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.

Further on in his encyclical, Blessed John Paul continues: "We commend all who proclaim and serve the Gospel of Life. By their peaceful activism, education and prayer, they witness to God's truth and embody our Lord's command to one another as He loved us....We urge them to persevere in this difficult work, and not to be discouraged."

Of course, we recognize A Baby's Breath in this description, for this is exactly the work they do. Many babies are saved each year because of their practical, hands-on, loving and non judgmental efforts, but so many more little ones need our help. God is calling us to help organizations like A Baby's Breath to continue to rescue women and their babies from the scourge of abortion by offering them the help they need to choose life.

We are humbled that A Baby's Breath has chosen to honor our Johnny with their annual fundraiser, and we thank Karen Patota, director, and Marianne Stutzman, race director, and all her team who are filling in for her as she awaits the birth of her own baby, for celebreating Johnny's life in this way. We know he must be pleased.

More than anything, he would b delighted to see so many young people carrying the Banner of Faith and Life that he carried so proudly. On his behalf, my husband John and I, and our children, Elizabeth and Dan, thank you most sincerely for coming out today to remember him and to support the cause he held so dear.

A mother's remarks after the fourth anniversary Mass (January 24, 2013)

Thank you to all our dear family and friends for coming out on this very cold evening to remember our Johnny. Thank you to our Pastor, Father William Kaufman for allowing us to celebrate this Mass of remembrance here at Saint Pius X Church. Thank you to our dear friend, Father Vince Morabito, for presiding this evening. Also, thank you to Father Ugo from O'Hara and Father John Weber from St. Pius X. Thank you to my friends and fellow musicians, Ted, Marianne, Ann and John, for enhancing our liturgy this evening. We are grateful that you are all here.

It has been four years now since Johnny and his friend , Ian Alexander died on that icy Pennsylvania highway. And we have been on a difficult journey ever since. Johnny has taught us many lessons in life and in death.

He had such a strong, staunch faith - he carried it into the world with him when he was born, I believe. He loved his life, his family, his friends, and most of all, his Savior. He stood up in his classrooms, on the playing fields, everywhere he was for his beloved Jesus, and for the sanctity of human life. He was fearless, and the funny thing was that because he was so charming and endearing, rather than scorning him for his outspokenness, his peers respected him for it.

There are lessons to be learned in how he lived his life. I will always remember how Father Vince described him in his homily at Johnny's funeral: "He sometimes strayed from the path, but he always found his way back to his holiness."

I feel sad that he never got to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. I think of the little patients that might have benefited from his humor and his tenderness. I mourn the loss of the children he might have fathered, but I have learned to look at it from the other side... that Johnny suffers no loss. The losses are ours.

To lose one's child is every parent's greatest fear. I believe that every parent here would agree that it hovers over us. I realize that John and I are constant reminders that this loss can happen to anyone, so it is to your great credit that you are faithful to us, still accompanying us on our journey years later.

But I can tell you that I have learned this from Johnny's death: Faith is the only path from this sorrow, I'm sure of it. Our faith is what has drawn John and me closer together instead of driving us apart as happens to many bereaved parents. Because we believe and trust in God's plan, we have no need to blame ourselves or each other. When the sorrow becomes overwhelming as it does sometimes, I cry it out, and then I close my eyes and take out my aching heart and place it in Jesus' hands. As I have learned from my son, I know that in Jesus' time and in his great mercy, I will be healed.

Thank you for being here, and God bless us all with the grace to continue this journey to its destination, where our darling boy and our Blessed Savior will be waiting for us.

A mothers words on Johnny's 5th Anniversary Mass

Good evening, everyone, and thank you for coming out on such a bitter winter night.

We are so grateful to have such faithful friends. I wish to thank our pastor, Father Kaufman for permitting us to have this special mass again this year. It is remarkably helpful to us to mark this day amidst the loving support of family and friends. We'd like to thank our friends, Father Vincent Morabito and our Pastor Emeritus, Father Jim Hutchins. We are without our Deacon Joe Iannucci, who has been with us in the past, but, as many of you know, he is recovering from an illness, and we send him our prayers.

I would like to welcome the members past and present of Alpha chi Rho Fraternity, who are here to remember our Johnny and their friend and college mate, Ian Alexander, who died with our son 5 years ago today. We appreciate your resolve to keep their memories alive.

As many of you know, I teach a second grade CCD class. A couple of weeks ago, one of my little girls Gianna, raised her hand after I finished singing them a song they will sing at First Penance. She said, "Mrs. Williamson, you have a pretty voice." I thanked her, and told her that God gave me a gift that has brought joy for many years, and that I especially enjoy singing songs that praise God at church. I told her also, that every time I sing, I try to remember to thank God for this particular gift, and, in teacher mode, I said that we should all thank Him for his gifts to us often.

This got me thinking about the most special gifts in my life, my husband and children. I was never a career girl. Aside from wanting to be a Broadway star, the only dream I had was to be a mother. God in his goodness granted my wish, and gave me three of the most wonderful children He ever created. They themselves have many gifts, but the ones I cherish most they all share... their goodness and faithfulness. They came into the world with those gifts, all three, and God gave me the job, along with their dad, of nurturing and training and loving them into the adults they became. Not long ago, he sent me a beautiful daughter in law, and in just weeks from now we will welcome our first grandchild. So you see? I have been wonderfully blessed.

This is what I must focus on ... that God gave me the privilege of being Johnny's mother, of experiencing the years of joy that afforded me, and to let go of all the pain that has overwhelmed me since his death. I believe in all my heart that we will be reunited. If Jesus has told us the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor, second only to loving God himself, then the relationships we form in obedience to this commandment must be very important to him ... too important to exist in only this world. After all, we know Mary is still Jesus' mother. And I am still Johnny's mother. I shall be patient and wait for the Lord to reveal his plan. In the meantime, I thank God with all my heart that he chose me for Elizabeth and Dan and for Johnny. I will gladly bear this pain in gratitude for the gift.

Sixth Annual Johnny's Run for Life

Sunday, October 12, dawned bright and sunny with cloudless blue skies overhead. The bleachers at Cardinal O’Hara’s beautiful new stadium still dripped with the previous day’s rain, but this day was perfect for the Sixth Annual Johnny’s Run for Life at its new venue on the Cardinal O’Hara High School campus.

The Run commemorates the life of John Patrick Williamson, Jr., a 2005 graduate of Cardinal O’Hara, who died on January 25, 2009 at the age of 21, and is the annual fundraiser for A Baby’s Breath of Wayne, a crisis pregnancy center.

The day began with Mass, concelebrated by Fathers Morabito, Hutchins, Kaufman and Piasentin in the stadium. The guitar group of Saint Anastasia Parish under Ted Meehan led the faithful in songs of praise and worship. The Prayer of the Faithful included a petition for those deceased among the participants, listing those who died early, including Johnny and his friend, Ian Alexander, Mary Hagenbach, O’Hara ’74 – 30th anniversary, James Tenaglio, Mary Coppa Coffey and Ken DeFeo.

After Mass, the 5K race commenced over and around the O’Hara Campus and medals were awarded.

Fifteen year old Liam Galligan was first overall among males, and Jennifer DeMascio, 42, finished first among all females. Johnny’s dad, John Williamson, Sr., 61, finished first among males 60 and over. The 5K runners numbered 212, and an estimated 900+ were in attendance.

The Sixth Annual Johnny’s Run for Life was proclaimed a great success, but the best part of all for Johnny’s family was bringing Johnny home to Cardinal O’Hara where he was so happy, and the many, many friends and family members who came out to worship, to celebrate Johnny’s life and to honor his mission to Choose Life!