You can’t miss the lifeguard at your local beach or public pool. He or she is the alert person keeping a watchful eye on swimmers, ready to dive in at the first sign of peril.
At Lehman Catholic High School in Sidney, Ohio, students have taken that kind of duty to a higher plane. They’re guardians of life in many ways, beginning with the unborn, as members of the Lehman Pro-LifeGuards.
They pray, demonstrate peacefully from Dayton, Ohio, to Washington D.C., and find creative ways to bring the pro-life message to others — like through the monument to the unborn they erected on the school grounds.
“It took a great deal of planning to put up,” says club co-advisor and school parent Michael Staudt, of the granite memorial. It’s engraved with an image of the Blessed Mother surrounded by roses and the words “Life Is Sacred.” The inscription below the image reads: “In memory of all children who have died / The unborn / Their names known only to God.”
“We had parents and friends contribute in different ways, not only with money but also through labor,” says Katie Staudt, now a college student, but one of the original members, along with Pro-LifeGuards founders Chad Hewitt and Erin Grant. “That was a way we could get not only the students but the whole community involved. It was a great witness to the Lehman community about the importance and sacredness of life.”
Indeed, Father James Reutter, the club’s pastoral advisor at the time, who is now pastor of Our Lady of Victory parish in Cincinnati, was impressed the students took initiative in the project, formed a committee to meet with school officials, and then reached out to the community.
“I was privileged to dedicate it at a prayer service at a school assembly with the whole body,” he says. Seven priests in the area who were alumni or taught at the school attended. So did many community members and benefactors who donated funds or their talents to the project. The Knights of Columbus provided an honor guard.
Noting the area has a strong pro-life ethic, Father Reutter says the event still had further impact: “Some of the students who supported pro-life were encouraged to be more visible about their witness to the gospel of life.”
That is reflected in the number of members since the Pro-LifeGuards first formed in the 2004-05 school year. Last year there were 20 highly active members, with up to 70 attending various activities — this from a school with a total enrollment of about 280.
The Pro-LifeGuards are also having an impact outside the school. Others wanted to form their own groups and called Lehman for help, including a Catholic parish in a neighboring town and Teens for Truth, a non-Catholic club. And when Lehman graduate Ashley Taylor presented the abort73.com website to four fellow students at Ohio State University, one pro-abortion supporter switched her view to pro-life on the spot. Taylor also reactivated OSU’s floundering pro-life club.
Traveling to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., with the Pro-LifeGuards has always been a favorite activity for John Staudt, who joined as a freshman and is now a junior — and vice president of the group. “It shows it’s not something we’re just working on at Lehman; it’s something national we’re involved in,” he says. “People who go on that march get affected by it and usually decide to come to the meetings and get involved.”
The Pro-LifeGuards also hold a prayer vigil in Dayton, Ohio, across the street from the abortion business where partial-birth abortion began. With one or two priests, they pray the Rosary and demonstrate silently. Then they go for pizza and meet with students from other schools to share ideas.
“As a Catholic school we thought that prayer was essential to make a successful pro-life group,” says Katie Staudt. Part of her responsibilities as a founding member of the Pro-LifeGuards was to get Eucharistic adoration going for pro-life intentions. “We realize as Catholics that we do need God’s help. Without him nothing is possible,” she explains. “Adoration brought the essential spiritual element in and brought the group together.”
Father Reutter or another priest would preach briefly during the mostly quiet adoration time “to connect the sacredness of life to the sacredness of the Lord and our mission call to stand up for life,” he says.
That prayer continues to lead to many Pro-LifeGuard activities. Jennifer Heitmeyer, who attends the Holy Hour, describes fundraisers like Bottles for Babies, where the group placed a baby bottle in every classroom. Students returned their bottles filled with donations for a pro-life women’s center. “Some even brought diapers,” she adds.
Then there’s Father Reutter’s standout memory of the time he told a passing story about a Dominican novice who raised money for the poor by letting others shave his head for a quarter. Next thing he knew, the Pro-LifeGuards talked him into letting them do the same thing at a school rally — not to his head, but to the moustache he had since he was 16.
The members are always looking to learn more about every aspect of the sanctity of life and how to spread the message. They view pro-life films like A Distant Thunder. They commissioned a painting of a pregnant woman for the school. They also painted more than 30 posters with a pro-life message tied into school subjects and placed them outside classrooms.
This year John Staudt wants to paint the number of abortions done each day on the thousands of white crosses the Pro-LifeGuards plan to erect on the school grounds “to show people the amount of children that are lost each day,” he says. He hopes this will be a good project not only for the people coming onto school grounds but also for those thousands of daily travelers along Interstate 75, which runs right past the campus.
“With the Pro-LifeGuards tting teenagers involved so we can change as many minds and hearts as possible,” he says. “If we can affect them when they’re young, they can take those ideas with them for the rest of their lives and make changes in the world so we can get abortion outlawed.”
Looking at the Pro-LifeGuards’ track record so far, John muses, “Little sparks can create huge fires that can spread everywhere.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.