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: Pilgrimage: A journey through Church history

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“Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” Paul proclaims these words the end of the book of Acts, capping off the biblical narrative of the work of the Apostles. The story of salvation history doesn’t end with the death of the Apostles, however, but continues in the life of the Church, fulfilling the words of Paul. The Gentiles have accepted the Gospel and have built up the Kingdom of God on earth. This is our story and we continue it.

If you want to know how the story continues after Acts, I’ll be teaching a class through the Denver Catholic Catechetical School this year, called “Pilgrimage: A Journey through Church History.” It begins with the early Church and follows the story to today. The class explores the Church Fathers, the fall of Rome, the building of Christendom, the High Middles ages, the Reformation (perfect for the 500th anniversary this year), the expansion of the missions around the globe, the modern revolutions, and the Second Vatican Council. We’ll be looking at and discussing the most important historical sources and exploring the art of the various time periods. We’ll be entering into the Church’s story by allowing the key figures and events to guide us.

We see one turning point in the story in the year 430. St. Augustine lay dying in Hippo as the Vandals prepared to sack and conquer the city. Augustine lived at the end of an age as the Roman Empire slowly crumbled, but also at the beginning of a new Christian one, an age he helped forge. The great doctor of the Church thought through the implications of the rise of Christianity in an age of political decline and saw right into the heart of history. History, unlike the focus of our textbooks, finds its true course not in politics or economics, but through love.

Augustine posited that all mankind belonged to one of two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. One city took its shape by loving God before all else and the other in a love turned inward on oneself. Augustine taught us that we live as citizens of our true homeland above even within the midst of this passing world: “The glorious city of God is my theme in this work. . . . I have undertaken its defense against those who prefer their own gods to the Founder of this city—a city surpassingly glorious.” Augustine’s teaching laid the foundation for a new Christian civilization, Christendom, which sprang up amidst the ruins of Rome in Europe.

One young man unexpectedly began building the foundations for this new civilization. He was studying within the ruins of the decadent city of Rome in about the year 500 and fled the temptations of town to live as a hermit in the wilderness. Eventually, others flocked to him and he laid the foundations for monasticism throughout Western Europe. The monasteries provided the foundation upon which a new society was built. St. Benedict, for this work, has been recognized as a patron of Europe and a true father of Christendom. His Rule does not seek to build up the earthly city, but looking to the City of God to “hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity.” And this is the key to Catholic culture and history: seeking the lasting the city helps us to live better in this life, with wisdom, courage, and hope.

We are all pilgrims, living in exile in the city of this world, and journeying toward the heavenly Jerusalem: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” (Heb 13:14). And yet we have to build a city on earth and looking to the past provides inspiration for this great project. This is why we should study Church history, especially as our culture goes through a period of upheaval, not unlike St. Augustine’s time. We need the witness and the legacy of the saints and doctors to guide our pilgrimage as we continue the story of the Church. Looking to the past helps us to plot out our own path on our journey to eternal life.

Class details

“Pilgrimage: A Journey Through Church History,” John Paul II Center, Denver. Tuesdays, 9:00 AM. Information Sessions: Aug 1 and Sept 5, 9:00 AM. Classes begin Tuesday, September 12, 2017. Register at: https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1968327