Publisher recounts how faith guided Santorums during son's death

Rick Santorum with family in the background at Valley High School in West Des Moines on Jan 3, 2012. Credit: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Rick Santorum with family in the background at Valley High School in West Des Moines on Jan 3, 2012. Credit: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Catholic publisher Al Napleton said he had “many wonderful experiences” working with Rick and Karen Santorum to publish a book on the loss of their fourth child. 

“Working with the Santorums on the release and marketing of this beautiful book, I have experienced first-hand the character, courage and virtue of this amazing couple,” wrote Napleton in a Jan. 9 Catholic Marketing Network column.

He said it is “little wonder” that “so many good people of Iowa want to see them in the White House.”

As the president of a small Catholic media company, Napleton worked in 1996 with Rick Santorum, who was then serving as a Pennsylvania senator, and his wife, Karen, to publish “Letters to Gabriel.”

The book contains a series of letters written by Karen while she was pregnant with her  son, Gabriel Michael, as well as some that were penned after he died. Gabriel only lived two hours before passing away.

Although Karen Santorum did not originally intend to publish the letters, family and friends encouraged her to share them in order to help other parents in similar situations.

Napleton said he felt a “certain kinship” with the senator. Both men had grown up in the same small town in Pennsylvania, attended the same schools and shared an “Italian working class background.”

Throughout the publishing process, he got to know the family and their story, and he found himself “impressed with them on many levels.”

He explained that Karen, a nurse who had spent several years working in a neonatal intensive care unit, wrote her first letter to welcome her son into the world on the day she learned that she was pregnant.

She continued writing letters as her pregnancy progressed, during a time that her husband was fighting hard in the Senate against partial-birth abortion.
Almost five months into the pregnancy, tests indicated that the baby had a serious, often fatal defect.

The family sought medical treatment and turned to God in prayer. They decided to give their son the names of two powerful archangels, Gabriel and Michael.

Napleton described Karen Santorum’s letters during this time as “dramatic and moving.”

“Their deep Catholic faith brought them comfort as all efforts to save their baby failed,” he recalled.

Gabriel was born on Oct. 11, 1996 and died two hours later, after being baptized by his father during his brief life.

Napleton recalled the words of comfort offered by Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who led the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the time.

Cardinal Bevilacqua reassured Karen and Rick that their baby was in heaven and told the family that instead of praying for Gabriel, they should “pray to him to intercede on your behalf with our Heavenly Father.”

The cardinal later described the book as an “extraordinary tribute to the sanctity of life” and thanked the Santorums for their “exemplary courage and commitment to family.”

Reflecting on the family’s strong faith and character, Napleton said he has “no idea” how Santorum will do in the course of the election.

“But with his son a saint in Heaven pulling for him ... who knows?”