In retrospect, 1987 was a banner year for the pro-life movement in and around Baltimore. For that was the year Jack Ames and Eileen Bolgiano founded Defend Life. Since then, the group has unceasingly proclaimed the pro-life message, changed hearts, and even inspired some vocations to the priesthood.
A year earlier, Ames was part of the respect life group at Baltimore’s Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. He had recently returned from Chicago, where he worked as a fundraiser for the Pro-Life Action League at the invitation of its founder, Joseph Scheidler.
“Hearing his daily recordings was one of my inspirations,” says Ames about his introduction to pro-life before joining Scheidler. “They were so enthusiastic, so inspirational, so full of hope.” Ames wanted to bring the same message to others in Baltimore, so he launched Defend Life, with St. Michael the Archangel as its patron and a speaker series at the cathedral. The goal, he says, was to expose the culture of death and promote a culture of life.
With the suggestion and help of Jesuit Father Joseph Koterski, a scholastic at the time, Ames moved the series to Loyola College in downtown Baltimore, then took the show on the road to parishes around Maryland and into Virginia.
“We want to get speakers into Catholic churches to inspire these people with these great messages,” says Ames of the ongoing traveling lectures, “and hopefully get more of them incrementally into the pro-life movement.”
In 2008 alone, 10 nationally known pro-life speakers gave 30 different talks in 30 locations. Since the start, speakers read like a who’s who in the work, including regular Scheidler, American Life League’s Judie Brown, Human Life International’s Father Thomas Euteneuer, Mary Ann Kuharski and Dr. Bernard Nathanson.
Defend Life isn’t all talk and no action, either. Since 2001, its Face the Truth Tours bring the reality of abortion to the public through 3-by-5-foot graphic pictures displayed by 30 to sometimes 100 volunteers along highways and byways at rush hour.
One aim is to overcome media and academia bias, explains Ames. “The word ‘abortion’ has lost its cutting edge,” he says. “Most don’t realize what it is, and the other side is clever in using euphemisms to dress up what abortion is.”
Ames recalls one black woman at a bus stop who saw the pictures. She asked what a 6-week-old unborn baby looked like. Much like this 8-week-old one, she was told. At the time, the woman’s daughter was six weeks pregnant by a boyfriend the mother disliked. Her immediate answer: “Now I know what the baby looks like and I don’t want her to have an abortion.”
Worth 1,000 Words
“This really does work,” says Ames. “We’ve planted a seed, and they’ll remember these pictures the rest of their lives.”
He underlines the need for this blunt education with an incident that took place in Washington at a metro station: He had placed 8-foot banners linking abortion to slavery and the Holocaust. A man studying the banners got on his cell phone and said, “Get over here. You won’t believe what I’m looking at.”
“This man turned out to be an international lawyer with two law degrees who had had no clue as to what abortion really is,” recalls Ames. “That’s why it’s so important we show these signs.”
It’s not always easy. At Defend Life’s last stop in August 2008, in Bel Air, Md., 18 members, nine young women among them, were arrested by state police without charges. Ames says that when the state attorney of the county found out about the incident he ordered all charges dropped. Defend Life has pending a lawsuit against the Maryland State Police because of the illegal arrests, says Ames.
“Jack is determined to get this message out,” says Pro-Life Action League’s Scheidler. “He’s constantly thinking of ways to pass out literature to get people more knowledgeable and involved. We should have many more like him. At Defend Life, they are doers.”
Being doers also means sponsoring St. Luke Productions’ “Lives of the Saints” plays in parishes. Defend Life picks up the tab and passes the basket to help cover costs.
“It’s a wonderful way to evangelize people,” says Ames. “Defend Life benefits because it’s a way to augment getting good pro-life speakers into parishes.”
Defend Life shares the pro-life message through 4,000 mailings of its bimonthly newsletter. The four oldest of Liz Walz’s seven children even help with the mailings. The kids are so willing to lend a hand, she says, they eagerly ask when the next mailing will be.
At present, Defend Life is an all-volunteer operation. But Ames is trying to change that. After the 2009 March for Life, he began trying to raise funds to add one full-time, paid position. The ideal candidate, he says, would be a recent college graduate who is dedicated to pro-life work and could do campus outreach for the many colleges in the D.C.-Baltimore area.
Life Is Christ
“The newsletter and the Defend Life lecture series are just such important ways of educating,” says Walz, who previously worked full time for Human Life International and as a director of Defend Life. “The beauty of Defend Life is that they’re willing to speak out and continuously remind people the unborn are our brothers and sisters.”
The organization’s bold pro-life message has also inspired priestly vocations. Legionary Father Charles Sikorsky was studying at the University of Maryland School of Law when he saw a flier about Defend Life’s lecture series at Loyola College. He went.
Soon Ames asked this young law student to host one of the speakers, Prof. Charles Rice, then of Notre Dame Law School, at his Maryland university. Budding attorney Sikorsky did just that.
“Professor Rice’s witness got me to start praying the Rosary; then I got more involved with Defend Life,” says Father Sikorsky. Next, he was put in charge of the lecture series by Ames and remained until he decided to join the Legionaries of Christ.
“Two things helped me find my vocation,” explains Father Sikorsky, who was ordained in 2002 and is now president of the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Va. “One, the speakers were incredible. Through that I got to meet so many contagious Catholics, as I call them. That helped me see the urgency of the battle going on in our country, and see the root of that is spiritual, and [realize] if we don’t win the spiritual war we’re not going to win the battle for life.”
“Two, Catholics who lived their faith in a deep way got me to live the sacraments and faith in a deep way.” That nourished the seed of his vocation. Now Father Sikorsky also helps out as a Project Rachel chaplain in Washington, D.C.
Defend Life’s influence continues to reach beyond its home base. People across the country can hear the lectures because many talks are available on CDs free for the asking from Defend Life.
“Get great speakers into the churches,” says Ames. “If you can’t, get copies of our CDs and take it from there: Use them in your Bible studies and in your churches.”
That’s an invitation to which more and more pro-lifers are saying, “Will do.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
ON THE WEB DefendLife.org