Russell Bonen wasn’t sure what he was getting into when he boarded a bus in mid-January for the annual March for Life in Washington D.C.
The Glasgow farmer and St. Mary parishioner had never participated in a march or a rally before. Given the volatile climate of public discourse in today’s culture, he was a little nervous, to say the least.
One thing he was certain about was that this trip was important for his then-12-year-old (now 13) son Gabe. He was the impetus for the 975-mile trek to the nation’s capital.
“Gabe came to me and said, ‘Dad, you’re adopted, I’m adopted. We should go on the March for Life,’” Mr. Bonen recalled.
“I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Mr. Bonen was adopted as an infant in 1966 through a Catholic Charities agency. He also had an adopted sister who was from a different bloodline.
In turn, he and wife, Bridgett, adopted two boys, Gabe and Alex, who is 15-years old.
Alex was 4 when he was adopted, and Gabe was just over a year old.
Mr. Bonen and Gabe were among 11 parishioners from St. Mary parish in Glasgow who attended the march. He said it wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of his parish family.
“I want to give credit to the parish for getting behind us financially with a fundraiser,” he said. “It sure made the trip a lot easier.”
Choirs of angels
Upon arriving in D.C. the father-and-son duo became minor celebrities for all the right reasons.
Mr. Bonen’s aunt had a posterboard sign made for them that said, “I am adopted. My mom chose life. Now that is true love.”
It was a big hit.
“I am not exaggerating: We had people stopping us numerous times to either borrow the poster to take a picture with their family or telling us that they were adopted, too,” said Mr. Bonen, 52. “I met more adopted people than you can ever imagine.”
Through those interactions, it became clear to Mr. Bonen and Gabe that raising awareness on the importance of adoption was why they were supposed to be there.
“I was thinking, ‘Why do I have all this unrest in me? What’s my purpose in all of this?’” Mr. Bonen told The Catholic Missourian. “And then I figured it out: It was to carry that poster board and its simple message. It spoke volumes.”
He added that the march itself was no vacation. It was a tough trip and not exactly comfortable. The weather was cold and wet. It was exhausting.
But, the spiritual benefits were out of this world for him and his son.
“The Mass at the (national) basilica was the most beautiful thing I had experienced,” he said. “The basilica itself is unreal as you walk in. Then, the Mass was just breathtaking and moving with all the bishops and the choir.
“I have told numerous people that I now know what the angels in heaven sound like,” he said. “That’s how awesome the choir was.”
Chosen for love
Mr. Bonen said he has always felt blessed to be adopted.
“My mom and dad chose me, and I am so grateful for that,” he said. “I was blessed to have my sister and to be brought up on a farm with a strong Catholic faith as we attended Ss. Peter and Paul in Boonville.”
He added that his mom, now in her 80s, still lives on the farm he grew up on. His father is deceased.
“She loves her family farm,” he shared with a smile. “You’ll have to take her off it kicking and screaming.”
From time to time, Mr. Bonen hears people who are leery of adoption, who say an adopted child will not be loved as much as one who is biologically their parents’ own.
“On the contrary,” refuted Mr. Bonen. “I love my mom and dad even more because I know that they went out of their way to choose to love and raise me and my sister and make a family.”
As Father’s Day approached, Mr. Bonen said the pilgrimage to Washington was still resonating with him in a special way.
“When all is said and done, the trip was one of the most rewarding and memorable things I have done in my 52 years of life — after marrying my wife and adopting our children,” he said.
“And it all started with Gabe.”
Mr. Bonen highly recommeds that anybody and everybody make the pilgrimage, especially with their children.
“It’s a life-changing experience by no stretch of the imagination,” he said.