The origin of the Pilgrimage for Life is found in The Holy Spirit’s call to a quiet and humble Dame. Karen Dutkowsky was invested in the American Association of the Order of Malta in 2009. The speaker at the dinner that evening was the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan. During his talk, he graded the American Association concerning the three charisms of The Order. For living a pious life and serving the sick and the poor, he gave us two As. For defending the faith, he gave us an F.
This deeply troubled Karen. For many years, she had participated in the March for Life in Washington DC, even leading groups of young people on overnight buses. She knew individual members of the Order were involved; but, it bothered her that the Order of Malta was not there as a group and a unified voice. This burning in her soul reached a point where this shy woman did the unthinkable. She wrote Cardinal Dolan and told him that the Order of Malta needed to be there. A week later, she was diagnosed with stage four cancer. She wrote the Cardinal a second letter. She shared that she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer; but, the Order still needed to be there and she would lead it.
The first year, there were five in attendance. By 2020, there were over one hundred members of the Order participating. The Pilgrimage for Life is now a recognized Order of Malta event by the Sovereign Council in Rome and all participants receive a medal similar to the medal received in Lourdes. In 2016, Karen lost her fight with cancer and she now rests in The Our Lady of Lourdes Oratory consecrated by Bishop Edward Scharfenberger until her Lord returns for her. The first Medal for Life hangs in “Karen’s Chapel”.
Karen insisted that this would be a pilgrimage addressing all three charisms of the Order and not just a participation in the March For Life. Currently, we meet the day before the march for a reflection and prayer with the Sisters of Life and a shared meal. Volunteer members then serve as the ushers for persons with disabilities at the Vigil Mass for Life at The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. All come together afterward for an evening of food and fellowship. On the morning of the march, we attend Mass at a local church celebrated by Bishop Scharfenberger. We meet for brunch and instructions are given. All travel by bus to a staging area and join the march as it passes. We stop across from the Supreme Court and pray the rosary. After the march, a meal is offered to participants and guests.
The Pilgrimage for Life is currently led by Karen’s husband, Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky and Dr. Robert A. Graebe and Nancy Graebe.
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