January 30, 2014 — Bitter cold and the remnants of a harsh winter storm didn't damper the enthusiasm of nearly 800 Jesuit high school and college students who gathered in the nation’s capital for the annual Mass and Rally for Life. The Jesuit-sponsored event is held each year in observation of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Students hailing from a slew of Jesuit universities, including Fordham University (Bronx, N.Y.), Boston College, Le Moyne College (Syracuse, N.Y.), Marquette University (Milwaukee), Creighton University (Omaha, Neb.), College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Mass.), Saint Louis University and University of Detroit Mercy, along with many other student groups, made the trip to Washington, D.C. for the 2014 Mass and Rally on Jan. 22, 2014.
High schools in attendance included Gonzaga College High School (Washington, D.C.), Georgetown Preparatory School (North Bethesda, Md.), Creighton Preparatory School (Omaha, Neb.), Regis Jesuit High School (Aurora, Colo.), and Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School (Houston, Texas).
Stephanie Kaefer, president of the Saint Louis University Students for Life, stressed the importance of student participation in pro-life events. "It is a great opportunity to gather with other students from Jesuit schools to stand up for human life as we grow and learn about being men and women for others,” she wrote.
Students assembled in St. Aloysius Church on the campus of Gonzaga College High School, just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Jesuit Bishop Michael Barber served as the principal celebrant, with newly-ordained Jesuit Father Michael Magree as homilist.
Jesuit Father Thomas H. Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference, and other Jesuits in attendance also concelebrated the Mass. "In the Jesuit world, fighting for life and fighting for justice are one," said Fr. Smolich in closing remarks at the Mass.Chris Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network, reflected on the significance of the day’s events for pro-life advocates. “Today was a really important day for people across the country, and especially for Catholics, to call attention to the dignity of human life from the moment of conception until someone dies,” he said. “It’s a unique opportunity for Jesuit institutions to come together here at St. Aloysius and pray and talk about people’s work advocating for human dignity.
“It’s exciting to see so many schools from across the country come, especially during this very cold time in Washington D.C.,” added Kerr, referring to the return of the “polar vortex” weather system to the East Coast, shutting down the federal government in the city the day before the Jesuit Mass and the March for Life.
The Jesuit Rally for Life was held in St. Aloysius Church directly after the Mass. Jesuit scholastic Greg Celio emceed the celebration, leading participants in a few rousing songs while providing musical accompaniment on the guitar. "In issues that can be kind of divisive — as important as it is to witness to life itself, I think it's important to do that in a joyful way and in a way that reminds people of the greater beauty and goodness and love that's present here," said Celio.
David Callon, moderator of the Saint Louis University High School Pro-Life Club, as well as students from Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., gave brief reflections on what pro-life advocacy personally meant to them at the rally.
The Jesuit Mass and Rally is a testament to the Society's continued devotion to pro-life values, a commitment which was reaffirmed in a formal statement issued by the Society of Jesus in the United States last year marking the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
"As all human life is sacred and should be protected by law, the Society of Jesus believes in a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death, an ethic which includes our opposition to the death penalty and assisted suicide and our support for improved palliative care," the statement said. "Our commitment is shared by people of conscience seeking to restore our country’s respect for all human life."
Following the Jesuit Rally for Life, students trekked out of St. Aloysius into the snow and cold to join the larger 41st annual March for Life. The event drew thousands of people who filled the streets around the National Mall and marched all the way to the Supreme Court building. Special guests in attendance at the March for Life included House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, Rep. Chris Smith, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Rep. Roger Freeman and Christian music artist Matt Maher.
Jesuit participation in pro-life events was not limited to the Jesuit Mass and Rally and the March for Life. In addition to celebrating the Jesuit Mass for Life on Jan. 22, Bishop Barber also celebrated the closing Mass at Georgetown University’s Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life on Jan. 20, a one-day conference attracting about 650 pro-life advocates, students, clergy and sponsoring organizations.
"We, as Jesuits, protect human life and also call all human beings to the dignity of participating in Christ's divine life," Bishop Barber said about the Jesuits' involvement in pro-life advocacy. "I was really glad that it's a Jesuit university that organized this conference. It's just a day or two before the big March for Life, and it's good to see the Society of Jesus and one of our most prominent and influential universities sponsoring this and saying 'We're pro-life and we're participating in this as members of the church.'"
Bishop Barber expressed his joy at seeing the students fill up Dahlgren Chapel on campus at Georgetown for the O'Connor Conference Mass for Life, leaving standing room only. "Students not only came from Georgetown, but from many other universities, and also some high schools. That gives me great hope, and great excitement.
"The Society of Jesus, in one of our recent General Congregations, said we are in favor of justice — faith and justice," he said. "Justice for the unborn, and for the poor, the sick, the suffering, the marginalized — that's important, too. I like that the Society of Jesus has become more and more active in its pro-life ministry."
Providing further evidence of pro-life ministry thriving at Jesuit universities, the O'Connor Conference named Marquette University as the winner of its Fr. Thomas King, SJ award, an honor given to one outstanding pro-life group in attendance at the conference based on the work it has done over the past year. The awardee receives a $1,000 grant to further advance its work.
Louis Cona, a junior studying at Georgetown who organized the closing Mass at the O’Connor Conference, described his experience coordinating the event. “It’s always inspiring to see so many young people come together, especially Georgetown students, running an entire conference of over 600 students and clergy from around the nation,” he said. “We’re also very excited to have Bishop Barber, who was the first bishop appointed by Pope Francis — a Jesuit — coming all the way to this Jesuit school. It shows the commitment of the Society of Jesus and their commitment to life.”
View additional photos of the Cardinal O'Connor Conference and the Jesuit Mass and Rally for Life at the Jesuit Conference USA Facebook page, and follow the Jesuit Pro-Life Network page for news and updates.