Pro-life pharmacist brings his faith to his Denver drugstore
By Nissa LaPoint
Photo by Nissa LaPoint/DCR
Pharmacist Ben Lager couldn’t leave his faith at the door.
So he left his job and opened a drugstore where his beliefs and professionalism could come together—and he feels peace for it.
"I feel whole because I'm integrating my work life with my faith life,” said Lager, a former instructor at the Denver Biblical School. “I’m happier now because of following Christ in my work as a pharmacist.”
He and his wife, Kathy McGovern, opened Ben's Bonnie Brae Drugstore in Denver more than a year ago after Lager was faced with moral decisions at a previous pharmacy job.
Together they strive to run their privately-owned drugstore and coffee shop business near South Clayton Street and Louisiana Avenue in Denver with personalized and superior customer service, referrals, spiritual support and assurance of life-supporting medication.
Their drugstore may be the only pro-life pharmacy in the state, Lager said.
Across the country, other pharmacists with conscientious objections to contraception have opened their own businesses to adhere to the teachings of the Catholic faith. The Church teaches and research supports that the morning-after pills and other artificial forms of contraception can cause abortions, and the contraceptive pill now carries a warning that it may increase the risk of breast, liver and cervical cancer.
Lager’s own conscience became the impetus to open his pharmacy.
Standing behind the drugstore counter at a company more than two years ago, Lager was confronted with a decision: fill prescriptions for abortifacient drugs or face the end of his career.
Despite the threat of losing his job, once Lager learned of the cancer-causing and potentially abortion-inducing components of the birth control pill and other artificial contraceptives, he couldn't dispense with his Catholic faith.
"That caused me to see the writing on the wall and I finally quit," Lager said. "I wanted to add my voice to other health care professionals who are saying, 'Hey, these are dangerous drugs.' If you can't see what's going to physically and spiritually harm you, there should be someone out there who will try to tell you."
He brought his faith to the workplace and they opened their business under the patronage of St. André Bessette, a Canadian priest credited with thousands of miraculous healings.
They’ve fashioned their business after the old-time drugstores where customers can fill their pharmaceutical needs and get a cup of coffee or an ice cream cone. They know many customers by name and welcome them with a friendly smile. They provide over-the-counter medications and free home delivery within a 7-mile radius.
Ben’s also features the work of other local business-owners, from jewelry, candles and greeting cards, some of whom give proceeds to nonprofits.
They want their business to be a neighborhood stop, said McGovern, who is also a former instructor at the Denver Biblical School.
Joined by Angeline Hubert, their friend and colleague from their years at the Biblical School, they’ve offered two four-week Scripture classes in the store, and are planning a third for the Advent season. Other offerings have included “Storytime” for the neighbor kids in the summer, and a Saturday-morning walking tour of “alley art” in the Bonnie Brae neighborhood. They’ve hosted two book-signings of local Catholic authors, and hope to offer another one in Advent.
McGovern said the community has been supportive.
Ben’s Bonnie Brae Drugstore
Location: 2700 E. Louisiana Ave. Suite 102, Denver
Hours: Pharmacy - 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Coffee shop - 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
“We’ve been touched by how friendly the neighbors are,” McGovern said.
Since Camille Schiano of Most Precious Blood Parish discovered their drugstore, she makes a point to stop by and order a smoothie and receive her annual flu shot, she said.
“I want to be supportive of them,” Schiano said.
Other neighbors who came in for their delicious frappuccinos or coffee were not aware of the owner’s beliefs but remained supportive.
“I’m not going to stop coming to the coffee shop because of Ben’s pro-life beliefs,” said Rita Bolinger, who said she’s pro-choice. “It’s the pharmacist’s right to do that.”
The couple also incorporates prayer into their business. Lager keeps a list of customers that he prays for every morning, he said.
On occasion, a person will come in and request artificial birth control, but Lager will refuse by explaining that he doesn’t dispense those drugs because of their harmful effects on women’s health. Some get angry and yell. Others discuss the risks with him and some have switched to natural family planning—the Church’s approved method for birth regulation in grave circumstances.
“You get some grief but you also get inner joy,” he said about discussing faith at work. “Now that I get older, I realize that if you’re going to make a difference at all, your faith has got to affect all parts of your life.”
They remain grateful for customer’s loyalty and support, which is crucial for them to continue their services to the neighborhood.
“If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here,” Lager said.