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: Recovering a sense of celebration

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With the seemingly ever-increasing number of days dedicated to celebrating various causes or events, the Church presents us with the season of Advent, a time of preparation that can help us recover a true sense of celebration.

More than 100 years ago, no less than Friedrich Nietzsche, the frequent critic of traditional values, warned that people were losing the ability to truly celebrate. “The trick is not to arrange a festival,” he said, “but to find people who can enjoy it.”

As a society, we have found so many occasions to celebrate that one digital marketer created the Days of the Year website to keep track of everything from Flossing Day to more serious things like Native American Heritage month. This flurry of partying is amplified by social media posts, likes, and shares, but one is hard pressed to give convincing reasons for commemorating things like Squirrel Appreciation Day.

As a culture, we need to recover the reasons we celebrate and feast, and that must start with one of the greatest events in human history, the moment when God entered human history as a man, which we celebrate at Christmas.

Truly celebrating an occasion, according to the theologian and philosopher Josef Pieper, involves more than just having a good time. It involves participating in “the utmost perfection to which man may attain … the partaking of the utmost fullness that life has to offer.” In other words, through our celebration we connect with and express our longing for the eternal, to be with the God who is love, truth, and mercy for eternity.

Pieper explains this in his book In Tune with the World by saying, “to celebrate a festival means: to live out, for some special occasion and in an uncommon manner, the universal assent to the world as a whole.” And the most radical assent to the world and creation, he says, is to praise God for it, to recognize the gift and beauty of creation.

Pope Francis picked up the theme of celebration in his 2015 series of reflections on the family. During his August 12 general audience, the Holy Father defined celebration as “first and foremost a loving and grateful look at work well done. … It’s time to look at our home, our friends we host, the community that surrounds us, and to think: what a good thing! God did this when he created the world. And he does so again and again, because God is always creating, even at this moment!”

In just a few days, we celebrate Thanksgiving. For many people, the holiday is focused on family, the food, drinks and entertainment rather than the reason for celebrating – giving thanks to God for his provision and blessing. But if we can reconnect with the reason for celebrating, we will experience a deeper, more authentic joy.

Advent, which begins on December 3, presents us with another period of time to direct our hearts and minds toward the great gift of Christ’s coming at Christmas and his eventual Second Coming, when the longing of all creation for eternity will be satisfied.

Pope Francis has noted that the family “is endowed with an extraordinary ability to understand, guide and sustain the authentic value of the time for celebration. How beautiful family celebrations are, they are beautiful! Sunday celebrations in particular.”

Some of the ways that families and individuals can prepare for joyfully celebrating these great gifts include, using an Advent wreath, celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas, blessing the Christmas tree, reciting the “O Antiphons,” celebrating the Marian Feasts of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Our Lady of the New Advent, and making sacrifices in pursuit of spiritual growth. All will lead us to a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ!

During this holiday season, I encourage everyone to rediscover the reasons we celebrate, which open us to the transcendent and help us become people who can truly enjoy the feast.