Catholic Vancouver May 11, 2018

NFP champion founded WOOMB B.C.

By Agnieszka Ruck

NFP champion Lou Specken. (BCC file photo)

A long-time champion of life and natural family planning has died peacefully at age 82.

Lou Specken, a former president for the World Organization of the Ovulation Method-Billings (WOOMB) in B.C., is being remembered as a warrior who wouldn’t let misinformation about family planning and the death of her husband stop her from promoting the Billings method.

“I like to refer to her as a warrior for natural family planning,” said longtime friend Father Joseph Hattie, OMI.

Father Hattie, former director of the Office of Marriage and Family Formation for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, met Specken in 1978. That was the same year she and her late husband, Art, founded WOOMB B.C. to teach the Billings Ovulation Method (developed by doctors John and Evelyn Billings of Australia).

“Lou was trained as a nurse and an intelligent lady who liked to get things done and was very kind, helpful, and well organized,” he told The B.C. Catholic.

As well as founding WOOMB B.C., Specken and her husband sat on the board of the organization on a national level. “She was involved in helping maintain higher standards of teacher training and the ability of the teachers to keep up to date.”

Art and Lou Specken (left) with John and Lynn Billings. (Photo courtesy Mike Specken)
Lou Specken cuts a cake with Father Joseph Hattie, marking the 60th birthday of the Billings method, which was founded in Australia. (Photo courtesy Doreen Beagan)

One of her biggest challenges, said Father Hattie, would have been demystifying natural family planning for doctors and nurses who never heard of it or had it confused with the ineffective rhythm method.

“In those days, it was difficult for a number of couples who were using natural family planning and didn’t have physicians that supported it,” said Father Hattie. Now, thanks in part to their work, more medical professionals understand the method and support it.

“I am very grateful for the work she did for these couples and for the Church at the time. I hope others will come forward to fill her shoes. It will take a few people to do that because she was so good.”

Specken spent four decades promoting NFP throughout B.C. and in the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s marriage preparation program.

“Their enthusiasm really rubbed off because they were totally dedicated,” said Madeleine Owen, who was trained by the Specken pair to become a Billings teacher along with her husband, Gerald.

“She had great perseverance,” said Owen. Even when her husband died in 2003, or when her health was failing, Specken worked hard to promote the message.

“It was a big difficulty when Art died and she carried on by herself,” she said. “She did hang on as long as physically possible.”

Lou Specken (right) with Doreen Beagan in 2013. Both were past presidents of WOOMB Canada. (Photo courtesy Doreen Beagan)

In 2015, Specken received the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s Stewardship Award for helping hundreds of couples to naturally achieve pregnancy, postpone pregnancy, and monitor their reproductive health without the use of harmful drugs or devices and within the moral precepts of the Church.

She was also an active member of the Catholic Women’s League at All Saints Parish in Coquitlam. “She would always be at our events,” said member Susan Schembri.

The natural family planning champion was also a loving mother and a good friend.

“When (my husband) Tom died very unexpectedly in 2000, Lou comforted me, encouraged me to continue on the board, and even covered my travel costs that year,” said past WOOMB Canada president Doreen Beagan. “Art died three years later, and I was able in turn to support and comfort her.”

Specken stepped down as WOOMB president in 2009.

“She confided that she felt she owed it to Art to take on that leadership role to serve the organization in which they so strongly believed,” said Beagan. “When I succeeded her in 2009, she again encouraged me and was very helpful.”

Lou Specken (centre) with family on her 80th birthday. (Photo courtesy Terry Specken)

Specken had used a walker for years, but in the last year of her life was wheelchair-bound and had to give up travelling across Canada to WOOMB board meetings. She moved into a care home, where according to eldest daughter Suzanne Bresser she did not stop trying to promote natural family planning. “She wanted to teach care aides the method!”

Specken “met a lot of people in the care home and touched everybody’s hearts. She was totally devoted, totally dedicated with the method. It was the same with family,” added Bresser.

“She gave and gave and gave. Even to the day she passed, she still loved Dad.”

Specken died April 28 in Coquitlam. The funeral Mass was held May 15 at All Saints Church. She leaves behind four children, 12 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.