By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published February 6, 2014
ATLANTA—United for a powerful cause, students from all three archdiocesan Catholic high schools—Blessed Trinity in Roswell, Our Lady of Mercy in Fayetteville and St. Pius X in Atlanta—traveled together for the first time to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
The students and chaperones met up at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to catch an early morning flight Monday, Jan. 20, and returned home the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 22.
Twenty upperclassmen from Blessed Trinity made the trip, said Patti McCarthy, coordinator of the school’s campus ministry. This was the first time in eight years that a group from Blessed Trinity has gone to the March for Life.
McCarthy said she is already hearing that students are ready to go again in 2015.
“The seed is planted,” she said. “They definitely got it.”
Our Lady of Mercy teachers Matt Hofkes and Maddy Kill were chaperones for the school and led 19 sophomores, juniors and seniors who had demonstrated a sincere interest in the pro-life movement.
Kill said despite the weather, which hovered around 8 degrees Jan. 22, they were still able to participate in a number of events, including the Youth Rally sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington that morning.
“The Youth Rally really helped confirm for our kids the necessity of their role in the Church and in the fight for human rights. It was pretty powerful,” said Kill.
Both McCarthy and Kill indicated that the size of the march itself, estimated by organizers at “hundreds of thousands,” is impressive.
“The crowd is really awesome,” said McCarthy.
“The marchers were so full of energy and our students found themselves creating chants and cheers for the rest of the crowd to follow,” said Kill. “Our kids were pleasantly surprised to see the crowd so full of joy and hope, despite the somberness of the occasion.”
Twenty-four St. Pius X students in grades nine through 12 traveled to the nation’s capital accompanied by school chaplain Father Michael Silloway, Gayle Ohrenberger, director of campus ministry, and other adults. It was the third consecutive trip for the school.
In addition to pro-life activities, the St. Pius X group also had a chance to visit Smithsonian Museums and see other important sights.
“Monday night we took the students on an evening walking pilgrimage through the national monuments, reflecting on the themes of the dignity of human life and the sacrifices so many have made to ensure our freedom and security as a nation,” said Father Silloway.
Ohrenberger guided the group on a walk-through tour of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Catholic University of America’s campus.
While Father Silloway celebrated Mass for St. Pius and Blessed Trinity students Tuesday evening, Jan. 21, at their hotel, Our Lady of Mercy students braved the frigid weather on foot to participate in Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew.
During the trip, Our Lady of Mercy students also had a few moments to stop at the U.S. Supreme Court building to hear the Silent No More abortion awareness testimonies by women who have had an abortion.
“The stories each woman told about her abortion experience had a very emotional impact on all of us and helped us remember that we were marching to protect women just as much as their unborn children,” said Kill.
Wednesday, Jan. 22, all three high school groups ventured out into the sub-zero temperatures for the Youth Rally and Mass at the Stadium Armory in Washington and then the official rally at the snow-covered National Mall prior to the march.
“Matt Maher lead us in a few songs to put everything into the Lord’s hands, then several speakers inspired us to never give up the fight for the cause of life,” said Father Silloway. “By the time the march began, the Mall was full and Constitution Avenue was a solid block of humanity.”
Both Father Silloway and Ohrenberger said their students are re-energized following the journey.
“It is always good for our younger generations to see the magnitude and the witness of the pro-life movement. They are not alone,” said Father Silloway.
“One of the blessings of this event is the overwhelming presence of youth from all over the country that are passionately joyful about being advocates for human life. It is wonderful for our students to meet these other teens and encourage each other in being vibrant witnesses,” said Ohrenberger.
Kill said that the trip gives students the opportunity to experience the “vibrance of the Catholic faith.”
Going forward, Mercy for Life, the pro-life club at Our Lady of Mercy led by religion teacher Mark Tolcher, will be addressing other topics that threaten life, including euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, the death penalty, and in vitro fertilization.
While prayer and financial backing are important in the pro-life effort, so too is visibility. The cause for true civil rights requires people to step outside of what is comfortable, said Father Silloway.
“I think people need to see the work of the pro-life movement from a genuinely Catholic vantage point—that this isn’t about politics or a power play for the Christian world-view; it’s about the value we place on human life,” he said.
Ohrenberger said they are blessed to participate in both Washington and Atlanta events, but that they remind students of Blessed John Paul II’s calling to build a culture of life every day, and that Pope Francis is asking them to do this daily with abundant joy.
“At St. Pius X we are working on expanding our Students for Life group so that they can more fully facilitate ongoing efforts in our school community to advocate for respect for all human life on a daily basis,” she said.
The theme of the national March for Life and associated events this year was adoption as an alternative to abortion.
“There was praise sung of birth mothers and adopting mothers, both equally heroic in the choices they make that a little one might have life and be loved,” said Father Silloway.
In addition to youth from the archdiocesan schools, students from the independent Catholic school, Pinecrest Academy, in Cumming, took a bus trip to Washington, D.C. with younger students from St. John Bosco Academy. More than 95 people were part of this group.
Pinecrest senior Heather Bailer took the trip with her dad, Don, serving as one of the chaperones. Bailer, originally from the Washington, D.C., area, usually participates in Atlanta events on Jan. 22.
“I did not see one protestor,” said Bailer about the march. A reporter from WSB-TV in Atlanta interviewed her during the event.
Bailer called the experience “life-changing” and said she hopes to return.
Bailer said the classes on Theology of the Body and morality at Pinecrest helped educate her on the importance of being pro-life.
The common experience of traveling and participating in the march and praying together for an end to abortion helps forge friendships.
“It’s really nice to do that,” said Bailer.
Pinecrest parent Angie Doxtader accompanied her son, Cole, also a senior, on the trip.
“We really did a lot of serious things,” said Doxtader. “But there was so much joy.”
Doxtader said all the students bundled up and that the cold temperatures just added to the experience.
“There is a generation coming up,” said Doxtader about the thousands and thousands of young people in attendance. “It gives you great hope.”