A Mother's Words
Donna Marie Williamson (October, 2009)
I believe my son, Johnny Williamson, would be particularly pleased to see this, the annual “Johnny’s Run for Life” in support of A Baby’s Breath of Bryn Mawr.
Everyone who knew him knew how strongly he believed in the right to life for all of God’s children. Johnny died wearing the pro-life bracelet he wore everyday for six years. He stood up boldly before his high school and college classmates and stated his beliefs proudly.
Those who knew him also knew how much he loved to run. My foremost running memory of Johnny, however, is not of his success in the sport, but a glimpse of the formation of his faith and character.
Johnny was an exceptional runner when he was quite young. In fifth and sixth grades, he ranked consistently in the top eight cross country runners in the Archdiocese, and in track even held the fastest mile time in the Archdiocese for a week.
As he grew, however, he developed an extremely painful condition in his lower spine that couldn't be diagnosed until he was a sophomore at O'Hara. Even after being diagnosed, Johnny never ran again without pain.
One day in seventh grade, instead of coming off the cross country course in the top group, he finished nearly last. He came away crying in pain and had to stop near a tree because the pain made him so nauseous. He looked at me through his tears and pleaded with me to tell him why God gave him such a gift only to take it away.
Summoning the Holy Spirit, I responded that being one of the fastest runners was terrific, and it is always good to use God's gifts to the best advantage, but that was not going to get him into heaven. Learning instead to surmount obstacles with patience, grace and perseverance was development of character, and that was what we were put on earth to learn.
He took me at my word, which at twelve years old was remarkable in itself. He changed his goal in running eventually from expecting to be All-Catholic every season in high school to striving to be All-Catholic at least once before he graduated. He did...second team All-Catholic in Indoor Track in a relay in his Senior year. He ran his heart out and his leg of the race put his team in second place. I was never prouder of him, and he was never prouder of himself in that aspect of his life.
Johnny was certainly not perfect. He procrastinated more than anyone I know; he wasn't always as focused as he ought to have been and he often put fun before duty to his studies. When he found himself getting off track, however, he was always able to find his way back to holiness.
He never lapsed in his faith and the practice of it, but in the last two years of his life he deepened his faith commitment, joining the Drexel Newman Center, the Penn/Drexel Liturgical Music Group, becoming a Eucharistic Minister, and agreeing to sponsor his girlfriend Jamie's entry to the Catholic Church in April, 2009 (his brother, Dan, assumed that commitment for him).
Johnny never missed an opportunity to speak out fearlessly in the classroom or among friends of his certainty that all human beings deserved the right to life. His last two Facebook entries were quoting Dr. Seuss, “A person’s a person no matter how small,” and “Choose Life.”
He lived his brief life abundantly. I am certain he did not realize the impact he had on so many; that wasn’t his way. But he would certainly be pleased if his example could encourage other young people to pick up his banner of faith in God and respect for all life and continue what he began.
Donna Marie Williamson (October, 2011)
Throughout his short life, our Johnny seemed to us possessed of a special life-force, a joy that brightened the lives of all of us around him. He threw himself heartily into his beliefs and pursuits.
In paragraph 78 of his encyclical of March 25, 1995, entitled Evangelium Vitae, Blessed John Paul 11 tells us: "With humility and gratitude we know that we are the people of life and for life, and this is how we present ourselves to everyone."
Johnny may never have read this encyclical, but he lived it. He celebrated his own life and the lives of those he loved as if he always understood how precious this gift of God is, and how fragile. He stood up for the sanctity of Human Life in the classroom, on the playing fields, with friends or among strangers from the time he could understand the concept. He was confident and fearless in his beliefs.