The annual March for Life is a unique witness to life.
But Catholic families are also instilling the pro-life message in children and young people through daily family life. How do pro-life parents nurture their families to value and defend life in all of its stages?
Suzanne Windsor of Bismarck, North Dakota, has served as a chaperone for the St. Mary Central High School’s annual bus pilgrimage to the March for Life in Washington for six years. She and her physician husband, John, attend pro-life events at every opportunity and have modeled a strong respect for life, sometimes in very courageous ways.
The couple each had two children from failed marriages, but after they were married in the Church, they remained open to life. “I have five [children] in heaven and nine on earth,” Suzanne explained. “My license plate says: ‘Momof14’ to promote a pro-life message everywhere I go.”
Two of the couple’s children became dramatic examples of their unfailing commitment to life. At 20-weeks gestation, an ultrasound revealed Suzanne was carrying two daughters, Mary Catherine and Teresa Rose, with twin-to-twin transfusion, meaning one baby was draining the other of essential fluids. Had it been caught earlier, laser surgery could have corrected it. Instead, Mary Catherine died in utero at 22 weeks, at which time Teresa Rose suffered a stroke. Doctors strongly encouraged an abortion when an ultrasound revealed Teresa suffered irreparable brain damage.
“I said, ‘Whatever her abilities are, we are going to accept her as the gift God has given us,’” Suzanne explained. “When a child is struggling, it undermines their value to say it’s easier to end their life.”
She carried both babies to 33 weeks, planning a funeral for one while also preparing to raise a child with special needs. Four years later, Teresa would die in her sleep, devastating her family, who loved her dearly. Suzanne’s oldest son, Jason, who was 24 years old when Teresa died, described her as “the greatest gift our family ever received.”
“Serving one another is part of being in a big family,” Suzanne said, “but Teresa brought that out more than ever — all of us had to work together to take care of her. She was a gift of love; the centerpiece of our family.”
Jacob, born two years after Teresa, grew up wanting to help with Teresa — often sharing toys with “my little sister.” When son John, now in his third year of seminary, was 10 years old, someone asked him what was wrong with his sister. “Nothing is wrong with her,” he answered. “She’s perfect. She is created exactly the way God wanted her to be.”
The Windsors’ witness to the inherent value of life extended to John’s elderly mother, who was dying last summer and wanted to see her grandchildren one more time. They made the trip to Orlando and gathered with other relatives — four generations.
“I can’t imagine not having gone to see my grandmother before she passed,” said Victoria, age 19. “The opportunity to see her in some of her final moments will be in my heart forever.”
“We got to tell her how much we loved her and make sure she was able to pass away peacefully,” Nicholas, age 15, said. “It gave us a certain amount of closure.”
“It was beautiful to be a part of her journey at the end of her life while she held a great-grandson at the beginning of his life,” Suzanne said. “To know and live the pro-life values is a path to peace — not that it’s always easy. It makes the path very clear because we are imitating Christ.”
Nicholas Sower, 15, one of seven siblings from Boise, Idaho, is the president of Treasure Valley Teens for Life. The group is fundraising, hoping to travel to the March for Life in Washington in 2020. “I’m pro-life because I was raised Catholic,” he said. “Just knowing my faith is a big factor.” He said that a respect for life comes naturally by learning the truth. His family invites young people to their home once a week for a spaghetti dinner with 40 to 50 people to discuss apologetics. They have dubbed it, “Apologhetti.”
Sower’s pro-life group often prays the Rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy in front of an abortion facility while they wear bright orange t-shirts that say: “Never Give Up Hope.” As a group, they are reading the book Persuasive Pro-Life: How to Talk About Our Culture’s Toughest Issue. “We have skits practicing possible scenarios while the group gives feedback with suggestions from the book that we might use,” he said. “So many people are confused; it’s important that we help to get the truth out there” about the pro-life message.
Kathleen Eaton Bravo is the founder and CEO of Obria medical clinics that offer comprehensive life-centered health care to women to support their pregnancies. With a successful business career behind her, Bravo is dedicated to saving the unborn through caring for women and their babies. She is also the post-abortive mother of three sons.
Before her abortion, the only pro-life message Bravo ever remembers encountering was a poster in her doctor’s office during her first pregnancy that said: “Life begins at conception.” Four years later, a failed marriage, an abortion and quick regret led her back to religion and a new appreciation for the value of the unborn.
As a mother, Bravo wanted her own boys to understand life issues, so she and her husband included them in pro-life activities. When she was invited to speak on abstinence education at her boys’ high school, the family first went to pray outside an abortion facility. “Afterward, I said, ‘I have something to tell you. I am not the same person today I once was. You have a sibling,’” she explained to their sons. Once they learned about the abortion, Bravo asked how they felt if she spoke about it publicly. “They cried, and we held each other,” she said. “They told me, ‘You need to tell your story for our brother.’”
Her middle son, Patrick, now 32, recalls growing up proud that his mother saved babies. “She planted a seed that has continued to grow strong and deep in our family — the commitment to the right to life for all,” he said. “She instilled in us a heart and belief that if you believe in something, you do something about it. To us, she is a hero.”
Living a Pro-Life Example
Ellen and Mike Salter of Dearborn, Michigan, are the parents of 16-year-old Meghan, who was born healthy but within a few months was stricken with paralysis. She needs a ventilator and feeding tube to live. Yet the family, which includes Meghan’s three older siblings, sees the infinite value of Meghan’s life, according to Ellen.
As a pro-life speaker, Ellen defends life and often gives talks with her 20-year-old daughter, Shannon. They share Meghan’s story (MeghansMiracles.com) and help people to see that “we are souls with bodies, not bodies with souls.”
When Meghan was 8 months old, doctors directed Mike and Ellen to take her off the respirator. They refused. “Mike told them to put in her chart that we believe in miracles,” Ellen recalled. Although Meghan has not been healed, Ellen explained that the family accepts God’s plan not to heal Meghan’s physical disabilities and fully celebrate the miracle of her life. “Meghan moves countless souls to Jesus Christ,” Ellen said. “Her body doesn’t work but she smiles and has great joy in her heart that she spreads.”
Ellen said that, through Meghan’s intercession, they have witnessed many conversions and answers to prayer.
As a result of this witness and participation in love, Ellen said that her own children are extremely pro-life. “Meghan helps people to see beyond the physical body to the soul and to see that God created us with different gifts,” Ellen said. “She is working so closely with the Lord, laying her life down for the redemption of souls and impacting lives without speaking a word. She helps people to see beyond the physical body to the soul.”
Shannon was 4 years old when Meghan was born. “I have always loved her so much,” she said. “Her life is so valuable. Her life is a prayer; she is working harder than the rest of us, and she is the most joyful person I know in this whole entire world.”
Shannon admitted there have been sacrifices for the whole family. “It has meant an unconditional love and a moment-to-moment dying to self, in order to take care of Meghan,” she said. “In the end, though, I found that my family is more joyful. Everything becomes worth it for the sake of God and for the sake of love.”
Patti Armstrong writes
from North Dakota.