YEAR OF FAITH TESTIMONY: Catholic faith is all or nothing for pro-life nurse
By Julie Filby
Photo by Julie Filby/DCR
Paula Suhr was in the middle of an overwhelming amount of homework one Sunday when she realized it was almost time for Mass. From her dorm room at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., she remembers looking out the window thinking: “Either this faith is a colossal waste of time; or if it is all true—and (Eucharist) really is God in person—I’d be a fool to imagine not going.”
“I just didn’t see how (faith) could be somewhere in-between,” Suhr told the Denver Catholic Register.
While she doesn’t remember what homework she was working on, or why it seemed so important at the time, she clearly remembers the decision she made.
“Everything I knew and everything in my heart came down on the side of Christ,” she said. “In that moment I realized that I wanted to choose him every day as if it was my only chance.”
She went to Mass.
Twenty-five years later that conviction remains, and even talking about Christ’s presence in the Mass brought her to tears.
“I just can’t find the words big enough,” she said, wiping her eyes, as she tried to describe her feelings. “The gift is so big, so complete.
“It’s so beautiful.”
Many times it’s been ordinary moments in her day-to-day life, like in that dorm room, when Suhr has come to realize the extraordinary presence of God.
“If we can say ‘Yes’ to God, he gives us so much,” she said.
Today at 47—a wife, mother of three teenagers, registered nurse, and parishioner of Risen Christ Church in Denver—she works at Lighthouse Women’s Center, a medical center that helps women and families make critical decisions about reproductive health, including pregnancies.
However, before joining Lighthouse, Suhr had a different plan in mind. After several years as a stay-at-home mom, she had decided to return to nursing, in hospice care, when she met a fellow Bishop Machebeuf High School mom at a school event in the summer of 2011.
That mom was Lynn Grandon, executive director of Lighthouse. Grandon had just moved to Denver and was in the process of staffing the center.
“Lynn is a really inspirational person,” Suhr said. “After talking to her, I knew I wanted to be part of (Lighthouse).”
It was an unexpected diversion that she’s convinced was prompted by the Lord.
Suhr serves as nurse manager, specializing in sonography (ultrasounds). The center, across the street from Denver’s Planned Parenthood headquarters, provides ultrasounds to more than half of the women who visit. During ultrasounds, Suhr has a chance to show clients their baby’s beating heart, and wriggling arms and legs: images that convert hearts.
“They become connected as if they just realized their baby is really there,’” she said. “I’m so filled with hope when I talk to people here. They’re doing the right thing ... they are good, courageous people.”
Suhr recalled her devotion to pro-life work began in seventh grade when she participated in a March for Life with her parents. Shortly after, she was involved in planning a Respect Life meeting at their Wyoming parish.
“(I thought), ‘This is going to be huge, we have to get a bigger room.’” She expected every member of the parish to be there. “I thought all Catholics would want to be involved.”
Only four people showed up. But that didn’t diminish her zeal.
“Whether or not to trust Jesus has been the most important question of my life, the doorway to everything worthwhile,” she said. “When I have held back, not daring to believe in him, I experienced fear and confusion.
“When I trust Jesus, everything wonderful opens up, beyond what I have hoped for.”
From that ordinary moment in her Indiana dorm room, to the extraordinary moments she’s a part of at Lighthouse, Suhr continues to choose Christ every day … as if it were her only chance.