Three days before the Jan. 23 annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., a dozen students from the University of St. Thomas Pro-Life Club in St. Paul loaded themselves into vans and headed east.
Last Friday’s snowstorm, however, halted their progress, forcing them to stay overnight in Madison, Wis. But they awoke at 4 a.m. the next day and reached their Northern Virginia host families by nightfall. The following day, Sunday, they rose before dawn a second time to drive to the largest-ever pro-life national conference in Bethesda, Md., organized by Students for Life of America.
At the conference, they took their seats alongside 2,000 other young people, and began to listen as speakers educated them about pro-life issues and rallied them to envision a world in which abortion is not only illegal — it’s “unwantable.”
Included on a lengthy docket of conference speakers were representatives of pro-life organizations such as 40 Days for Life, the Alliance Defense Fund, the Canadian Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, and Students for Life.
With a $16 million Planned Parenthood mega-facility recently built just north of the St. Thomas campus, Pro-Life Club members feel a renewed sense of urgency to stand up for their cause.
“For students, this is an experience of being confirmed in the truth,” said Father Erich Rutten, chaplain and director of campus ministry, who accompanied the St. Thomas students on the road trip.
“All the messages they see and hear all day long paint a picture of a world … that is made up of lies,” Father Rutten said. “We have to say, ‘We believe in the sanctity of human life’ until the world gets it.”
Educating back home
The Jan. 22 conference began with a Mass, which featured well-known Catholic recording artist Tony Melendez. Born without arms, the musician learned to play guitar with his feet at a young age.
After the service, a series of activists, lawyers, a medical doctor and a minister shared insights. They talked about creating infrastructure in preparation for the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Some gave pointers on articulating pro-life viewpoints; some emphasized loving communication with suffering women.
Mike Truso, senior and president of the club, said he’ll be bringing a lot of the conference material back to campus. For starters, Truso said, he wants to share via Facebook some of the short-but-powerful pro-life video clips that were shown by speakers.
Another idea that lit a fire under many of the St. Thomas conference attendees was one speaker’s fundraising suggestion to host a bowl-a-thon for a local Life Care center, said Mary Conway, a St. Thomas freshman.
A four-lane bowling alley opened on campus just a few days ago, Conway explained, as part of the university’s new Anderson Student Center.
“We could be the first to do it,” Truso said.
The 12 St. Thomas Pro-Life club members — out of about 30 — who attended the conference and the Jan. 23 March for Life, did so on their own initiative. Their expenses were only partially covered by the university and they had to plan driving routes, obtain waivers and find lodging for themselves.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis also sent about 200 people to the conference from 12 parishes; it was the second year in a row the archdiocese sponsored such a trip.