David Bereit left a lucrative sales position to save babies and co-found 40 Days for Life . . .
David Bereit was a successful pharmaceutical sales rep with a company car, expense account, and substantial paycheck when he got a phone call that led him to give it all up for the pro-life cause.
“I will never forget,” Bereit explained. “It was June 26, 2001, and I was calling on doctors in Hearne, Texas, when my cell phone rang.” It was Lauren Gulde, executive director of the Coalition for Life, who told him that Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, had aborted 10 more children that day.
Bereit was crushed. Just three years earlier, he had joined the coalition formed to oppose the opening of the Planned Parenthood facility, eventually becoming board chairman. Once the clinic opened, the coalition put together a plan to close it, but within a month, nothing had been done.
“I knew we had things we could be doing and weren’t doing,” Bereit said. “Maybe,” he told Gulde, “I need to quit my job and do this — make it happen.”
He talked to his wife, Margaret, thinking she would object. But to his surprise, she signaled her support, saying, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Little did Bereit know that his decision to become executive director of the coalition would lead three years later to 40 Days for Life — a prayer and fasting campaign outside abortion clinics that since has gone global, reaching 539 cities in every U.S. state and 24 other nations. With 625,000 volunteers and 3,039 campaigns, the effort has seen at least 8,973 lives saved, 56 clinics closed, and 101 clinic workers leave the abortion industry.
Bishop Michael Sis, who got to know the Bereits while they were students and he was pastor of St. Mary’s Parish at Texas A&M University in College Station, said he could not have predicted that Bereit would take the route he did.
“David always came across as very professional and competent, but the career path I thought he was going to follow had to do with sales, marketing and corporate America,” said Bishop Sis, who heads the Diocese of San Angelo, Texas.
As he helped Bereit discern leaving his sales position, Bishop Sis said he could see that the young husband and father trusted in God’s providential care for his family and was guided by a sense of mission to defend the unborn.
Bishop Sis said he believes the 40 Days campaign that grew from Bereit’s decision has worked because it’s prayerful and peaceful.
“Sometimes you have protesters who kind of presume ill will in the hearts of those they’re opposing. This movement trusts in the power of God to change hearts through a loving, peaceful presence.”
That’s precisely what Abby Johnson, who left her job in 2009 as Planned Parenthood director in Bryan, Texas, noticed when 40 Days for Life began outside her clinic in 2004.
When she started working there, she said, pro-life advocates stationed outside tended to be more hostile toward the clients and the clinic workers. With the onset of 40 Days, she said, “It was as if they had reclaimed the sidewalk for peace. The people who were shouting and condemning were gone, along with their huge, graphic signs. What was left was a group of people who were prayerful, kind and peaceful.”
Those keeping vigil knew her name, told her they were praying for her, and offered her help if she ever wanted to leave. When she did decide to quit, she said, “I knew that I had a safe place to land.”
Praying for the vulnerable
The idea to fast and pray for 40 days outside abortion clinics was born when Bereit and several other Coalition for Life leaders gathered around a conference table in 2004 to pray for direction. Over the previous three years, they had maintained a presence outside Bryan’s Planned Parenthood and sought to educate the community, but their efforts had slowed while the number of abortions increased.
As they prayed, Bereit said, “There wasn’t some booming voice from on high, but we started having ideas pop into our heads.”
The first was to do something for 40 days because God had used that number in the Bible for periods of transformation. Next came a plan to maintain a 24-hour-a-day prayer vigil in the right-of-way outside the clinic. Finally, they knew they needed community outreach. One of their members, Shawn Carney, devised a plan to reach 35,000 households with a team of college students.
The coalition kicked off the campaign on Sept. 1 with more than 1,000 participants. At the end of 40 days, the number of abortions had decreased 28% in Bryan.
Over the next three years, the concept spread to Dallas, Houston, Green Bay, and Kitsap County, Washington. But when the coalition learned that a group in Charlotte, N.C., had organized a 40 Days for Life without any help from the Texas coalition, Bereit said, “That’s when we knew we’ve got something bigger than just three, four or five cities.”
By 2007, Bereit started organizing a nationwide 40 Days for Life while working for the American Life League. As the effort took off, ALL released him to set up a separate organization.
In devoting himself to pro-life work and developing 40 Days, Bereit, the son of a Presbyterian minister, has kept his
Christian faith at the center. A winner of Legatus’ 2013 Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award, Bereit isn’t Catholic. His wife and two children are.
As he has learned more about Catholicism, Bereit said, he has come to admire the Church and to respect its commitment to human life. He continues to discern whether God may be calling him into the Church. “I always pray, ‘God, don’t let me stand in the way of where you want me to be.’”
Bereit said his wife has never pressured him to convert, but his daughter Claire is more aggressive.
A 16-year-old high school junior, Claire confesses she would like to see her father enter the Church. She said it’s been difficult knowing that he doesn’t share all her beliefs, especially when the family goes to Mass together and he cannot join them in receiving Communion.
“It makes me really sad sometimes, but I know he has a really strong faith and he is already an amazing man.”
JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.
Legates for Life
Just as he was able to take what he learned in sales and transfer it to the pro-life movement, David Bereit said he believes Legatus members could employ their abilities to benefit ministries like 40 Days for Life.
Legates, he said, may not even recognize the skills they possess as valuable to the pro-life movement and other ministries, but most people doing such work don’t have high-level business skills.
“If Legates are willing to tithe some of their experiences, insights and incredible gifts to ministries promoting a Culture of Life, I think they could revolutionize the pro-life movement.”
Bereit said he also has been strongly influenced by the franchising model described in Legatus founder Tom Monaghan’s book, Pizza Tiger, and his idea of taking a concept and replicating it to build an effective organization.
Cardinal John O’Connor Pro-Life Award
Cardinal Raymond L. Burke
Steve & Vivian Koob
Thomas S. Monaghan
Sam & Gloria Lee
Monsignor Philip Reilly
George W. Bush
Cardinal Francis George
Chris & Joan Bell
Sisters of Life
Sr. Paula Vandegaer
Thomas W. Hilgers
James Bopp Jr.
Fr. Tom Euteneuer
Fr. Frank Pavone
Bishop Victor Galeone
Sen. Rick Santorum
John & Barbara Willke
Fr. Paul Marx
Rep. Henry Hyde