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.

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…

Catholic School Welcomes Children with Down Syndrome

How This Catholic School Welcomes Children with Down Syndrome

When the students and faculty of Holy Family Academy in Manassas, Virginia, attend this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., their group will include children with Down syndrome. It’s an important pro-life statement: in the United States, upward of 75% of preborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are killed by abortion.

But Holy Family — a small, lay-established school that is faithful to Catholic teaching — does more than advocate for the life of these children. It helps give them an education through its beautiful St. Anne Program, launched at the beginning of the last school year.

Each Friday, students aged 8 to 18 with Down syndrome participate in academics, music and art as a cohort, joining with the remainder of Holy Family’s K-12 students for Mass, lunch and recess. Parents homeschool the children through the remainder of the week.

“As a Catholic school, we are committed to promoting the dignity of life,” says Mo Woltering, headmaster at Holy Family Academy and former executive director of The Cardinal Newman Society in the late 1990s. He believes that, while students with Down syndrome have significant intellectual challenges, they have a human right to formation in mind, body and soul — and the program has “worked really well” for other children, too.

“Students see that children with Down syndrome are welcome at the Academy, and that the school has a commitment to education for these members of our family,” Woltering says.

Unique classical model

The St. Anne Program addresses a top priority for the local Diocese of Arlington. Bishop Michael Burbidge has called for more inclusion in Catholic schools, noting that students with special needs “show others the face of Christ and bring out the best in all of us.” He recently highlighted programs at two schools on the Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll: Bishop O’Connell High School’s expanded services and Paul VI Catholic High School’s Options program.

Other schools on the Honor Roll and around the country wonderfully combine faithful Catholic education with care for students who might otherwise be excluded. But one thing that is special about Holy Family’s St. Anne Program is that students have the opportunity to partake of a classical Catholic curriculum.

“The program reflects our basic commitment to classical education: that it’s for everyone, and that it will feed the souls of students with Down syndrome, albeit in a different way,” says Woltering. These students “show us a new type of connection with the classics, and with the true, the good and the beautiful.”

Another unique aspect of the Holy Family Academy program is that it focuses exclusively on children with Down syndrome, which Woltering says serves the students well.

“Many special education programs tend to lump their students together, but there are many educational and emotional differences among various special needs children,” he says. “A feature of our program is that the needs are similar, and so we are able to address them in a consistent manner.”

For social and recreational time, other Holy Family students serve as “ambassadors” for the St. Anne children. For many students, it’s the “highlight of their week,” Woltering says, and “friendships have quickly formed.”

“It’s always so much fun to see them on Fridays, they have such big smiles,” says Woltering. “On the friendship level and on a joy level, it’s been a big success.”

Family oriented

Catholic school programs like this recognize the dignity of each human being and benefit both students with special needs and the rest of the school community. This is the mission of Catholic education in action. As Pope Benedict XVI told Catholic educators during his 2008 visit to the United States, “No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”

At Holy Family, the students with Down syndrome bring so much to the school, and the Academy has been a big help to parents in forming their sons and daughters in the Faith. It is — as Catholic education should be — a service by and for families with shared needs.

Mary Radel, instructor for the St. Anne’s program, has a younger brother with Down syndrome. The youngest child of Woltering and his wife Denise, who directs the grade school curriculum and whose parents founded the Academy, also has Down syndrome but is not yet old enough for the program.

Only a year and half into the pilot project, Woltering hopes that the St. Anne Program will expand and succeed into the future. “It will be really exciting to see that, to experience that, and share that with others too,” he says.

May Holy Family Academy’s example inspire other Catholic educators to do something similar to celebrate and improve the lives of children with special needs. It is yet another piece in the renewal of faithful Catholic education, with just the right combination of traditional devotion and innovative methods that is needed to serve Catholic families.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Catholic High Schoolers Give Extraordinary Witness at March for Life

Some of the nation’s best Catholic high schools will be displaying their strong Catholic faith by joining the March for Life in Washington, D.C., this Friday.

These are schools recognized by The Cardinal Newman Society and our Catholic Education Honor Roll. They agree to uphold key principles of Catholic identity, and participation in the March for Life is an excellent way of witnessing to human dignity and teaching a Christian worldview.

Many of the school groups are traveling significant distances to make it to this year’s March, including The Atonement Academy in San Antonio, Texas; Everest Collegiate High School and Academy in Clarkston, Michigan; Bishop Thomas K. Gorman High School in Tyler, Texas; John Paul the Great Academy in Lafayette, Louisiana; The Lyceum in South Euclid, Ohio; St. Francis Xavier High School in Appleton, Wisconsin; St. James Academy in Lenexa, Kans.; St. Joseph High School in South Bend, Indiana and West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan

These schools make the most of their time in D.C. St. Francis Xavier, for instance, has an impressive agenda! Students will attend the pro-life youth rally and Mass before the March, visit and celebrate Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, visit the Holocaust Museum (a great pro-life activity), celebrate Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, visit the St. John Paul II National Shrine, pray outside of a Planned Parenthood center, participate in Eucharistic adoration and confession, and share their experiences and impressions during small-group sessions and talks. On the way home, they will stop at Mundelein Seminary for Mass, a tour and breakfast sponsored by the Diocese of Green Bay Vocations Office.

Students in the Schola Cantorum at The Lyceum will sing Palestrina’s Missa Brevis during an Extraordinary Form Mass at St. Dominic’s Church in D.C. before the March. They too will visit the Holocaust Museum and President George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

In addition to several sites in D.C., John Paul the Great Academy makes its long journey from Louisiana a pilgrimage, stopping along the way at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama; the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland; and the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg.

Students from schools closer to Washington are able to participate more easily, and their numbers are impressive. More than 250 students from Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia, will be marching this year, after attending the pro-life rally and Mass with Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Arlington Diocese that morning.

Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia, is closing its doors on Friday to allow a group of more than 150 students and chaperones to attend the March in person – and many more are with them in spirit. As part of their “March for Me Initiative,” students from the school’s Pro-Life Club visited parishes in the area and solicited names of parishioners unable to attend the March. The students carry the names with them and pray for their intentions while marching.Other schools may not make it to the March for Life in Washington, but that doesn’t stop them from attending other pro-life events around the country. Students from St. Anne Catholic School in Rock Hill, South Carolina, partnered with the parish youth group to attend last weekend’s March and Rally in Columbia, South Carolina. And in Spring, Texas, Frassati Catholic High School’s Culture of Life Club will sponsor a daylong pilgrimage to the Texas Rally for Life in Austin on Jan. 26.

Faithful Catholic schools play no small part in the renewal of our culture, especially when they bear witness to the dignity of all human life. The sacrifice and witness of these students and their families is an inspiration and blessing.

This article was first published at The National Catholic Register.

Faithful Catholic Colleges Join March for Life

Faithful Catholic colleges give witness to the dignity of human life all year long—but this Friday, January 18, will be special.  Students, faculty, staff and presidents from colleges recommended in The Newman Guide will be leaders once again at this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C.

“It would be a tragedy if an institution that spent so much time studying the humanities failed to stand and defend the dignity of all human life,” explained Dr. William Fahey, president of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H. He said that the College’s participation in the March for Life “is intrinsic to our Catholic mission.”

Dr. Fahey is one of several Catholic college presidents who will march against abortion. He will be joined by Ave Maria University President Jim Towey, Belmont Abbey College President Dr. Bill Thierfelder, Benedictine College President Stephen Minnis, Christendom College President Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, Franciscan University of Steubenville President Fr. Sean Sheridan, TOR, Northeast Catholic College President Dr. George Harne, University of Mary President Msgr. James Shea, and University of St. Thomas (Houston) President Dr. Richard Ludwick.

Catholic families are grateful for the witness of these presidents and the hundreds of students who join them. These students make great sacrifices—including long bus rides, braving cold temperatures, and sleeping on the floors of church halls—to peacefully protest abortion.

“It pains me to know that there were babies who were not able to take their first breath. Babies who were not able to say their first words or take their first steps,” said Dalton Guinn, a senior accounting major at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D.

“We are committed to something bigger than ourselves,” he said. “We are motivated to fight for the right to life. We care enough to stop our busy lives as students, drop anything and take a 30-hour bus ride to Washington, D.C., to make it known that what is happening is wrong and change is in order.”

The University of Mary will be traveling more than 1,000 miles from Bismarck, N.D., to attend the March for Life. Other long-distance travelers include marchers from Ave Maria University of Ave Maria, Fla., Benedictine College of Atchison, Kan., and University of St. Thomas (UST) of Houston, Tex.  Ave Maria will be bringing approximately 50 students, and Benedictine College and University of Mary will each be bringing more than 200 students.

Sr. Theresa Marie Chau Nguyen, O.P., an assistant professor of theology at UST, said that she was a “regular Marcher” during her time as a student at The Catholic University of America and now is “delighted” to be returning with 27 “enthusiastic UST students.”

Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., will send about 100 students, faculty, staff… and monks!  About half of this group will be going to Washington, D.C., a day early to make a pilgrimage to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine.

Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., has always closed its campus on the day of the March so that the entire student body and members of the faculty and staff can attend.  Other Catholic colleges that cancel classes during the March include The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, and Northeast Catholic College in Warner, N.H.

Catholic University and Franciscan University of Steubenville have a huge representation at the March, with more than 500 students from each university.  For high school and church groups traveling from across the country, many are provided with food and lodging by Catholic University and Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md.

One Mount student, Elizabeth O’Hare, who will travel with more than 200 students and seminarian to the March, shared how the “strong Catholic foundation” at the University has enabled her “to grow in relationship with the Lord and His One True Church” while also convicting her on the “beauty and sacredness of all human life.”

Even more Newman Guide-recommended institutions, including DeSales University in Center Valley, Penn., and Walsh University in Canton, Ohio, will be attending the March. Both will be sending around 50 students.  Holy Apostles in Cromwell, Conn., is bringing nearly 100 students, seminarians, religious, faculty and staff.  Additionally, students and staff from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, are also making the trip to the March.

Newman Guide colleges located on the other side of the country—including Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo., and John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, Calif.—will participate in the West Coast Walk for Life on January 26.