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 commemorates 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, made the trip to the nation’s capital 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 gathered in St. Aloysius Church on the campus of Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., just a few blocks from the dome of 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, concelebrated the Mass.
“The Mass was really enjoyable,” said Greg Celio, a Jesuit scholastic from St. Louis. “We heard a great homily from Fr. Magree, which I thought really emphasized being joyful witnesses to life, which is something that really resonates with me.”
“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,” executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network, which co-coordinated the event. “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.,” he said, referring to the return of the “polar vortex” weather system that shut down the federal government in the city the day before the Mass and March for Life.
The Jesuit Rally for Life was held in St. Aloysius Church directly following the Mass. Jesuit scholastic Greg Celio emceed the event, leading participants in a few songs. David Callon, moderator of the Saint Louis University High School Pro-Life Club, and students from Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., gave brief reflections on pro-life advocacy.
Following the Jesuit Rally for Life, students trekked out in the snow and cold to join the larger March for Life event on the National Mall.
Bishop Barber also served as the keynote speaker of Georgetown University’s Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life on Jan. 20, which also attracted a large number of pro-life students, including students from St. Joseph's University (Philadelphia), Marquette University, Loyola University Maryland (Baltimore), The Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.), Yale University, St. Louis University High, Saint Ignatius College Prep (Chicago), Marmion Academy (Aurora, Ill.), Creighton Preparatory School, the United States Naval Academy (Annapolis, Md.), and a number of smaller groups.
Marquette University received the Fr. Thomas King, SJ award, an honor given to one outstanding pro-life group in attendance at the conference each year. The award recipient receives a $1,000 award to further advance its work.
Louis Cona, a Georgetown student who organized the closing Mass at the O’Connor Conference, described his experience helping to pull the event together “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.”