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: Remembering John Paul the Great: Three new books

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When teaching college students a few years ago, I was shocked when I asked my students to tell me what they knew about Pope St. John Paul II. It wasn’t much. We went on to read George Weigel’s definitive biography of John Paul, Witness to Hope (Harper Perennial, 2004), and the students were blown away by the greatness and compelling life of the Pope. The class made me realize how quickly the memory of even monumental figures can fade away if we do not work deliberately to continue their legacy.

The first place to begin “getting to know” John Paul better would be Weigel’s biography, mentioned above, along with the sequel, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (Random House, 2010). In addition, I would recommend John Paul’s interview book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (Knopf, 1995) and his trilogy of greatest encyclicals: Fides et Ratio, Evangelium Vitae, and Veritatis Splendor. The great Pope left us an enormous legacy of writings to explore, but especially relevant now are his “Letter to Families,” Familiaris Consortio (an exhortation on the family), and the Theology of the Body.

For those looking go deeper in their knowledge of John Paul, three new books can help us to remember and continue his great work for the renewal of Church and society.

George Weigel, Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II (Basic Books, 2017)

The final volume of a tryptic of the Pope, Weigel provides a memoir of his interactions with John Paul and an account of how he became his biographer. For those who love Witness to Hope, Weigel provides a fascinating account of how the book came about, tracing his work within the Vatican, Poland, and across the world. It narrates his own story as seminarian, lay theology student, writer, and his activity in politics, including writing speeches for a leader of the pro-life movement in Congress. His work caught John Paul’s attention, especially his book chronicling the Church’s role in the fall of Communism, The Final Revolution. Weigel gives testimony to the providence that prepared him to write John Paul’s biography and the friendship they developed in their common witness to the hope that comes from Christ.

Paul Kengor, The Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century (ISI, 2017)

This book traces not only the remarkable working friendship of Regan and John Paul, but narrates the entire story of the struggle between European Communism and the Church. Surprisingly, the book’s common thread comes from Our Lady of Fatima, predicting Russia’s errors and uniting the faithful in prayer, as well as guiding not only John Paul but also Reagan. The two men recognized their providential role in what Reagan called the Divine Plan to end Communism in Europe. Portraits of many other key characters (on both sides) emerge: Stalin, Pope Pius XII, Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Bishop Fulton Sheen, and Gorbachev. Kengor presents extraordinary connections between the two figures: both were actors, deep men of prayer, survived assassination attempts only months apart, and played key leadership roles in the world. The book presents ground breaking research to make a compelling and undeniable case that the two great men worked together closely and succeeded in bringing freedom to Eastern Europe.

Pope St. John Paul II/Karol Wojtyła, In God’s Hands: The Spiritual Diaries 1962-2003 (Harper One, 2017)

This book gives us inside access to John Paul’s prayer life by presenting notes of his regular retreats from his time as a bishop through most of his papacy. It’s somewhat misnamed, as the book consists in his notebooks responding to the retreat material, not a normal diary. It reinforces what we know about the Pope: his strong focus on the Eucharist, his Marian spirituality of uniting our intentions to her fiat, and his concern as a bishop for the evangelization of his people. There are many gems, such as the following: “The most appropriate effects of the redemption in the human being are deeds that stem from it – deeds that through Mary are rooted in Christ, through one’s belong it Her, and that are simultaneously in accordance with Christ’s law, with His gospel” (10). The book will not disappoint those looking to enter more deeply into the spirituality of John Paul.