From founding shelters for unwed mothers to housing them herself, from creating a computer game to lobbying the United Nations, Kathleen DiFiore has put her creative energies at the service of her pro-life principles. She spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.
Drake: How did you get started in pro-life work?
I'm originally from Rochester, N.Y., and am the older of two daughters in the family. I'm second generation Italian and a lot of my faith started at my grandmother's knee. She was very prayerful, attended daily Mass, and always reminded her grandchildren to pray.
My work didn't start out as a pro-life work. It started out as work I wanted to do for God. I was 33 and had attained most of my worldly goals. I had my MBA, and was a personnel director in industry, yet I needed to evaluate what I had done for God so I started praying the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.
At Mass one Sunday, the Gospel reading was from Matthew 25, “When I was hungry you fed me. When I was in prison you visited me.” Here I had been saying a prayer asking God what he wanted me to do for him. This reading was like a divine two-by-four over my head. It was as if God was saying, “This is what I want you to do. I've been telling people this for 2,000 years.”
So, in addition to a prison ministry, I put an ad in the newspaper that read “Pregnant? Need Help?” The first girl to stay with me was 15 years old. Her son, Christopher, turns 19 this year. Over time, family and friends seemed most interested in lending a helping hand in that ministry, and so I focused my energies on that facet of the work. Since then, our homes have served more than 1,500 young women and we have saved over 15,000 babies from abortion.
How did “The Choice Game” come about?
Abortion would not be in the minds of young people if they led a chaste lifestyle from the beginning. That was the seed for our game. We were teaching chastity programs at numerous schools and realized that we physically couldn't go to every school. So, we took what we learned and developed an interactive game to expose many, many more youth to our chastity concepts.
"The Choice Game” puts young people in real-life situations — they go on virtual dates, make decisions about drinking, driving, drugs, suicide and react to peer pressure. The game demonstrates that their actions have consequences. If they end up facing an unplanned pregnancy, they have to decide whether they will opt for adoption, keeping the baby, getting married, or abortion — with the resulting consequences. Along the way they can feel free to click on the angel or demon for their advice or ignore them. The purpose is to teach youth pro-life, pro-family, pro- chastity values in an entertaining way.
We distributed more than 20,000 copies of the game in Rome during World Youth Day. A beta-test version of the CD-ROM is currently available, and portions are also available at http://www.thechoicegame.com In th.e first quarter of 2001 we have had more than 184,000 visitors to our Web sites and nearly 5,000 of those visitors have spent 15 minutes or longer at the sites.
We get e-mails daily from teenagers that are facing problems. One 16-year-old who played the game told us, “When you watch a video or go to school you're told, ‘Do this. Do this. Do this.’ When you play the game you get to decide what you are going to do and see what happens, so you feel like you are teaching yourself.”
You can give a girl a bed because she's pregnant, or you can teach her how to say No before she gets pregnant. There is no reason we cannot teach youth to be responsible for themselves. I live with girls who have made all the wrong choices, and have watched them change through our chastity programs, so I know that we can help young people make better choices. The key is faith and asking God to help you make decisions.
“The Choice Game” teaches values that will make youth into wiser adults.
How does your work as an U.N. non-governmental organization tie in with everything else?
Our work is primarily as a residential program for unwed mothers. Whether or not a country is pro-life doesn't matter because we are a shelter program.
The need to house unwed mothers is universal.
We are currently working with young women in Texas, Idaho, and California. The “Care Packages” we provide women have opened many doors. We have a Prolife Hotline in Ireland, and we've been asked to duplicate our work in both Ecuador and Russia.
In 1984 you were fined by the state of New Jersey for running an illegal boarding home. How did you overcome that challenge?
I had been financing all of my work out of my salary, and I decided to seek a permit so that I could hold a garage sale to raise funds. Apparently a town official had forwarded my request to authorities and after a search I was fined $10,000 for not meeting certain state and local laws.
In the 15 months that followed I received so much publicity that the company where I had worked for seven and a half years fired me.
I went to my pastor and bishop for help. Mother Teresa found out about our struggle and wrote the governor. Eventually a law was passed that exempted charitable works such as ours from the requirements.
Do you have a favorite story of someone you've helped along the way?
My favorite story is about Jonathan who is now 9 years old. His mother was seriously contemplating abortion and had been down that road before. When she came to me she was scared and didn't know what to do. She ended up spending a night in one of our shelters and came to live with us. Today she is our office manager. She has done chastity presentations, answered the hotline and served as assistant housemother. She has become a real advocate and I don't know what I would do without her.
In addition, I am Jonathan's godparent, so I get to see him all the time and watch him grow.
Many of the young women that stay with us develop life skills and they later give back. They become like family. Former residents are not only living a chaste lifestyle, but they are affecting their friends to do the same.
What do you have planned next?
We are currently working on a secular version of “The Choice Game” and recently applied for a Federal Abstinence grant for our work. We anticipate hearing from them by the end of April.