Robert Pearson, pro-life hero who got his start in Hawaii, dies

Robert Pearson (HCH file photo)

By Patrick Downes
Hawaii Catholic Herald

Starting in Hawaii 50 years ago, Robert J. Pearson dedicated his life to helping women with crisis pregnancies through supportive residential homes and a national string of counseling centers, thus saving the lives of an untold number of unborn babies from abortion. He died Aug. 23 in Arkansas surrounded by his family. He was 90.

According to Susan Duffy, president of the Pearson Foundation of Hawaii, the late Benedictine Father Paul Marx, founder of Human Life International, once said that “Bob Pearson has saved more babies than any man in America.”

Pearson, a convert to the Catholic faith, began his pro-life advocacy in Hawaii in 1969 when he fought unsuccessfully against the passage of the country’s first law legalizing abortion. The following year, he and his wife opened their home on Maui to women with unplanned, unwanted pregnancies.

Over the next several years, the Pearsons welcomed 10-15 women to live with them. Through the experience, Pearson found that to reach more women he would need to offer counseling and spiritual guidance and referrals for medical care, adoption services and financial assistance.

With financial help from Archbishop Fulton Sheen and Honolulu Bishop John J. Scanlan, the Pearsons moved their maternity service to Oahu to St. Anthony Home, a former orphanage in Kalihi Valley belonging to the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts. In 1976, Bishop Scanlan blessed a new building, which Pearson named the Mary Jane Home after his first wife who had died of cancer.

The structure, paid for by the diocese and the Knights of Columbus, could accommodate 16 women and their babies. With the Pearsons’ own eight children (five of whom were adopted) growing, the running of the facility was handed over to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

In 1985, Catholic Charities Hawaii took over the administration of the center. The program was expanded in 1996 and moved to Kailua in 1999.

Pearson established a foundation in 1969 to assist in the opening of volunteer-run Pregnancy Problem Centers across the state offering free pregnancy testing, counseling, and some emergency and financial help for women contemplation abortion. At one time there were 13 centers in Hawaii.

The purpose of the centers was to offer positive alternatives to a woman in her pregnancy in a compassionate atmosphere that promoted self-respect and a respect for life.

Today the Pearson Foundation of Hawaii Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization, runs the Pearson Place Pregnancy Resource Center at its newest location, 1145 Bishop Street in Honolulu, above the Pauline Book and Media Center.

In 1980, Pearson left Hawaii to work for the pro-life movement on the Mainland where he conducted seminars and helped open more than 200 counseling centers in some 60 cities. The Pearson Foundation has reported that more than 80% of the women who come to a center considering an abortion decide to carry the baby to term.

Pearson himself provided most of the early funding for his foundation, later depending on donations.

In a 1981 Catholic News Service interview, Pearson, an independent contractor developer, said he worked when he needed to support his family, but “once you realize the horrors of abortion, making a living becomes very secondary. You realize the preciousness of life that something must be done.”