A Pro-Life Church Hall Meeting organized by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee last fall included speakers, displays and opportunities for pro-life representatives from parishes and organizations to network. (Photo by Kristen Kubisiak)

Exciting pro-life developments that are in progress or on the horizon in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee took center stage at a Pro-Life Church Hall Meeting in New Berlin.

Respect life and human concerns leaders from across the archdiocese filled the Holy Apostles Welcome Center to learn about new initiatives and report on their recent activities.

Leading the event was Dcn. Jim Matthias, the director of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Respect Life Ministry. Matthias noted that the dignity and sanctity of human life is at the core of many issues, making them “pro-life.” However, the cardinal issues are abortion, immigration, capital punishment, eugenics, euthanasia, doctor-assisted suicide, domestic violence, human trafficking, post-abortive healing and criminal violence.

“The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is the preeminent issue,” Dcn. Matthias said. “More lives are lost each year due to abortion than due to any of the other causes. So, priority is given to upholding and defending our brothers’ and sisters’ most basic right — to live.”

The leaders shared some ways their parishes amplified and added to pro-life efforts during October, which is Respect Life Month. These included: participating in 40 Days for Life and Life Chain activities, collecting funds for Baby Bottles for Life, hosting baby showers and diaper drives for life-affirming pregnancy support services, offering Holy Hours and the Traveling Rosary for Life, as well as displaying crosses, pink and blue ribbons, banners and a new pro-life flag to raise awareness.

One pro-life milestone announced at the meeting that has been in the works is the establishment of the first modern-day Catholic maternity home in Milwaukee. The residence will be modeled after Mater Filius, which was founded in March 2003 in Mexico City as a nonprofit Catholic apostolate to serve women and their families facing an unexpected pregnancy. Today there are 26 affiliates world-wide of Mater Filius — Latin for “Mother and Child” — including six in the United States.

Edward Sanchez, who is the board president of the Women’s Support Center in Milwaukee and has been involved in the effort, shared some project updates.

“We have received permission from the archbishop to pursue a home, to raise money for it — all in private donations, not taking anything away from the Archdiocese — and we are prepared to begin incorporation.”

Mater Filius homes typically accommodate up to 10 women, who, in addition to having basic needs met, receive medical care, education, emotional support, employment assistance and workshops on topics such as prenatal care and parenting and life skills — all offered in a structured, but home-like, nurturing environment. While Mater Filius is rooted in Catholic tradition, expectant mothers are welcome regardless of their backgrounds or religious affiliations.

“They can be in the home during the whole term of their pregnancy and then eight months afterwards,” Sanchez said. “What we try to do during that time is help them transform their lives.”

There is still much work to do before Mater Filius is ready to begin serving pregnant women and families in the community, Sanchez said, and there are plenty of ways to show support, from volunteering to making a donation. For more information about the evolving project, email edward.sanchez@marquette.edu.

Pro-life Programs for Teens & Young Adults

Representatives from Wisconsin Right to Life and Students for Life shared some ways their organizations have been supporting pro-life education and opportunities for high school and college students.

One initiative that has been especially successful is the Teen Impact Box Subscription. The subscription is offered by Wisconsin Right to Life, an organization that has saved 201,308 lives from the threat of abortion in Wisconsin since 1987 and continues to change hearts, minds and policies in the state.

Chelsea Duffy, who represented the organization, explained that the boxes were first launched during the pandemic as a way to connect with pro-life teens when live events and programs were prohibited. Since then, subscriptions have increased from 100 to 600.

“Our Teen Impact Subscriptions Boxes give pro-life teens who need to be edified the facts about the pro-life movement, as well as the resources they need to learn how to express their beliefs to peers,” Duffy said.

Each box focuses on a different topic, including pro-life apologetics, euthanasia, prenatal development and supporting pregnant students.

“Our students absolutely love these because they get that feeling of involvement right in the comfort of their own homes,” Duffy said. “But they’re also empowered with the tools to take this out into their community.”

Educating high school and college students about how to effectively and positively contribute to the pro-life conversation is critical, said Matt Murphy. Murphy spoke on behalf of Students for Life, an organization that focuses on empowering students to start pro-life groups on college, high school and graduate campuses.

“Basically, there are two ends of the pro-life spectrum,” he said. “On one end, you have pro-lifers who can be adamant to the point of coming across as completely insensitive to the needs and desires of those who are most vulnerable in our society. On the other end, you have pro-lifers who are hesitant to speak out at all because they fear the controversy it will create and they don’t want to ‘poke the bear.’”

Murphy provides pro-life apologetics resources and training to help students “embrace the controversy” while engaging with compassion and kindness.

Wisconsin Right to Life also offers programs, such as the five-day Teen Impact Camp, to educate youth about the pro-life movement. Duffy, who attended the camp in 2010, called it “transformative.”

“There are speakers, and we have a day at the Capitol where we meet with legislators and learn more about the legislative process and how they can get involved,” Duffy said. “They build deep relationships with their peers. I am still friends with people I went to camp with back in 2010. There are also water balloon fights and other fun activities one would expect to find at a summer camp.”

Duffy and her family have established the Ewan Duffy Scholarship (in honor of her deceased son) for teens who would be otherwise unable to attend due to financial reasons.

“I feel very passionately about the future of the pro-life movement, and we want to make sure no kid is turned away,” she said.

Pro-Life Programs in the Parishes

Other pro-life advocates from around the Archdiocese of Milwaukee at the Church Hall event reported on the programs that have been successful in their specific parish communities. These included The Gospel of Life Study Series, Walking with Moms in Need and Heavenly Babies.

Gospel of Life Study Series

The Gospel of Life program is a six-part study series based on the papal encyclical Evangelium vitae, written by St. John Paul II while he was pope in 1995 to reaffirm the value and inviolability of every human life and make an appeal to all people to respect, protect, love and serve every human life.

Kevin Gilpin, who serves on the Respect Life Committee at Holy Apostles, presented the study two years ago at his home parish, then most recently brought the program to St. John Vianney in Brookfield.

“The program consists of six sessions, one per month, on each of the topics of the study series,” Gilpin said. To provide additional context, Gilpin augmented the study with research dating back to the early 1800s on the history of contraception and techniques of abortion, also noting other encyclicals written by popes throughout history. Each session requires about 20 pages of reading, except for the first and last.

Gilpin offered to help anyone who’d like to bring the program to their parish. He can be reached at kevin_gilpin@yahoo.com.

Walking with Moms in Need

On March 25, 2020, the Church celebrated the 25th anniversary of Evangelium vitae. At that time, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities invited parishes to join a nationwide effort called Walking with Moms in Need.

Dr. Patrick Lehman, a pediatrician in Brookfield, has been leading the effort at St. John Vianney, organizing volunteers to help build an archdiocesan resources list for pregnant women in need.

“I see moms every day that are just fighting the good fight,” he said. “Moms that have troubles, moms that have babies that have very difficult medical conditions. I am here today because I want to be able to support those moms, but also moms in the community.”

The goal of Walking with Moms in Need is to identify and aggregate a list of all of the services and resources in a community so that any parish located in that community can easily connect mothers with the help they need — should they seek it. Lehman and his volunteers have been doing this in Waukesha County but would like to see the same effort take place in Milwaukee and Racine Counties so a comprehensive list of resources is available.

To help, contact Lehman at patrick.lehman@gmail.com.

Heavenly Babies

Heavenly Babies is a ministry that provides mothers in need with a “baby shower in a bag.” It’s a program that has a long history at St. Paul Catholic Church in Genesee Depot and is currently led by Susan Fine.

“In the late ’60s and early ’70s, a lady from our parish went to a baby shower and saw all the nice items that this new mom was receiving. And all of a sudden, this seed was planted, and she said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody got a baby shower in a bag, or baby shower items like this mom is getting?’” Fine said. “The woman came back to the church, and they came up with the ministry.”

Today Heavenly Babies provides baby supplies to 12 different agencies and is made up of 20 volunteers.

For more information about Heavenly Babies, contact Fine at sfine56038@aol.com.

The next Pro-Life Church Hall Meeting is tentatively set for March. To be notified when details are available, contact Dcn. Matthias at matthiasj@archmil.org.