Celebrate the Students Who Marched for Life

Again this January, huge numbers of young people from around the country showed up in Washington, D.C., to demand an end to abortion. Many were from faithful Catholic schools and colleges that bused students to the annual March for Life.

Seeing all those schools and colleges represented made me very proud of our Catholic educators and their continued renewal of Catholic identity. And so, how perfect was it that we celebrated National Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 26-Feb. 1) just following the March?

The two events should remind us: when Catholic education is done well, it prepares its students to be ethical leaders and to transform the culture. And nothing could be more important than defending the weakest among us, the innocent baby in the womb.

Two pro-life leaders with Students for Life of America, one of the most dynamic pro-life organizations, say that their Catholic education prepared them for the work they do today.

Katie Portka credits her faithful Catholic education at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, with strengthening her pro-life convictions. Portka learned about Benedictine through The Newman Guide, and then, while a senior in high school, saw the College’s students carrying the banner at the head of the March for Life.

“I loved how energetic they were — this huge group of young adults who were so full of life and passionate,” says Portka. She had been involved in pro-life efforts with her family, but she didn’t often see large groups of young people standing for life as a high school student. Shortly after the March for Life, Portka signed her acceptance letter to attend Benedictine.

On campus, Portka immediately got involved in the large Respect Life Ravens Group. “The school at large was a very pro-life campus,” she says, “in the dorms, in classes, and in the faculty.”

Benedictine “really did embody the Church’s teaching on life and the dignity and sanctity of life,” says Portka. “In college was when I realized why I was pro-life and why I wanted to be pro-life.”

Stephanie Stone works for Students for Life of America as regional coordinator in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. She credits her faithful Catholic education with helping her discover that pro-life work was part of her “mission.”

As a high school student, Stone visited The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and “fell in love with how proudly the school wore its Catholic identity.”

“Catholic University helped me to dive deeper into my faith and experience how faith is applied to the world around us,” says Stone. “It also gave me a number of opportunities to become more active in the pro-life movement, eventually leading me to understand that pro-life work was my mission.”

On campus, Stone served as president of the Cardinals for Life club and was instrumental in organizing the first Pep Rally for Life for students ahead of the March for Life. Stone also found that studying in Washington, D.C., was a great place to learn about politics and grow in her pro-life beliefs.

“In my experience, having a Catholic education really solidified my understanding of the value of the human person,” explains Stone. “It helped me form a deep respect and radical love for all of God’s people, which is what ultimately encourages me to do this work.”

Whether at the elementary, secondary or higher education level, the fruits of Catholic education can be seen in the witness of its graduates. Many alumni of faithful Catholic schools and colleges are doing important work in rebuilding a culture of life in our country.

Hopefully, last week’s celebration of Catholic Schools was a reminder to Catholic educators everywhere to redouble their focus on the most important things that distinguish Catholic education from a secular program. Students should be prepared to follow God’s will for their lives and impact the world.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Katrina Gallic, Youth Rally

March for Life Leader: Catholic Education Instilled ‘Greater Respect’ for All Life

In 2017, Katrina Gallic was a senior at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D, who gave a beautiful speech at the March for Life Rally in Washington, D.C. After the speech, Gallic and her classmates had the honor of leading the March.

The year before, University of Mary students found themselves caught in massive snowstorm and stopped traffic on their way home from the March for Life. Their joyful witness while they waited on the bus garnered national media attention for the pro-life cause.

Today, Gallic works for the March for Life full-time. She credits her experience at the University of Mary and attending the March for Life with opening her heart to working in the pro-life movement. We are thankful for her time in responding to our questions as a part of our “Profiles in Faithful Catholic Education” series.

Newman Society: How did your education and experience at the University of Mary help prepare you to become a leader in the pro-life movement?

Katrina Gallic

Katrina Gallic: When students arrive at the University of Mary as freshmen, the first address they hear from President Monsignor Shea can be summarized by the phrase: “your life is not about you.” Your life, he explains, will only find fulfillment when it is given away in loving service to others. Each of us then has a distinct mission, a unique and necessary gift that only we can give, a gift that is not so much about what we do, but about who we are. I can say for my part that his message, which was repeated through all my years there, instilled in me a greater respect for each person’s life. No matter how small, no matter how seemingly “insignificant,” each person is a profound gift made in the image of God. And who is smaller, who is more seemingly “insignificant” than the little one in the womb? It was my experience traveling with the University of Mary students to the March for Life as a junior, and then leading the March for Life as a senior, that opened my heart to God calling me to serve Him by working full-time in the pro-life movement. I am profoundly grateful to the many, many people at the University of Mary who have so greatly impacted my life, and the lives of my classmates.

Newman Society: Can you tell us about the work you do today, and what excites you the most about it?

Katrina Gallic: Today, I am the Director of Development for the March for Life! That means I have the privilege of sharing the life-saving mission of the March for Life with pro-life people across the country and inviting them to join us in our mission. This is an exciting time for the pro-life movement and for the March for Life in particular. We are seeing passion for the cause of life building, as more eyes are opened to the horrible agenda of pro-abortion activists and politicians, and we have responded by bringing the inspirational power of the March for Life’s state march program to state capitals across the country. In 2020, we will march in Virginia on February 13th, in Connecticut on April 15th, and in Pennsylvania on May 18th. I’m excited to see the energy and positive impact that these local marches will bring to the pro-life movement at the state level!

Faithful Catholic Colleges March to ‘Defend Innocent Life’

“We journey to Washington D. C. together to defend innocent life, and we find ourselves greatly edified,” says Magdalena Danja, a senior at The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H., about the College’s pilgrimage to the March for Life, taking place this Friday, January 24.

“It is a beautiful thing to see so many young people from all over the country coming together for the same purpose, and to experience the camaraderie created by a sleepless night on the road, after which we sing and pray our way up Capitol Hill, banners held high, testifying to the joy which springs from fighting for the true and the right,” she continues.

It certainly is a beautiful thing—many faithful Catholic colleges are going to great lengths to witness at this year’s March for Life. Thomas More College will be cancelling classes during the March, and other Catholic colleges recommended in The Newman Guide will be, too.

The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., cancelled classes for the first-time last year and is continuing the tradition this year, expecting more than 500 students to attend the March. Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., has cancelled classes during the March every year since its founding more than 40 years ago, so that its entire student body of nearly 500 students can attend.

Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, N.H., also cancels classes and offers travel scholarships for students to attend, and the new east coast campus of Thomas Aquinas College in Northfield, Mass., which opened this year, will cancel classes this Friday so that its entire student body can attend.

Some of the groups traveling the furthest distances, more than 1,000 miles, include Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Fla., Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., and the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. All three of the colleges will be bringing more than 200 students.

Students from Texas will be present as well. For the first time in several years, the University of Dallas in Irving, Tex., is organizing an official group of 44 students to attend the March, and 40 students—their largest group yet—from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Tex., are flying to Washington, D.C., for the event.

Three new college presidents will be leading groups to the March: Fr. David Pivonka, TOR, of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, with 500 students; Fr. Peter Kucer, MSA, of Holy Apostles in Cromwell, Conn., with more than 100 seminarians, religious, students and faculty; and President Tim Collins of Walsh University in Canton, Ohio, with 100 students.

Many of the colleges visit historic and spiritually significant sites, such as the Holocaust Museum, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land to make the trip to Washington, D.C., into a pilgrimage.

More than 100 students, faculty and monks from Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., will be making a pilgrimage to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine before the March. A contingent from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, will be spending a couple days in D.C. surrounding the March. 

The day after the March for Life, colleges on the west coast will take part in the Walk for Life in San Francisco, Calif., including John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, Calif., Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., and Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo.

UMary students March for Life

Students Make History at the March for Life

Nearly every year of Simone Kelly’s life, she attended the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco, California, with her family. As the president of her high school’s pro-life club, she was intimately involved in the planning of the trip.

This year, Kelly has a different but exciting project on her hands. As a sophomore at the recently opened east coast campus of Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Northfield, Massachusetts, Kelly volunteered to help plan the college’s first trip to the March for Life in the nation’s capital.

Classes are canceled at New England campus Jan. 24 so that the entire student body of 58 students, along with faculty, staff and families, can attend the March. TAC has thus joined other faithful Catholic colleges that cancel classes for the March for Life, including The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire, and the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Christendom has been doing so every year since the college’s founding, so that its entire student body can attend.

The TAC contingent will leave campus Thursday night and attend Mass, adoration and confession at a nearby parish before driving through the night to Washington, D.C. Kelly says that everyone on campus is “super excited” for the upcoming trip to defend the unborn, noting that all students raised money to help fund the trip.

Since there are no juniors or seniors on the new campus, Kelly plays a leadership role as a sophomore. Part of the reason why she transferred to the new campus is so that she could help “bring traditions” from TAC’s home campus in California, founded in 1971, while also developing “new traditions.”

The March for Life is a new tradition that Kelly is eager to organize so that “in the years to come, the details will be worked out.” At the west coast campus, the Walk for Life tradition, taking place this year on Jan. 25, is well-established — students from the college have participated in the Walk every year since the event was founded.

For Kelly, the opportunity to make a stand for the unborn makes sense with the “liberating” education she is receiving. “My education is forming me to learn the truth, know the truth and defend the truth,” says Kelly. “Attending the March for Life allows me to live out what I’m learning.”

Other Catholic colleges are making history at this March for Life, too. For the first time in many years, the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas, is making an official trip to the March for Life.

“Many students have traveled the 1,300 miles on their own in recent years,” says Mary Kate Tomassi, treasurer of the Crusaders for Life Club, but this year is different. “We have 44 students officially going with UD to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life this year.”

“We have all been working hard to figure out the logistics for this trip, get approval, and fundraise. Thanks to many generous donors, and one in particular who wishes to remain anonymous who matched nearly $8,000 in gifts, we are able to make this important trip,” she continues.

Making the long journey is not for the faint of heart – and students will miss two days of classes. But Tomassi believes it’s important to “stand up” and “witness to the nearly 62 million lives lost and the 62 million families torn apart since 1973” due to abortion.

Beyond the witness of Thomas Aquinas College and the University of Dallas, there are other records being set by faithful Catholic colleges at this year’s March.

Some of the groups traveling the farthest distance with the greatest numbers of students include Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, and the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. They will both be traveling more than 1,000 miles to the March, with approximately 250 and 200 students, respectively.

Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, is sending approximately 500 students. A junior at the university, Kyle Taggart, believes that “we have a serious obligation to do everything in our power to fight legalized abortion” given the “gravity of the abortion issue.” His fellow classmates seem to be taking that message to heart.

History will be made at this year’s March for Life, in no small part due to the efforts of faithful Catholic colleges. Let’s pray that this witness leads to a change of minds and hearts — and the law — in our country, and that ultimately the lives of all unborn children will be protected.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

These Catholic Colleges Are Pro-Life, Pro-Woman

This year’s theme for the March for Life, “Pro-Life is Pro-Woman,” is likely to resonate with the thousands of college students who will travel to Washington, D.C.—especially those from America’s most faithful Catholic colleges.

For decades, radical pro-abortion feminism has dominated higher education. But at the colleges recommended in The Newman Guide for their strong Catholic identity, students find a much healthier respect for the dignity of women and children.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine…

Lauren Merz

Pro-Life Leader: Strong Catholic Education Can ‘Turn the Culture’

Lauren Merz
Lauren Merz

Strong Catholic education is essential to the pro-life movement, because it “equips the next generations of leaders — of saints! — who are so desperately needed to restore all things in Christ,” says one of the nation’s pro-life leaders.

Lauren Merz was recently named vice president of strategic partnerships at one of the most effective national pro-life organizations today, Live Action. She is gearing up for the March for Life and for her presentation about changing hearts and minds about abortion the following day at the National Pro-Life Summit, a gathering of more than 3,000 students and adults.

The Cardinal Newman Society asked Merz to explain the impact of her education at Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., which is recommended for its strong Catholic identity in The Newman Guide. We are grateful for her time as a part of our “Profiles in Faithful Catholic Education” series.

Newman Society: How did Christendom College help prepare you for the work you do today?

Lauren Merz: Truly the most important thing Christendom College did to prepare me for my work in the pro-life movement was to strengthen me in the Faith and to fall in love with the Church, and with Christ.

Christendom refined my analytical and writing skills I now use every single day in my work. The very rigorous curriculum and expectations pushed me to pursue excellence in how to think, strategize and communicate. I remember crying over papers and the many hours poring over my studies — they were so challenging, but so worth the effort.

Christendom also taught me how to learn, how to study. I carry the love for study and the search for wisdom with me always. I am constantly reading, learning and studying in my work and personal life, constantly seeking wisdom from those who know better than I, constantly seeking the Truth.

The professors at Christendom are also such beacons of virtue, examples of love and true pursuers of wisdom. Professors and Drs. Mike Brown and John Cuddeback instilled in me a love for philosophy and pursuing the virtues. The essentials we learned about human nature and ethics have been fundamental to me, as I help form Live Action’s messaging and strategy with our team. The understanding of human dignity, morality and the Church’s teachings I formed at Christendom are the roots of the pro-life work I do today. 

I was also lucky enough to have a work-study in the Student Life Office for all four years (and full-time job for two summers!) of college. Tambi Spitz was the associate dean at the time, and her inspirational mentorship was invaluable. She taught me how to organize my time and prioritize many tasks at once, manage a team, how to be assertive and honest, yet kind, merciful and loving. Her belief in me that I could do great things and that I was a natural leader and her constant pouring into me truly helped set me up for success.

I volunteered with the Student Activities Council on campus for three years, giving me the event planning and execution experience that I didn’t know I would love and need for my future career.

I served as a Resident Assistant for a year and a half during my time at Christendom, building my leadership abilities. I now serve as one of the top three executives at a national pro-life nonprofit, so those skills are used every day along with all the others.

I also have to give a shout out to Professor Mike Brown for preparing me for the work I do today. I had him for Philosophy 101 (so I have him to “blame” for my major choice!) and he was my thesis director. I will never forget a conversation I had with him during my last week of finals right before I graduated. He stopped me in the parking lot and said “Lauren, what are you going to do with your life after college? You have so many talents, you have a mission to use them for. Go find it!” It really stuck with me that I had a mission I was made for from that moment on. I sought out to find it. And here I am. My deepest gratitude, Professor Brown.

Lauren Merz
Lauren Merz (middle) at her graduation from Christendom College in 2010.

Newman Society: How did your time at the college help strengthen you for the spiritual battle involved in pro-life efforts?

Lauren Merz: Most importantly, Christendom instilled an understanding of the power of prayer and a true, strong, deep, personal relationship with our dear Lord Jesus.

Before going to college, I didn’t know adoration was a regular thing Catholics did. I only remember going during Lent growing up. The regular, monthly holy hours promoted and encouraged for all to attend moved me to fall in love with our Lord in the Eucharist. My time in adoration since then has been truly life-changing. I prayed and discerned my current job in adoration. I love visiting Jesus at St. Agnes Perpetual Adoration Chapel in Arlington, Va., where I live, it’s one of the most peaceful places on earth!

Christendom also instilled in me a deep love of the Sacraments, of course, most especially Confession and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Christendom had one of the most beautifully said liturgies I had attended until then — reverent and full of the majesty and mystery which are so essential. I also become comfortable with going to Confession regularly for the first time at Christendom. Everyone talked about how they needed to go — and they went! The example of my peers and teachers impacted me so much in this.

Today, I am completely dependent upon the generous Grace of God to do this work in the fight to defend the preborn. Among all the cultural battles we are facing today, the spiritual battle is especially strong on the pro-life front. We are fighting such a horrible evil. Some days I can’t even believe that I have to fight this battle — that we are actually killing our own children in such a beautiful, bountiful country and that I have to fight to stop it. It’s mind-boggling and gut-wrenching. It’s only by God’s generous grace and mercy through the Sacraments that I am able to continue the fight every day. Without Him, the evil is too great and I would have quit long ago.

Newman Society: How can strong Catholic education benefit the pro-life movement?

Lauren Merz: Strong Catholic education doesn’t just benefit the pro-life movement — it is essential to the pro-life movement.

The Catholic Church unabashedly upholds and defends the inherent dignity of the human person from fertilization to natural death. It is always the first defender of our dear brothers and sisters in the womb. Without passing down and instilling the wisdom of the ages, the Tradition of the Catholic Church, through Catholic education, our entire culture is lost, and it will be impossible to win the fight to end the killing of children in the womb.

With strong Catholic education, we will turn our culture around and save souls. Strong Catholic education equips the next generations of leaders — of saints! — who are so desperately needed to restore all things in Christ. And who is more desperate in our culture right now than the most vulnerable little ones in the womb at odds against their own mothers?