Putting a human face on those defending human life
By Julie Filby
Photo by James Baca/DCR
What does a pro-lifer look like? Some media outlets portray them as extreme, angry, even violent. However, the true Catholic presence when it comes to life issues is a picture of love, compassion and generosity.
The examples below put a face on three Catholics in the Denver Archdiocese, whose passionate pro-life efforts revolve around prayer, service, education and peaceful public witness.
Called to service
Sharon Gahan, a parishioner of Our Lady of Fatima in Lakewood, always considered herself more of a follower than a leader.
Inspired by an ad in the church bulletin and a persistent “little voice,” the wife and mother of two has taken on a leadership role she never expected.
“I had seen an ad in our bulletin for Gabriel Project training,” she said. “Working with women appealed to me. … I was drawn to it because I felt it was something I could relate to (as a mother).”
Gabriel Project provides material, emotional and spiritual support to women and families in need. Denver’s first Gabriel House opened in October 2009. Gahan had been volunteering there for two years when she began to hear a different call.
“When you get that little voice in your head,” she said, “you know Somebody’s talking to ya.”
The voice encouraged her to pursue opening a Gabriel House in Jefferson County.
“Because I’ve always been a ‘helper,’ taking on a big project was not something I envisioned,” she said. “Then I started thinking ‘maybe we could do something out here,’ and I started thinking about space.”
Our Lady of Fatima pastor Father Henri Tshibambe provided the space. Rolling Hills Foundation, as well as other donors, provided start-up funds. Still, Gahan questioned proceeding.
“I’d wake up and think ‘I don’t want do this, it’s too much,’” she said. “(But) that little voice would say: ‘You got the space, you got the money … you’ve got to keep going.’”
And she did. Gahan is coordinator for the JeffCo Gabriel House at 1980 Nelson St. that opened Oct. 1. She works there on Mondays and continues to coordinate a large pool of volunteers and donors.
“I always felt I should be doing something,” she said. “We’re not here just to hang out and have a good time; we’re supposed to serve.”
Educating about truth
Brian Donelson believes in love. The husband, father of six and high school teacher also believes culture has lost the meaning of love and sexuality.
“If you lose the meaning of sexuality, you lose the meaning of love, and ultimately the meaning of life,” he said. “I want others to experience the joy and meaning I’ve gained through living out theology of the body.”
Donelson, a parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul in Denver, has been teaching theology of the body since graduating from Franciscan University in 2002. Now in his third year at Mullen High School, he’s sharing the message with juniors and seniors in a class called “Relationships and Sexuality.”
“(The students) respond really well,” he said. “Nothing interests them more than talking about relationships and sexuality.”
Donelson speaks in real terms with the students, who have the opportunity to answer difficult questions anonymously with hand-held clickers.
One of the questions he asks: How many of you have had intercourse?
“I don’t leave it there,” he said. “‘OK, (a certain percentage) of you have had premarital sex.’
“I challenge them to live a chaste life in every way,” he continued. “Of course I challenge them to not have sexual intercourse, but it’s even a greater challenge to ask them if they can avoid impure thoughts,” and pornography and masturbation.
Class resources include “Theology of the Body for Teens” books, confidential online journals and guest speakers such as Lynn Grandon, archdiocesan Respect Life Director, who gives a talk on abortion.
“It’s a big dose of reality,” Donelson said.
“My hope is that people can crave more what is true, than what feels good,” he said. “I pray that our culture thinks more deeply about love, sex and life to find the truth.” He continues to work toward that goal, one class at a time.
Peaceful public witness
Father Joseph Hearty was involved in pro-life efforts before he was ordained a Fraternity of St. Peter priest in 2003: he attended Masses and dinners for life, and supported a pro-life candidate running for office in his native Canada.
During those years, he was involved. Now he’s entrenched.
“Priests can’t be in the back of the crowd prodding people to move forward,” explained the parochial vicar at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Latin Rite Parish in Littleton. “The priest leads the sheep as the shepherd and we are to be up front and center.”
Father Hearty has been front and center at Denver’s Planned Parenthood headquarters—celebrating some 11 Masses outside the abortion facility since last spring.
“If we want the conversion of hearts regarding the morality and dignity of life,” he said, “then (we) need to use the means available: liturgy, sacraments, prayer and sacrifice.”
He started arranging public prayer vigils during his first priestly assignment in Little Rock, Ark. There he gathered with parishioners for a weekly rosary outside the local abortion clinic. Since coming to Colorado, his involvement has increased.
“God has placed people and suggestions in my path,” he said, including a parishioner who suggested the parish lead a monthly prayer group across the street from Planned Parenthood.
“Almost three years later we’re still going strong,” he said.
Celebrating monthly Masses outside Planned Parenthood was an inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he said.
“The Masses, which have been well-attended, demonstrate our greater understanding that in the battle against abortion, we wrestle ‘not against flesh and blood, but against … the rulers of the world of darkness’ (Eph 6:12).
“Once we grasp and believe this reality then we’re half-way there,” he said. “This fight for the dignity of life will not be won until we open our eyes and fight this spiritual battle on the supernatural level.”
Pro-life efforts: get informed, get involved
Parish Respect Life Committees
Denver Archdiocese Respect Life Office
Lighthouse Women’s Center