By Bonnie Finnerty, Education Director, Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation
Pregnant with her first child in 1973 when Roe v. Wade was handed down, Connie Fenice hoped that legalized abortion in this country would be short-lived. Like so many others, she was dismayed to instead see a culture of death take hold. In 1994, as a new teacher at St. Margaret Mary Catholic School in the Diocese of Harrisburg, she decided to do something that has had a long-lasting impact. She started a student-led pro-life club, an organization that is now entering its 26th year and has yielded great fruit for the pro-life movement.
Connie’s goal was to heighten awareness of the sanctity of all human life through education and prayer. Every month students updated a pro-life bulletin board with information and pictures on fetal development, a visible sign to the whole school on the miracle of pre-born life. This ritual still carries on today.
For a quarter century, the Children of Mary Pro-Life Club has participated in a variety of activities. They’ve attended the annual Life Chain held in October and the Walk for Life benefiting a local pregnancy center. They’ve organized school-wide drives to collect items for a maternity home and then visited the home to learn more about that ministry. They’ve hosted baby showers, sold cupcakes and lifesaver lollipops, and raised money through a Baby Bottle Blessing Collection.
But perhaps most fruitful is the Spiritual Adoption program. Early in the school year, students are invited to spiritually adopt and name their baby. During the next nine months, they follow the baby’s growth, praying that the mother will have the love and support needed to choose life for her child. A baby carriage with a 12-week-old fetal model is placed upon the prayer table in each classroom, while every month a student leader shares information about fetal development over the school PA system. A few years ago during daily prayer intentions, a student spontaneously prayed aloud for her spiritually adopted child and soon all the students followed her example, remembering publicly every day the life for which they had promised to pray.
When Connie transferred to the local Catholic high school several years later, she became co-moderator of their large, robust pro-life club. She was gratified that many of the officers and active members were from the elementary club she had started. Some of these students went on to become teachers and pro-life leaders themselves, carrying within them the profound life lessons that were nurtured early on. In this way the pro-life seeds long ago sown continue to bear new fruit.
All of Connie’s children were active in pro-life activities through college. Her oldest child’s five children have all been leaders in the pro-life club that their grandmother started. This is bittersweet, as Connie explains, “I would not have wished to see the child that I was carrying when Roe v. Wade was passed grow up to face the same issue. I would have thought that surely her children, my grandchildren, would not have to be part of the struggle.
“But it gives me great hope to watch this new generation, armed with knowledge, drawing from 46 years of the aftermath of such a terrible Supreme Court decision, go forward and take up the battle. It is these beautiful young faces that we see at the March for Life each year. It is their love, their energy that uplifts me and gives me the courage to continue the fight.”
Now retired from teaching, Connie coordinates a very active Respect Life Ministry for her parish which includes adults who were once members of the Children of Mary Pro-Life Club.
Although under new leadership, the school pro-life club has the same mission as when it started: through education and prayer, teach our children that all life is a precious gift to be loved and protected. Imagine how many students over the last 25 years have carried this message in their hearts, back home to their families, into their workplaces, and out to the world!
Plant the seed early, nurture it often, and watch the beautiful fruits of LIFE come forth and witness to a world that so desperately needs it. That is what one woman did and what we are all called to do in some way.