Written by MaterCare Medical Director, Bogdan Chazan MD, PhD
I met Dr. Robert Walley for the first time in Rome in 2001, at the very first conference organized by Matercare International at the Instituto Maria Sanctissima Bambina. Professor Michał Troszyński, my supervisor from the National Research Institute of Mother and Child in Warsaw, where I was working at that time, was invited by Dr. Walley, and asked me to accompany him.
We did not become friends at first sight, because Dr. Walley commanded such great respect with his behavior and attitude. At the time, I was active in Polish pro-life organizations and, together with my friends, organized a symposium in Poland themed "Abortion: causes, consequences, and therapy." During our initial meeting, Dr. Walley asked me to organize the foundation MaterCare Poland.
We subsequently met then on numerous occasions in Rome, Africa, Saint John’s (Canada), and Poland.
Robert was a man of great faith and a man of action. He was British, born in Malta, raised in India by the De La Salle Brothers, and medically educated in London where he started his residency training in obstetrics and gynaecology. He showed me the hospital in London's Westminster, where he worked and met his wife Susan, a staff nurse. In 1967 a new law was passed in Great Britain allowing killing of the unborn. When his boss demanded that Dr. Walley performed an abortion, he refused. He didn't want to compromise. He stated that he had something better to offer patients than annihilation. He was told that, unless he changed specialties, there was no place for him in the National Health Service. A thirty-year-old doctor, husband, and father of three children was given no choice but to leave the country.
The search for a new job took some time. When he finally received good news from Newfoundland, he called his wife. Susan asked where it was. “It's a rock in the North Atlantic” - he replied. He admitted later, that his decision based on faithfulness to conscience cost his family a lot.
In 1973, the Walley family moved to Canada, where four of their seven children were born. Leaving the UK, he did not expect it to be the last time he would his father. Robert told me many times how he missed the country he grew up in and its relatively warmer climate.
Robert got a job at the newly-opened medical college in Saint John’s. Inspired by the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor, he undertook the mission of evangelizing gynecologists and founded the organization MaterCare International (MCI). He was convinced that Catholic doctors needed it, and that the Church also needs Catholic doctors to fulfill its ministry to the sick.
MCI, which later became an NGO to the United Nations, was founded by Dr. Walley to serve mothers, especially those in economic poverty in developing countries and those in moral poverty in developed countries. In the design of the MaterCare logo, Robert placed the image of a mother and child centrally, superimposed on a cross, with each arm symbolizing one of the 4 aims of the organization namely, Advocacy, Service, Training, and Research. The defense of human life from conception to natural death was recorded in the statutes, and in the text of the oath for doctors who want to join the organization. This service to motherhood is to be conducted in full obedience to Jesus and His Gospel according to our motto "Do whatever He tells you", following the example of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, whom he chose as our Patron.
Dr. Walley often recalled the first MaterCare conference in Rome in 2001, and the meeting arranged by St. John Paul II, who told us that he understood the difficulties that Catholic doctors have, and knew about the pressure they were under. The Pope told us not to give up our mission, because the Church needed us. He also asked local churches to provide assistance. He repeated the phrase "Please do not give up" several times. Dr. Walley remembered these words for the rest of his life. He remained faithful to them and leaves them as his legacy and final will. St. John Paul II was a guiding light for Robert, and his encyclical "Evangelium vitae" a signpost. Robert eventually gave up his hospital and college work, devoting himself to MaterCare- working for mothers, especially poor mothers, their children and those caring for them.
Dr. Robert Walley was incredibly hardworking. Together with his team, he drafted documents to guide Catholic doctors, and produced guidelines for maternal and neonatal medical care compatible with the Gospel. They were based on the "four c’s:" conviction, competence, compassion and community. He prepared the "Charter of Mother’s Rights" and organized eleven international conferences in Rome, one in Warsaw and one in Zagreb, all of which successfully evangelized their delegates. The meetings focused on important, contemporary problems facing Catholic doctors, and presentations covering the “four c’s” were given by well-known and respected lecturers.
He tirelessly went where mothers needed help. Robert did not want the organization he created to restrict its activities to being a "talking shop," merely discussing and issuing statements, but to act.
Robert worked in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, assisted in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and organized modern obstetric care in Ghana and Kenya. In the latter two, he developed a modern system of medical care for mothers and children in neglected rural areas. Under Robert’s instruction, we are currently assessing new projects in Rwanda and Uganda.
Robert also advised in East Timor, Albania and Georgia. In 2008, he took part in a session of the Polish Parliament and argued strongly that a condom could not save a woman who was dying of postpartum hemorrhage, and contraceptives would not help a mother who needed a Caesarean section. In developing countries, he advocated for essential obstetric care, the “91% solution,” instead of "birth control" programs. Because the centers he organized did not perform abortions and did not promote contraception, his organization was not accepted by many Western governments and UN agencies. However, he was able to get the support of numerous sponsors who really wanted to help poor mothers.
Robert was admired by many, spoke in a clear and specific way, and he was able to focus the audience’s attention perfectly. He did not like any fake activities, and set high demands for himself and for others. He used to say: “I am what I do. If I do not, I am not what I am.” With a subtle sense of humor, he always spoke the truth, which not everyone liked. He earned the love and respect of many people in response to the love and help they received from him.
The lack of unity in Catholic medical organizations was of great concern for him. He could not understand why doctors who were persecuted for practicing according to their conscience do not receive sufficient and effective support in their own country.
Dr Walley visited Poland many times. Maria and I were honored to host him and Susan several times at our home. He liked our soups, especially beetroot soup. He was acquainted with the complicated and beautiful history of our nation, and was interested in the current affairs of my homeland. He met with doctors, medical students and pro-lifers. During one of his stays in Poland, we came with the idea of creating a piece of music about motherhood. A well-known Polish composer few approached eventually refused, but Dr Walley found the right person in Canada. The premier of the "Maternity"oratory, based on the history of the motherhood of the Virgin Mary, took place three years ago at the Cathedral of St. Johns, Newfoundland.
Two years ago, Dr. Walley got ill. He bravely endured the suffering that came with deteriorating health. After a couple of months, Susan began to require constant nursing care.
A year ago, already in poor health, he undertook the great effort of traveling overseas to Poland, to Rzeszów - the capital of a region free from abortion. During the Congress themed "Science in the service of life" he gave a wonderful opening lecture on motherhood based on the motherhood of Mary, the Mother of God. He did not let anybody know he was ill and he bravely suffered ailments, although he required assistance at airports. Until recently, he regretted that would no longer be able to go to Czestochowa, to the throne of the Black Madonna.
Professor Walley was a well-educated man with a strong personality. Robert was curious about the world and its people. He was a careful observer of nature. Robert liked traveling. He liked having contact with local people and was sensitive to the difficult situation of mothers and children in Africa. We spent a lot of time there, devoting time off work to conversations which were truly inspiring for me and often involved contemplating the beauty of Africa.
Along with the late Professor Michał Troszyński, he had hugely positive impact on me.
I will be proud for the rest of my life that I was a friend of Susan and Robert Walley. We understood each other despite my poor English. I received great support from both of them during a difficult period relating to my refusal to perform an abortion in 2014 and my subsequent unfair dismissal from the Holy Family hospital in Warsaw, Poland. They both helped me to survive this difficult time.
He was a good man who trusted God, and was faithful to the Church.
He was a brave and tireless defender of the dignity of mothers and the life of unborn children, a great role model for all of us, doctors and other health care workers.
He was my great friend, but also a demanding mentor, master and teacher.
He wasn't afraid of death. He waited with confidence and hope to meet his Lord.
May our good and merciful God forgive his sins and accept him into His glory and may Our Lady protect him.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
(Read during a memorial mass in Warsaw, Poland on July 2, 2020)