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: School scholarships continue legacies, support Catholic education

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With school back in session, Catholic schools are beginning to grant scholarships and provide tuition assistance for well-deserved students enrolled in the upcoming school year.

St. Vincent de Paul School is just one example. In the spring, staff and parents from the Denver Catholic school will select fourth graders going into fifth grade who will receive the McKaila Steffes Scholarship Fund, established by Montgomery and Andrea Sykora through The Catholic Foundation of Northern Colorado.

The memory of the spirited and loving young McKaila, who bravely fought a neurological condition that caused tumors, lives on in the scholarship fund that gives young students tuition assistance.

“I remember McKaila when she was here,” said Suzanne Meyer of St. Vincent de Paul. “She was just so full of life — she touched everyone’s lives. She passed away when she was nine (in 2006). This scholarship is a nice memorial for McKaila.”

Donations to the scholarship fund greatly help current students, Meyer said, who exemplify the same great qualities as McKaila.

Jean Finegan, Gift Planning Officer for The Catholic Foundation, said anyone may give to the scholarship funds held at the Foundation either through a current gift or planned gift.  This allows for these funds to grow and continue providing tuition assistance for generations to come.

Assistance is offered for hard-working families in need at other schools, including St. Catherine of Siena School. The Elizabeth C. Giordano Garden of Hope Scholarship Fund was established by Gwen and Andrew Pomper to help children obtain an education grounded in the Catholic faith.  Giordano was an immigration attorney and active fundraiser for the parish and school before she passed away in 2013. The scholarship fund continues to honor and remember her and her contributions to the community by making a Catholic education more accessible for families.

The Catholic Foundation also holds scholarship funds for families sending their children to Bishop Machebeuf High School. The late Elinor Travis had faith that students at the school could achieve their dreams. She aimed to help them get there by establishing an endowment fund to provide tuition assistance. She named the William and Vicki Lynn Ingram Endowment Fund Memorial Scholarship in memory of her daughter, who attended Machebeuf, specifically to help the 65 percent of students from low-income families in need of financial aid.

“Elinor always valued education,” said her friend, Pat Brewster. “I think she had a passion for people and passion for life, and she was very generous with her money.”

Also benefiting Machebeuf students is the Sister Rosemary Wilcox Scholarship fund, named after the Sister of Loretto, founding principal of the school and later chancellor for the Archdiocese of Denver. She passed away in 2012. Continued support for students can also be made through the Bishop Machebeuf High School Student Scholarship and Financial Aid Endowment Scholarship.

High school students at Holy Family may also be aided by the school scholarship fund designed for tuition assistance at the Broomfield school. The Catholic Foundation accepts donations to this fund, established by Deacon Jim and Karen Doyle, to help students in need of tuition assistance.

Catholic education can also be supported through the Don and Meredith Jung Scholarship Fund, established by Don Jung in memory of his late wife. Jung is an active member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Lafayette and offers the scholarship for students who are parishioners at the church and interested in attending a trade school.

The Annunciation School community won’t forget Sister Jean Panisko, S.C.L., who served as principal for 29 years at the school before retiring in 2010. Martha Diss Sundby started the fund in honor of sister in order to provide tuition assistance to families at Annunciation Elementary School.

Scholarship funds that further Catholic education held at The Catholic Foundation:

  • Bishop Machebeuf High School Student Scholarship and Financial Aid Endowment Scholarship -Elizabeth C. Giordano Garden of Hope Scholarship Fund – St. Catherine of Siena School
  • Holy Family High School Scholarship Fund
  • Don and Meredith Jung Scholarship Fund – Immaculate Conception Parish
  • McKaila Steffes Scholarship Fund – St. Vincent de Paul School
  • Saint Clare Christian Education Endowment Fund
  • Sister Jean Panisko S.C.L. Fund – Annunciation School
  • Sister Rosemary Wilcox Scholarship Fund – Bishop Machebeuf High School
  • William and Vicki Lynn Ingram Memorial Scholarship – Bishop Machebeuf High School
  • St. Joseph Scholarship Fund – Supporting the high schools within the Archdiocese of Denver
  • Elmer Von Feldt Scholarship Fund – Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

To make a donation to the Foundation in further support of Catholic education for young students in need, contact Jean Finegan at (303) 867-0613 or jfinegan@thecatholicfoundation.com.