throughout the United States. His charitable efforts have been recognized by two Presidents and two national non-profit organizations. Mr. McDonough can be reached directly at [email protected]​​​​​​​.

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