She loves to make them smile

| Susan Klemond - For The Catholic Spirit | September 22, 2010 | 2 Comments

Local Catholics honored as Champions for Life

Shelly Himsel, left, responds to a book being read to her by Patti Durham, a senior at Burnsville High School and a member of St. John the Baptist in Savage. Durham serves as a volunteer with the Dakota Alternative for the Severely Handicapped. Her efforts have earned her a Champion for Life Award for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Every year, the Office of Marriage, Family and Life recognizes outstanding pro-life volunteers. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Of all the kids she encounters at Burnsville High School, Patti Durham has gotten to know some special ones.

During the past five years, she’s spent her study hall time at school working with severely handicapped peers, who, she said, have shown her more about what it means to be pro-life.

“It’s kind of like Mother Teresa, taking care of absolutely everybody, no matter what,” said Durham, who will be honored Oct. 21 by the archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life for her contributions to the respect life movement.

Durham is one of four individuals and groups selected from more than 50 nominations to receive 2010 Champions for Life awards for work on a range of respect life issues, said Sharon Wilson, the archdiocesan respect life coordinator.

“I really love doing this and consider them all my friends,” Patti’s nomination quoted her saying. “I know I am volunteering to help them, but they bring a smile to my face and warm my heart. I love to make them smile and feel special.”

Honoring pro-life work

In its third year, the awards program seeks to recognize those who have worked hard to advance life issues and to inspire other Catholics to follow them, she said.

“It can be difficult work, sometimes in hostile environments,” Wilson said. “We just wanted to find a way to honor these people, especially some of the people who’ve been doing it for years and also to encourage those people who are just starting in doing this pro-life work.”

Besides Durham’s award in the youth category, a committee of judges selected an adult recipient, as well as recipients in two new categories: couple/family and church/school/Catholic-affiliated group.

Durham, who attends St. John the Baptist in Savage, began working with disabled students in seventh grade after she had spent time helping an autistic friend. Typically, she assists with things students can’t do, plays games with them  or reads to them.

She plans to continue the work after she graduates and studies cosmetology. “I would like to, in my spare time, still be involved with caring for the kids with special needs,” she said. “I really like working with them.”

The pro-life movement could better highlight its attention to people with disabilities through advertisements and pictures, Durham said. She thinks more students in her school might volunteer with her if the school let them know about the opportunity.

Causes to support life

This year’s adult award goes to Virginia (Ginny) Sullivan, a fifth-grade teacher at Nativity of Our Lord School who started the “Mary Shower” more than 25 years ago. The “shower” invites the school’s fifth-grade classes to collect items and money for area pro-life organizations.

Sullivan was also active in founding Human Life Alliance and worked with Citizens Concerned for Community Action to oppose a Planned Parenthood clinic’s move to Highland Park.

In addition, Sullivan and her husband have mentored couples preparing for marriage. She is a parishioner at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul.

The couple/family category award goes to Bernadine and Merlyn Scroggins, members of Holy Childhood in St. Paul. In addition to raising their four children, the couple has worked for the pro-life cause for 40 years.

Bernadine began serving at Birthright in 1974, and the couple has made presentations for the organization across the state. She also is an honorary board member of the Total LifeCare Centers and is involved in a number of other pro-life organizations. Merlyn is past president of the Catholic Defense League and has given pro-life speeches for 35 years. The couple has opened their home to pregnant women in transition seven times.

The award for church, school or Catholic-affiliated group was given to Respect Life Groups of South Central Minnesota, a collaboration of more than 30 respect life parish committees and other organizations in the southern area of the archdiocese.

The organization sponsors speakers as part of a multi-faceted educational program. With the service of Dr. Richard Weiland of Annunciation in Hazelwood and Anne Fredrickson of St. Dominic in Northfield, this group uses the talents of individuals from many parishes.

What all the award recipients have in common is that they’ve brought the “Gospel of Life” into their lives, Wilson said.

“Regardless of how it’s being presented, of what area, whether it’s working with disabilities or working on the education aspect of bringing in speakers, or teaching, or service in helping people in difficult pregnancies, they all get it — they all get the fact of respect for the human person,” she said.

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