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Miriam J. Barth, founded diocesan pro-life office; July 17, 1922 -- April 27, 2012

Miriam J. Barth, a former secondary school teacher who moved on to found and direct the pro-life office of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, died Friday in McCauley Residence in the Town of Tonawanda. She was 89.

Born Miriam Newcomb in Pittston, Pa., she was a graduate of St. Ann Academy in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and of College Misericordia in Dallas, Pa.

She also earned a master's degree in classics and Greek from Fordham University.

She taught in secondary school and at the college level.

In 1971, Mrs. Barth, who was proficient in sign language, established the Learning Center at St. Mary School for the Deaf.

Former Buffalo Bishop Edward Head asked Mrs. Barth and her husband, Deacon Kenneth J. Barth, to launch a new diocesan office focusing on pro-life concerns.

Mrs. Barth was known for emphasizing a "seamless garment" approach to life issues that was first championed by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in the early 1980s. Bernardin's "consistent ethic of life" philosophy holds that the Catholic moral principle on the sacredness of human life should be applied not just to issues like abortion, but also to capital punishment, nuclear weaponry and social and economic injustices, as well.

"Her whole life has been about respecting life from its earliest form until natural death," said Mary Pat Barth, a daughter. "She was really a beacon for the diocese."

A longtime resident of Buffalo's Parkside neighborhood, Mrs. Barth served as co-director of the office from 1975 until her retirement due to health concerns in 1988.

A frequent guest lecturer around the country, Mrs. Barth was awarded the Pro Ecclessia et Pontifice Medal in 1980, the Bishop McNulty Memorial Award in 1984 and the Father Baker Service to Youth Award in 1984.

She received an honorary doctor of humane letters from Niagara University in 1987.

Her husband of more than 50 years died in 1997.

In addition to her daughter Mary Pat, she is survived by two other daughters, Karen Anthone and Virginia Callahan; and two sons, the Rev. Michael and Thomas.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. today in St. Joseph University Catholic Church, 3269 Main St.