Pro-life student club picked as ‘Group of the Year’

Julie Filby

When one of Mary Montoya’s teachers returned from the March for Life in Washington, D.C. last year, Montoya asked her what she did while in D.C.

“No one had ever asked me what I did there until Mary,” explained Rosalba Gonzalez-Hill, Spanish teacher and diversity director at Regis Jesuit High School Girls Division, who has participated in the annual pro-life march the last five years.

Her question launched an 80-minute conversation that ended with Montoya asking: “Would you be willing to start a club here?”

Gonzalez-Hill was happy to comply, and Montoya sprinted to the lunchroom, she said, to share the news with classmates she knew shared her pro-life passion.

“We spent the whole lunch running around the school talking to other teachers who we knew would support us and working on filling out the form to ask for permission to start a new club,” explained Emily Harpole, a senior at Regis Jesuit.

They also recruited classmate Haley Chirico, a senior, and then reached out to Lauren Castillo of Students for Life. Castillo is the Rocky Mountain regional coordinator of SFLA, a national network of pro-life clubs dedicated to educating high school and college students. Castillo helped the group plan their first awareness event that they referred to as “a baby shower.”

“We passed out hundreds of cupcakes and prayer cards to our classmates right before spring finals,” Harpole said.

Over the summer, they finalized the club structure and planned events. They began weekly meetings last fall and now have 20 to 30 girls attend each week. They organized a two-week diaper drive that collected more than 6,000 diapers for Catholic Charities’ Bottom Line diaper bank.

“It was a huge hit,” Harpole said. “Many teachers even gave their students extra credit in their class if they contributed to the drive.”

The school also took 20 students, from the girls’ and boys’ divisions, to the 2015 March for Life in Washington, D.C. Jan. 22.

Based on the impact they are already having on their campus and on the wider community, the Students for Life club at Regis Jesuit was named the 2015 New High School Group of the Year at the national Students for Life Conference in Washington, D.C. last month.

“This is a huge accomplishment for them and they very much deserved it,” said Castillo, adding that SFLA works with more than 800 clubs nationwide. “This club is on fire and doing amazing things to help their campus.”

Harpole and Chirico were on-hand to receive the award.

“The award was so wonderful because we felt it was God’s way of telling us he is proud of what we are doing and his encouragement to keep moving forward with the club at Regis Jesuit,” Harpole said.

They received a prize of $500 to help fund future campaigns, which may include helping the boys’ division start a club, or creating a cemetery of the innocents display in memory of children lost to abortion, or possibly renting a bus to take a group to pray at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains in Denver, the second largest abortion facility in the country.

“A lot of girls really don’t know about abortion … they don’t see it as a topic for young people,” Harpole said. “More girls have asked me about it and (through the club) we’ve been digging deeper ourselves.”

When approached by a friend of a friend who “might be pregnant,” Chirico felt prepared for the conversation.

“I had information on pregnancy resources,” she said, “and helped work her through it.”

They believe it is their job to speak up for those who have no voice.

“We are trying to prepare and equip our generation to fight for every human’s right to life,” explained club member Cassidy Roderick, a junior. “It’s especially important that we do this in high school, and before college, because the majority of abortions are performed on college-aged women.”

More than half of American women obtaining abortions are in their 20s, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and women aged 20–24 have the highest abortion rate of any age group (40 abortions per 1,000 women).

“It’s present at every school,” Harpole said. “That was eye-opening to me.”

They are hopeful students will reach out to them in times of need.

“We need to be very embracing of what our mission is here … we need to have compassion for all those around us,” Gonzalez-Hill said. “When a time of need arises for these girls I’m hopeful they will remember this club … a group of their sisters.”

For more information, visit www.studentsforlife.org.

COMING UP: Father Jan Mucha remembered for his ‘joy and simplicity’

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When Father Marek Ciesla was 11 years old, he encountered a priest in his hometown in northern Poland who was visiting his parish on mission.

“I was impressed,” said Father Ciesla. “A couple of my friends and I were talking about how energetic, how wonderful this priest was. I think in this way he inspired us a little bit to follow the call to the priesthood.”

The priest was Father Jan Mucha, and little did Father Ciesla know that decades later and an ocean away, he would reunite with the man that inspired him and his friend to pursue the priesthood.

In 2010 when Father Mucha was retiring from his role as pastor of St. Joseph Polish Catholic Church in Denver, Father Ciesla was sent from Poland to the Archdiocese of Denver to take his place.

The priests spent two days together, and Father Ciesla was struck by the familiarity of Father Mucha.

“For some reason, the way he was talking and the words he was using, something rang a bell,” he said. “I asked him if he remembers visiting my parish. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I had it on my list. I remember.’”

Father Ciesla was amazed that the man he was there to replace was the same one who had impacted his life all those years ago.

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Father Ciesla. “I never thought I would meet him again.”

Father Mucha passed away March 21 after serving the archdiocese for 40 years. He was 88 years old.

Father Mucha was born March 16, 1930 in Gron, Poland to parents Kazimierz and Aniela Mucha. He was one of five children. Father Mucha attended high school in Kraków and went on to study philosophy and theology at a seminary in Tarnów.

Father Mucha was ordained December 19, 1954 in Tarnów by Auxiliary Bishop Karol Pękala. He served at St. Theresa Parish in Lublin, Sacred Heart Parish in Florynka and as a Latin teacher at Sacred Heart Novice House in Mszana Dolna.

He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Denver on April 20, 1978. Before he was granted retirement status in August of 2010, he served at St. Joseph Polish for nearly 40 years.

“Father Mucha was dedicated to his people and there was a joy about him,” said Msgr. Bernard Schmitz, who had known Father Mucha since his own ordination in 1974 and more recently within his former role as Vicar for Clergy.

“I admired his joy and simplicity,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He seemed to have no guile and what you saw is what you got. He was very proud of his Polish heritage and was unafraid to be Polish.”

Father Mucha’s move to the United States came about after he visited St. Joseph Polish while on vacation. The pastor at the time was sick, and parishioners asked Father Mucha to stay.

After receiving approval from his superiors in Poland and the archbishop in Denver, Father Mucha did stay, and ended up serving the parish for nearly four decades.

“He was happy to serve here,” said Father Ciesla. “All the time, he was a man of faith. He kept his eye on Jesus.”

Msgr. Schmitz believes Father Mucha’s faithfulness and tenacity as a priest will leave a lasting impression on those he served.

“He was dedicated to the priesthood and didn’t want to retire until he was sure his people would be well taken care of,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He could come across as tough, but really he was a compassionate person [with] a heart open to the Lord’s work.”