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Why Casey and Sr. Mary Casey march for life

Casey Gunning, who has Down syndrome, will speak at the 2023 March for Life with her twin sister, Sr. Mary Casey O'Connor, S.V.

Casey Gunning and her twin sister, Sister Mary Casey O'Connor, S.V. Credit: Sisters of Life.

At the National March for Life on Friday, Casey Gunning will take the stage with her twin sister, Sister Mary Casey, S.V.

Casey and Sister Mary Casey, both 39, will speak to demonstrators from a unique perspective — Casey has Down syndrome, and her twin, Sr. Mary Casey, is a member of the Sisters of Life, a religious order devoted to promoting and serving the Church’s “Gospel of life.”

When she entered religious life, Sr. Mary Casey took her sister’s name.

Ahead of the march, Casey and Sr. Mary Casey talked with The Pillar about their message, their unique friendship, and human dignity.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Casey, what do you want to tell people when you speak at the March for Life?

Casey: I want to say to America, and to the whole world, that life is good and life is a gift.

Casey Gunning. Credit: March for Life.

And who will you represent at the March?

Casey: All people with Down syndrome. I want to share my heart with them.

And I want people to keep their babies. Some people are scared to have a baby with Down syndrome; maybe they feel like they can’t handle it.

But I can tell them: They can handle it, with the power of God, and with the Holy Spirit. They have the Holy Spirit in them.

There are many people today who don’t know anyone who has Down syndrome. What do you think is important for people to know about Down syndrome?

Casey: That Down syndrome does not define me, or any person. I am defined by God.

God put a price tag on every life — it says we are all priceless. Born or unborn, disability or not, God says we are all priceless.

Casey, you will give your speech at the March for Life with your sister, Sr. Mary Casey. What does your sister mean to you?

Casey: She means the world to me. Me and her share the same heart — we’re twins, and we both have the same heart. We love each other.

I’m honored that my sister took my name, and I’m honored that her heart is my heart.

Sister Mary Casey, what does it mean for you to speak at the March for Life with your sister, Casey?

Sr. Mary Casey: I think it’s one of the greatest honors of my life, because she's one of the most significant, important, and special people in my life — she's formed my heart, and my view of life and she’s helped shape even my understanding of God and his love.

For us to be up there together, sharing about the goodness and the sacredness of life, is a real joy and a real honor.

Sr. Mary Casey O'Connor, S.V. Credit: March for Life.

Sister, what is special to you about your sister Casey? What do you love about her?

Casey: Everything!

Sr. Mary Casey: I love Casey's ability to look past things that I get tripped up on.

I love Casey's ability to kind of keep a good perspective on things. She looks at things that are important, and she doesn't get lost in the things that are unimportant.

I love Casey's ability to love another person just because they're worthy of love, and not because they earned it or have done anything. And she doesn't expect anything back.

I love that Casey has taught me how to just love  — to give freely without expectation.

And one of the biggest things Casey has taught me is how to forgive people even if they don't ask.

I suspect your relationship with your sister has taught you a lot about the ‘Gospel of Life.’

Where do people with disabilities fit into what the Church says about that gospel, and about human dignity?

Sr. Mary Casey: We’re [called] to be able to see the value of a soul - the value of a human person - without any kind of stipulations.

I think there's such a temptation to kind of place a scale of value on people according to what they’re able to do, what they produce, or how efficient they are. And having lived my entire life with a twin sister who has Down syndrome, I have really seen that kind of idea shattered in my own heart.

Value is not based on anything that a person can or can't do, but merely by the fact that they exist, that God wills them into being and that ultimately that they're a channel of God's love.

Did growing up with a twin sister who has Down syndrome impact your vocational call? Or the kind of apostolic work that you do in the Sisters of Life?

Sr. Mary Casey: I think growing up with Casey has shaped me in ways that I only now am starting to realize — to see how profoundly her life and her love has shaped me.

I didn't necessarily go out seeking this in a particular way, but now that I am living in this charism of life, and really working to uphold the dignity and sacredness of life, it's fun to look back and think that God has actually been preparing me for this my entire life, by the friendship and closeness of a life shared with Casey.

Sister, what do you think it’s important for the Church to learn about loving people with disabilities, and for the world beyond the Church to learn, as well?

Sr. Mary Casey: I think the lesson for both is that there's no need to fear.

I think that there's so much fear of the unknown and so much pressure, in the Church or in the world, to appear perfect, like we have it all together, like we have all the answers, like we're in control.

And in both the Church and the world - but especially in the Church -  I think God wants all of us to realize that he's the author of life. That he is the one writing the story of all of our lives, and that he doesn't make mistakes.

A lot of times, when someone is not anticipating having a child with a disability, there can be fear of the unknown. There can be an element of sorrow and grief. But I think God wants us to make an act of faith in him — just as God is actually making an act of faith in us when he entrusts any of us with a sibling or a child who has special needs. There’s a real entrustment on both sides, and He has a plan for it.

And, you know, we make acts of faith that God is more generous than we would think he is, that he’s gonna give us more than we would ask for, and that he’s going to bless us in ways that we don’t even know we want or need to be blessed with.

And in our world, there is just such a pressure around appearance and, I think it's so sad that there can be a temptation to hang on so tightly to the appearance of things that you can actually pass by, or miss, or discard something so good.

I think we can calculate what life should be or what love should be, but we only learn love through other people.

And so in the day and age that we live in, where so many children in the womb with Downs’ syndrome have their lives threatened, I think that we are the ones who will suffer the consequences — society suffers the consequences of seeking to eliminate them, because the love that they bring is so valuable. And I think we don't even have an understanding of the pain and the grief that we’re bringing upon ourselves.

Thank you. Are you guys nervous to speak in front of the March for Life? There will be a lot of people there.

Casey: Yes. But I did come all the way from Colorado for this!

Sr. Mary Casey: A little bit! But I’m so proud of Casey. And Casey knows that she’s representing tomorrow all the people in the world with Down syndrome. She’s taking that very seriously. And as her best friend, and as her sister, I am just grateful, and I am so proud of her. So to be able to stand next to her, and proclaim that life is good, and life is sacred, and life is a gift, is really a great joy for me.

Thank you. Finally, Casey, what has been the best part for you of this trip to the March for Life?

Casey: I’ve seen all the sisters, and then I’ve seen all the passion that they have for people who keep their babies!

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