Saving lives keeps Champions for Life recipient going

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | October 11, 2011 | 0 Comments

Annual pro-life award winners honored for service to unborn and vulnerable


Brian Gibson, executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries, talks with three volunteers who are standing up for life outside Regions Hospital in St. Paul. From left, are Jeanette Sollom, Sue Stanich (hidden from view), both from St. Michael in Stillwater, and Mary Lou Junker from St. Mary in Stillwater. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Brian Gibson will never forget the day early in 1987 when he saw the remains of several aborted babies found in an abortion clinic’s dumpster.

“The pictures are still vivid in my mind . . . and that probably is the single most significant memory I have of all the things that have happened throughout the years,” said Gibson, Pro-Life Action Ministries’ executive director who has spent the past 30 years working to end the horror he saw that day.

“It more than confirmed that the work we were doing of going out to try to save lives was absolute,” said Gibson, a parishioner at St. Michael in Prior Lake who recently received an archdiocesan Champions for Life award for his pro-life work.

Staying determined

The archdiocese honored Gibson and six other recipients of this year’s Champions for Life awards for their pro-life contributions at an Oct. 6 luncheon at St. Peter in Mendota. About 170 of their family members, friends and others involved in a range of organizations supporting the spectrum of life attended the fourth annual event.

This year’s awards, sponsored by the archdiocesan Office for Marriage, Family and Life and presented by Archbishop John Nienstedt, honor individuals, teams, youth and organizations that have made significant contributions to life issues including ending abortion, helping those suffering after abortion, and assisting people with disabilities and Alzheimer’s disease.

Gibson and the following award recipients were selected from more than 50 nominations: Rachel’s Vineyard Twin Cities, Stephanie Gockowski, Al Shimota and Paul (Terry) Creagan, Paula Kelly and Helen Murphy.

Archbishop Nienstedt recognized the award winners and others working for life and urged them to continue the work in the face of continuing challenges.

“We see a lot of good being done and the good is making a tremendous impact,” he said. “But, as the New Testament says, the devil is at work roaming the world, seeking the ruin of souls. And so we have to be that much more determined, that much more virtuous, that much more courageous, it seems to me, in our wanting to promote the culture of life.”

The Champions for Life awards and program are meant not only to honor those who have done considerable work for life but also to inspire others who may be less involved, said Sharon Wilson, the archdiocese’s Respect Life coordinator.

  • The winner in the category of “church, school or Catholic-affiliated group” was Rachel’s Vineyard Twin Cities, which is led by Nancy Blom and offers healing retreats for those suffering from the aftermath of abortion.
  • The youth category winner was Stephanie Gockowski, a recent graduate of the University of St. Thomas whose volunteer work includes helping to lead the school’s pro-life group and serving pregnant women and the elderly. She attends the Cathedral of St. Paul and other parishes.
  • Al Shimota, 84, and Paul (Terry) Creagan, 93, parishioners of St. Edward in Bloomington who volunteer their time, care and skills at an Alzheimer’s unit were honored in the “team, couple or family” category.
  • In the adult category, Gibson received the award for full-time work, and Paula Kelly, a parishioner at St. Joseph in West St. Paul, was honored for volunteer work with the Wakota Life Care Center, the disabled and the homeless.
  • Helen Murphy was honored posthumously for initiating the fight against the Highland Park Planned Parenthood abortion clinic and helping to establish prayer vigils.

Describing their work helping the poor and vulnerable, event keynoters Dr. Peter and Lulu Daly, members of Lumen Christi in St. Paul, talked about their medical mission work in Central America with Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH) International, which cares for orphans.

Drawing a parallel with the winners, the Dalys described their founding of the Holy Family Surgery Center in Honduras.

“It’s just something that you involved yourself with — giving as all you award winners have done — and something that gives life,” Lulu Daly said. “I know that the NPH orphanages are places where the Holy Spirit is extremely active. We got exposed to it through our kids’ grade school and we just ran with it.”

Made in God’s image

Cretin-Derham Hall sophomores Laura Bearth and Julianna Maanum received inspiration for their pro-life work at the luncheon.

“It was such an amazing experience of passing the baton,” Maanum said. “It’s amazing the things that have been done for us.” Among other projects, the girls and their school pro-life club organize a day of silence and a baby shower.

The awards underscore the importance of work along the entire continuum of life, Wilson said.

“Number one, it starts with recognizing that we’re all made in the image and likeness of God, and once you recognize that, we treat our neighbors differently,” she said. “We treat ourselves differently. We treat the child in the womb differently.

We recognize that all life is sacred.”

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Category: Featured, Respect Life