“Beautiful, prayerful, powerful,” theology teacher and campus minister Deacon Kevin Fuller said, describing his first experience with the 2019 March for Life pilgrimage. On Jan. 15, three teachers, three moms, the coordinator of the Respect Life Apostolate in Omaha, a priest and 43 Marian students boarded their Arrow buses bound for Washington D.C. for the 46th annual March for Life.
The Marian Students for Life ( MSFL) club was revamped two years ago and is moderated by English teacher Mrs. Amy Bauman, another chaperone on the trip along with math teacher Miss Megan Han and Deacon Fuller. The club’s mission statement is “To help promote and encourage a pro-woman and pro-love culture in our society and at our school. We hope to do this through prayer, awareness, education, and by being a positive supportive group of girls who empower each other to defend women and the unborn.”
Since the club’s beginning, they have had a goal to take an entire bus on the March for Life in Washington D.C., a goal that was achieved this year. The students who went on the trip had many life-changing experiences. “I was impacted by the girls on this trip through the time we spent together on the bus for a straight 24 hours. Whether it was singing or sharing stories, it impacted me immensely,” junior Emily Monzu said. Girls enjoyed filling their time on the bus by bonding, learning about the pro-life movement, hearing stories from chaperones and praying with bus chaplain Fr. Marcus Knecht from St. James parish.
While in D.C. the group was able to visit Arlington Cemetery, the Holocaust museum, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and St. Matthews Cathedral. Aside from getting to tour around D.C., this trip provided opportunities for the group to grow in their faith.
“Another powerful part for me was standing quietly in front of Planned Parenthood and just praying for moms. No words were needed. Just prayer,” Fuller said. The group joined about 300 others to pray quietly outside of a Washington D.C. Planned Parenthood on the morning of Jan. 17. Freshman Anne Masek said that this experience on the trip gave her a new perspective.
Another spiritually moving part of the trip was the Life is Very Good Evening of Prayer at the EagleBank Arena. The students joined 8,000 others to pray, experience adoration, hear renowned speakers Chris Stefanick and Steve Angrisano and see a performance by the band I Am They. Junior Lauren Zadalis had an impactful experience on this trip, especially in adoration on Thursday night. “Adoration absolutely changed my life. A feeling of love and presence of Christ by my side overwhelmed me. I’ve never felt that sense of love in my entire life. Every emotion I had ever experienced had built up into one moment, and I just cried. They were joyful tears, however,” Zadalis said.
The March for Life, held on Jan. 18, started with speeches and a rally followed by a march up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court and Capitol Building. This year’s March for Life theme was “Unique from Day One.” The group spent a lot of time reflecting on this theme, learning about abortion, the pro-life movement and about how being pro-life is both pro-science and pro-woman. “It was so humbling to watch our students learn, grow and pray together. I think many hearts and lives were changed, including mine,” Fuller said.
The Marian group joined more than 450 people from the Archdiocese of Omaha in the march, all in neon highlighter colored hats so that the group could stay together.
Although most media reports that “thousands” or “tens of thousands” made up the crowds on Friday, an estimation based off of a time-lapse video of the event reports that there were around 300,000 people marching. “I definitely was going into the March with a lot of reservation because I’ve never been a person to really speak out or be loud about these issues. But eventually, I was cheering right alongside the girls, and I think it was a meaningful experience for both them and me,” Han, also a first time chaperone, said.
The girls were all smiles as they marched through the mud. Many carried signs that read “I am a life defender” or “Love them both.” They chanted encouraging messages and added to the joyful and peaceful atmosphere of the March. Freshman Elleiana Green said, “My favorite part of the march was how much happiness was around it. It was so peaceful and empowering.”
“The main message I got from the March was that people are defending life from a place of love. I think that’s a really important message to share with other people, too—that the people who are marching care both about the babies and the women that are faced with these crises,” Han said.
After the March, the girls were faced with some challenges that they quickly overcame, and in the end, they were sparked to support each other and to focus on being a team. After some negative feedback on a post on Twitter, the girls received immense support from their chaperones, Marian alums, their peers and each other to remain positive and joyful. They were sent several encouraging videos from Skutt Catholic and UNO and UNL pro-life groups. “It was so valuable to see girls rising above conflict and seeing how that changed them,” Han said. “One of the most impactful things from the girls was watching them open their minds and just allow the trip to change them. These girls were challenged by people in their own community, and watching them rise above it gave me so much hope for them. It made me realize that the Holy Spirit was at work creating confident and loving women.”
When the girls returned to school on Wednesday morning after the snow day, some of them gathered together to pray with many teachers who came to show their love and support.
The 43 Marian students that embarked on this journey will have many memories from belting John Denver songs on the bus ride home through West Virginia to calling Miss Han “mom” and trying to beat a snowstorm. MSFL hopes to continue getting a large group of Marian girls to go on this trip. “I loved this trip and I really want to go back again!” Green said.
The group returned home on Jan. 20 ready to spread the joy in their hearts and ready to empower the entire Marian community with their experiences. “[The students] learned how to talk to people who are on different parts of the pro-life vs. pro-choice spectrum—to meet them where they are and have a civil conversation about these issues. They have certainly bonded with each other. I hope that this will help them to work together to become stronger spiritually as well,” Han said.
Many hearts and minds were changed on this powerful pilgrimage to D.C. “I am so thankful to have had such an amazing opportunity to discover such a loving and uplifting environment. And of course, I had 43 girls and amazing chaperones there for me to lean on throughout this life changing experience,” Zadalis said. This trip will go down as one to remember and the Marian legacy will forever be influenced by this group empowered by love.