I was a senior in high school in January of 1989 when I went on my first March for Life in Washington D.C. I was still pretty naive at the time to the nature and extent of much the evil, sorrow, and pain in our world. I had only known for maybe two or three years what abortion even was and I had no idea how painfully prevalent it was in society at the time. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I lived a particularly sheltered childhood, but others would probably say that I did. They are probably more accurate in their assessment than I am.
I don’t remember when I first learned of the horrors of abortion or how it impacted me. I was horrified of the concept, but I had very little awareness of how abortions were actually carried out or how often they were performed. We had a Teens for Life group at my Catholic high school and I joined it during my junior year I believe. I don’t really recall much of what we did. I don’t remember having any meetings although logic tells me that we had to have had at least a few. There are only three events that I do remember taking place while I was a member of TFL.
We participated in a march in Steubenville one year that started at the heart of the Franciscan University campus – what would later become my college alma mater. The march snaked along Sunset Boulevard – the main street of Steubenville – and ended 2½ miles to the west of Franciscan University at my high school. Several in our group carried signs in opposition to abortion (I have no idea if I had one or not), and we got several car honks along the way. But my biggest priority at the time was walking and talking with a girl I was interested in at the time. Not that it matters, but nothing ever came of that.
Another time, we set up a table at the local shopping mall one Saturday afternoon to hand out pro-life literature to shoppers who stopped at the table. I had an hour or two shift with two other students in the group and Sr. Eleanor who was the school faculty moderator. The only thing I recall from that day was talking to the other people manning the table. I don’t remember being approached by anyone and we were not supposed to chase people down to invite them over. We could only hand stuff out to people who actively asked for it. I don’t think I handed out a single pamphlet that afternoon.
In January of 1989, we had a busload of people from our high school travel to Washington D.C. to join the thousands and thousands of others from across the country marching for life. Although that was a much bigger deal than the other two events above, unfortunately like the other two events, I do not recall a lot from the trip as I write this post today. My recollection, foggy as it is, was that we boarded a charter bus at the high school around 2 or 3 a.m., rode the five hours or so to our nation’s capital, briefly visited the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (I may be confusing this part with the class trip to D.C. as sophomores two years earlier) before taking part in the march, and then promptly jumped back onto our waiting bus to return to Steubenville. I think there was a photo or two in our yearbook from the trip, but there wasn’t much else to it. To be honest, the only two vivid memories of it that stick in my head were: (1) the huge number of people who were there – despite the news coverage to the contrary; and (2) me and one other classmate hopping off the bus at the end of the march as it circled the Capitol building trying to round up the rest of our group who had been separated from us.
These three very sketchy memories are all that I recall about my high school experiences with the pro-life movement.
Flash forward in time roughly 25 or 30 years into the future somewhere between 2015 – 2017. I am married with one daughter out on her own and another one just hitting her stride in late elementary school. Our older daughter had gone to a March for Life when she was in youth group in the late 2000’s, but I’d never been back for a second time myself. Around this time I was listening more and more often to Catholic radio in my car, but I was always afraid of how my younger daughter might process the frequent discussions about abortion – so often a topic of discussion over those airwaves. Was she old enough to know and understand what an abortion was? Was she old enough to know about sex? Was she old enough to hear the [faulty] pro-abortion arguments regarding rape and incest exceptions? Was she old enough to even understand what rape or incest actually were? I struggled with those concerns quite often and I sometimes found myself muting the radio before picking her up from school or dance class if those topics were being addressed. If they came up during the car ride when she was already in the car, I would often turn the radio off and ask her a specifically vague question about school or dance or whatever I could come up with on the spur of the moment to try to deflect my true reason for turning the radio down.
In 2019, I went to the movie theater -alone- to view a showing of the movie unPLANNED. I’d heard wonderful things about it and amazing stories about some of the incredible God-Incidences in getting that movie made: getting necessary funding for the project; getting an actress to play the lead role of Abby Johnson. But I wasn’t prepared to take my 13 year old to an R rated movie despite the pro-life message I knew it was going to portray on screen. The visual images and some of the potential subject matter still wasn’t appropriate for only a 13 year old in my mind.
I don’t know how old she was when she learned where babies came from. Since we did not have a son, I never had to have “the talk.” I don’t know how old she was when she learned about the reality of abortion or how that revelation impacted her. I am embarrassed to say that up until about a year or so ago: I did not even know whether my young daughter considered herself pro-life or pro-choice. I knew what I hoped her position was, I knew that she had a very strong Catholic faith and was getting an excellent education in the faith, but I never sat down and discussed it with her directly one on one to that point. I’m pretty sure she knew where I stood on it and hoped that she would follow my example. We can’t force our children to believe anything, but we can show them our own beliefs and morals by example and hope that they develop similar values and relationships through observation and emulation. (That’s certainly how I wound up with two daughters who are both strong fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers!)
At some point I stopped muting the radio while riding in the car with my now mid-teenage daughter. This is another one of those things where I have no clear recollection of when it happened. It just did. I didn’t discuss a lot of deep ideas with her on a regular basis. Every now and then we could get quite philosophical about some of the most mundane topics and we’ve had many laughs over our attempts to outdo each other with intricate improvisational stories, bad dad jokes, and nonsensical debates dripping with sarcasm. But I also just as often experienced her tuning out a lot of what she likely considered to be background noise. One of the things I had assumed was simply background noise to her was the Catholic radio that usually played in dad’s car.
That all changed one day about a year ago. I was sitting in the living room while my daughter and wife were in the bathroom discussing the latest high school drama or daily events involving her friends or whatever other conversation topics they typically shared as mother and daughter. I then heard my daughter spout out to her mother -almost verbatim- one of the anti-abortion arguments that I had just heard earlier that day while riding home in the car. I heard it, but up until that moment at home, I’d assumed that it was only background noise to our daughter. She proceeded to give my wife a complete, well thought out, logical, and quite passionate argument for the pro-life side of the abortion issue; followed by despair that several of her classmates (and good friends) at her Catholic high school stood on the extreme opposite side of the abortion spectrum.
It wasn’t until after I overheard her conversation with my wife that day that I ever raised the topic of abortion in any direct discussions with her. I quickly learned she was not just casually anti-abortion (where many people raise all of the exceptions which make it a perfectly acceptable alternative in their minds), she was passionately opposed to it in every instance. I discovered she was deeply disturbed at how some of her friends were so militantly in favor of abortion – enslaved by the media machine propaganda. They were quite up in arms at the idea of a Supreme Court reversal of the case that gave women that “right.” She wished she had a stronger voice and a better handle on the arguments to show her classmates the intrinsic evil that is abortion. She also disclosed to me around that time that there was no group or committee or student organization in the school devoted to the pro-life movement. I didn’t have near her passion for life in 1988 when I joined the Teens for Life group at CCHS, but at least I had a group I could join. Here she was, on fire for the cause, but with no opportunity to spread that fire to others.
All that was about to change!
Back when I was struggling with my career path and trying to find my place in the world, I prayed quite often asking God to help me discern the right place for my personality and talents to shine. But even more I was looking for a place where I could properly provide for my family. I won’t deny that my hope and prayer to provide for my family was based strictly in the financial sense. Little did I know at that point that God had a plan in place for me which would provide far more than mere financial stability to my family.
I had no real exposure to Catholic Charities before the summer of 2021. I knew that it existed and I had even donated a few furniture items to them in the past. I had no idea of the full expanse of ministries they offered to the community (not just for Catholics, but for everybody in Northwest Ohio). Obviously that all changed when I started working at Catholic Charities in the fall of 2021 and was exposed to all of the ministries offered there. I am immediately drawn to a new Catholic Charities slogan which was only recently introduced by our development team in Toledo: “Thirteen Ministries, One Mission.”
One of the many ministries within Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Toledo is that of the Office for Life and Justice. Among other life affirming aspects of their ministry, this office also focuses their efforts on the pro-life ministry. Allison on staff there coordinates the Students for Life branch of that ministry and travels throughout the Diocese to colleges and high schools helping our young adults find their voice and share their love and passion in defending the lives of the unborn. When I learned through my daughter that there was no student pro-life group on her high school campus to join, I knew that I needed to get her and Allison together. After a simple introduction, I stepped out of the way and they arranged an online video meeting together. That further paved the way for a student event at Sandusky Central Catholic School where the high school students with differing opinions could dialog with each other in a respectful and informative way.
When they had their initial meeting in November, my daughter learned that the director of campus ministry and the priest leader at the school were both recently praying that a student interested in spearheading a new Teens for Life group at the school might come forth. They explained to her that they could not create the group from the top down without someone from within the student body interested in taking the ball and running with it.
They had a tabling event with a very successful response from some other like-minded students interested in participating in a group like this. This new pro-life group is still just getting started and has not yet become an official sanctioned student group at school, but it is well on its way to getting there. Allison is leading a large group of students from around the Diocese to attend the 50th March for Life in 2023 – the first march in the post-Roe world. She invited my daughter to take part in that march. I’ve signed up to go with her as an adult attendee and we depart Ohio on Thursday morning to join hundreds of thousands of other loud voices lifting up the call to protect the rights of the unborn this Friday in our nation’s capital.
This wonderful connection was briefly discussed over the airwaves of our local Catholic radio station just last month. The weekly Catholic Charities themed radio program Faith Alive spent a full hour talking about the 2023 March for Life in the December 6th episode. I’ve linked it here. The entire show is well worth a listen, but the segment beginning at the roughly the 41:30 mark describes Allison’s encounter with my daughter and the beginning of a new student group dedicated to this incredible cause.
In addition to the invitation to the March for Life, I was also recently invited to take part in a group of men devoted to daily prayer, asceticism, and fraternity in effort to transform the lives of those men taking part. The goal is to shed some of the time-wasting chains that bind us and prevent us from reaching a deeper spiritual relationship with God and deeper personal connections with family. Not to downplay the first and third principles of prayer and fraternity, but the self-denials associated with the asceticism aspect are probably the most challenging for me – especially eliminating all television and non-essential electronic usage. (One might argue that writing this long and detailed blog post is non-essential and in violation of that pledge. I tend to look at the personal reflection going into this blog post as still within that spirit of introspection and growth. Perhaps that is a rationalization, but hopefully my fraternity will view it in a light similar to my own.)
I’m using this program as an opportunity to not only analyze and enrich my prayer life, but to also crack open a few books that I’d been meaning to read but simply couldn’t find the time due to my other distractions. I also knew that I had a long bus ride ahead of me to Washington D.C. and likely at least a few hours of potential boredom on that ride to fill without electronic distractions.
I sat next to a friend this past Saturday in our weekly bible study group who is also taking part in the program and we compared our progress notes. Upon learning that I was trying to do more reading, he suggested a book title and I promptly wrote it down. I planned to go to the library later that morning to get a few tomes for the bus ride. I told him that sometimes I like to go into the library and just walk the stacks without any particular author or title or even subject in mind — just see what I happen to come across that looks interesting.
Later that morning at the library, I immediately entered the title he suggested into the computer terminal. Unfortunately, they had no copies available at my local branch, but there were a few elsewhere in the network. So I put one of those on hold for later delivery and decided to look for something else. I’ve enjoyed reading several of the Killing series of history books by Bill O’Reilly. I decided to see if any of his titles I hadn’t read yet were in house. I quickly found three that looked promising and scribbled down the Dewey Decimal numbers.
The first book was Killing England about the struggle for American independence. Being a direct descendant of Charles Washington, I have always had an interest in the American Revolution and enjoy reading historical accounts of the life of “Uncle George.” I scanned through the stacks for its three digit call number and quickly found several available copies of the book on the shelf. One down, two to go.
I next sought out his book Killing the Mob. Despite my wife’s Italian heritage, I don’t believe she shares a family connection with any of the mafia’s founding fathers similar to my connection to “Uncle George,” but the stories and history of the 20th century American mafia always spark a romanticized fascination. As I pulled a copy of Killing the Mob off the shelf to read the dust cover notes, I glanced one shelf to the left and my eyes locked onto a light blue-spined hardcover with a single word in bold black capital letters printed on the spine:
At first I wasn’t entirely sure that my eyes were giving me a true picture of this book title. I literally had to stop and read the title one letter at a time to myself like I was participating in a mental spelling bee. A-B-O-R-T… yep. That’s what it says… Abortion. No author name, no tag line or sub-title, no indication of what perspective it even offered on the subject. Not on the book spine, anyway.
Just a few spots to the right on the same shelf, my eyes spotted another book title: “unPLANNED” by an author named “JOHNSON.” At that point I completely forgot about looking for the third O’Reilly Killing book on my Dewey Decimal search list. I immediately grabbed unPLANNED and headed for the front desk. Of course, this was the book that the movie of the same name was based upon.
I checked out my book selections and headed home from the library, but not before first picking up my daughter from her dance lesson. As she and I drove home, I set up the scene at the library to her before showing her the book that I ultimately found on the shelf. I talked to her just a few weeks ago about the movie unPLANNED. She still has not seen it, but we plan to find it once my fasting from television is over at Easter. What could be a better book for her to read on the way to Washington D.C. this week to take part in the largest rally for the unborn and unvoiced than the conversion story of Abby Johnson?
Just as we walked in the door to our house – coat and gloves still on – my cell phone rang with a familiar name on the caller ID. I answered and we said our “hello’s” and I remarked to my friend – “It’s funny that you called. I literally just got home from the library.” His reply was, “Oh! Did you get the book?” I told him that they didn’t have it but I put it on hold for a later pickup. He then told me that he located an extra copy of it through another friend of his and they wanted to give it to me. We chatted a bit more about the book and worked out some details on getting it from him. I told him I was glad that he called and that I had another funny coincidence story from the library that I needed to tell him about…
Had the book my friend suggested to me been available at the Sandusky library, would I have even gone looking for the history books I ended up choosing? Had he called me an hour earlier with the gift copy, would I have even gone to the library at all? Had I not had an interest in “Uncle George” or the mafia, would I have wandered through the area where unPLANNED was hidden on the shelves? Had the ABORTION book not had such a stark visual appearing spine would anything else on that shelf have even caught my eye?
Sure, I may have otherwise come across these books randomly. But I choose to believe that this was all part of another plan. Another greater plan. Part of that same plan that led me to Catholic Charities and connected my daughter to Allison at the exact moment that several different people, each coming at it from different directions – all needed these connections to come together at the right place and time. An unsure young student looking for a way to give power to her voice. A priest leader and a campus ministry faculty member looking for a student to come forward. A student coordinator looking for an opportunity to get a new pro-life chapter started at a Diocesan high school. A father looking to help ignite the spark in his daughter’s heart.
Kassidy, you are such a strong and independent and compassionate person. I know you have experienced your own struggles at different times and for different reasons. Yet despite that, your inner spirit still shines so bright. You make your mother and I and your Father so very proud! I can’t wait to march through the streets of Washington D.C. side by side with you this Friday!