Education for life: The Life Team of St. Joseph County Right to Life
By Jennifer Miller
SOUTH BEND — From basic to complex, the thoughtful questions of eighth graders are fielded by the St. Joseph Country Life Team. Open and curious, Michiana Catholic school 14 year olds are learning the facts of fetal development and heartbreaking realities of abortion in America today through Life Team presentations.
Started in late 2014, the Life Team is a budding program developed by Claire Fyrqvist, communication manager of St. Joseph Country Right to Life. It aims to bring clear, powerful information to older students about the scientific realities of fetal development, what abortion actually is and builds a culture of life in Michiana. Designed especially for eighth graders it is age appropriate to equip students about to enter high school with clear, compassionate reasons for being pro-life and how to respond if a friend were to be in a crisis pregnancy situation.
Composed of eight highly skilled, educated presenters, the Life Team is currently staffed by volunteers, organized and trained by Fyrqvist. The group blends teachers, nurses, academics, a doctor, business professionals, theologians, mothers, a father and practicing Catholics to focus a cohesive life ethic.
The personal witnesses of the Life Team members resonate with the students. One is a former Women Care Center ultrasound technician, another a parent to a child with Down syndrome, one a convert to the pro-life movement and another a 20-year veteran in the field.
In pairs, they engage students in a two-day presentation and apologetics on the topics. They offer the amazing realities of human development from natural conception to birth. Both photographs and live models are used. The Life Team also age appropriately explains the abortion procedures and legal status of abortion at a national and local level. They highlight the historical facts of this massive human rights crisis of modernity and how to respond in truth and charity. Resources such as the local Women’s Care Center, Project Rachel and Hannah’s House are also explained.
“There is a lot of surface level knowledge about abortion in the Catholic community. It is a complex cultural and political landscape right now and it is not enough to say I am pro-life,” Fyrqvist explained. “Adolescents have a particular sensitivity to developing their moral world view and conscience, … which is a perfect time to help them develop it. We must address this and not shy away from the gravity of the situation.”
Students are empowered on how to speak with friends through acting out future possible scenarios, realizing that they are at an important time in their lives — before high school, college and the workforce.
“They are indeed the pro-life generation,” Fyrqvist explained. “No other generation has been so impacted by abortion as theirs.” Many of their possible friends and community members might still be alive if not for the 1973 legalization of abortion.
Over 10 years ago, former Right to Life board member Kathy Black began the presentations for the eighth grade at Corpus Christi Catholic School. Impressed with her straightforward and responsive presentation and wanting to share the important message, Claire Fyrqvist and Jeanette Burdell, executive director of SJCRTL, worked with the Life Team to develop the current program. “I was really struck with the manner in which Kathy was able to speak about such grave matters without sensationalizing it. She really respected the eighth graders ability to take in the situation and be educated,” Fyrqvist recalled.
“We don’t shy away from the facts but we don’t use any graphic images either. The facts speak for themselves. The moral of the story is so clear,” Fyrqvist said. The Family Life and Pro-Life Office for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend approved the program, along with the Catholic Schools Office, and welcomed the Life Team into the Catholic schools. Each presentation is tailored to the individual needs of the host eighth grade and school community. Parental permission slips are also sent home, so that parents may learn more and opt-out of the presentation.
Fyrqvist emphasized, “They also have a chance to speak in small groups and discuss and engage the moral quandary that many women find themselves in. The solution to a crisis pregnancy is not easy but it is clear.”
While the Life Team currently has presented, for free, over six different schools in the diocese, they are also open to expanding their program for public, religious and non-religious private schools. A stage-two presentation for high schools is also in the works. Thanks to recent underwriting support of the Life Team by brothers Dan Fitzpatrick and Deacon Jim Fitzpatrick, St. Joseph County Right to Life will continue to develop their educational programs. “We are especially grateful for this support,” said Burdell, adding “So the Life Team can offer new printed material, add demonstrations with developmental fetal models and build the culture of life in Catholic schools around Michiana.”
Based on Allen County Right to Life’s model, John and Claire Fyrqvist also facilitated a pro-life apologetics course to continue the education, called Life Defenders Boot Camp. They bring in skilled speakers from the Life Training Institute who will train young people to join the cultural conversation as compassionate, intelligent leaders in the pro-life movement. This year boot camp will be held Feb. 20, for high school and college aged students. The Kloska Family sponsors this program.
The couple, job-sharing the position at the SJCRTL office, also serves and lives in community with the South Bend Catholic Worker House of Hospitality. They have found that their work, faith and life enjoy a richer connection in living the pro-life message. The Fyrqvists, parishioners of St. Matthew Cathedral, also have two small children and one on the way.
What the Life Team presenters have found is beautiful. They have met and spoken with eighth-grade students who have a wide variety of knowledge on the topics, but all are aware and wondering about the realities of it in this country. Students have been so respectful and thoughtful when thinking through these huge life issues. And most of all, they have been hungry to learn and discuss them. The presenters of the Life Team also discovered how all of the life issues are interconnected and how topics of human dignity also lead to in vitro fertilization, euthanasia and assisted suicide, immigration, embryonic stem-cell research and the death penalty, essentially the seamless garment of Catholic social teaching.