Holly M. Smith
How Catholic Schools Can Help Parents Raise Pro-Life Kids
Updated: May 24, 2022
8 Ways to Cultivate a Strong Pro-Life Culture at Your K-12 School
Photo Credit: @marchforlife
I remember very clearly hearing the word “abortion” for the first time. I was in 4th grade in Catholic school, and I didn’t know what it meant. My teacher encouraged the class to go home and ask our parents. When I did, I was horrified by what my mom told me: abortion is the intentional killing of a baby in the womb. I could not fathom that it is not only legal in America, but also considered to be a constitutionally-protected “right.”
During the early years of a child’s life, parents provide a moral compass for their children, passing on their worldview, which generally becomes their children’s worldview. This works well for Christian families—until the world pushes back.
When it comes to abortion, the world pushes back HARD. And when it succeeds in luring young people into denying the sanctity of human life, it strikes a mortal blow to faith in Christianity as the essential path to salvation.
That’s why the Catholic Church is staunchly pro-life.
It’s why Pope St. John Paul II said, “You are called to stand up for life! To respect and defend the mystery of life always and everywhere, including the lives of unborn babies… you are called to work and pray against abortion.”
It’s why all Catholic Dioceses of the United States observe January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, as the “Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.”
And it’s why many Catholic schools build pro-life activities into their culture and curriculum.
After my experience in 4th grade, I don’t recall the subject of abortion ever coming up at my Catholic school. Now that I have children who attend a faithfully Catholic, pro-life school, I am immensely grateful for the support of our headmaster and teachers, who are intentional about cultivating a strong pro-life culture in our community. My children are being formed to not only reject the evil of abortion, but also to speak out against it. They will be in a strong position to maintain their pro-life, Catholic worldview in college and beyond.
All children deserve to be immersed in the truth that all human beings have a right to life because we all have dignity by virtue of our humanity. Sadly, not all schools are passionately pro-life. But they can be—and all Catholic schools should be!
Here are eight ways Catholic educators can cultivate a strong pro-life culture at their schools, to help students thrive as pro-life Catholics in college and throughout their lives:
1. Teach truth in the curriculum. Catholic schools have a leg up on secular and other non-Catholic schools because they have 2,000 years of teaching (based on scripture, tradition, and the unity of faith and reason) to use as a resource. Many of the best Catholic schools offer courses in theology, philosophy, logic, and science that help students understand why the Catechism teaches:
Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.
Some schools offer specialized courses to educate students about modern violations of human dignity, including abortion. The Dominican sisters at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in the Arlington Diocese of Virginia require all students to complete a Bioethics Curriculum that “provides students with the foundation needed to address the serious medical and ethical issues of the 21st Century by equipping them with principles specific to the fields of healthcare and the life sciences.”
2. Offer pro-life clubs. Most Catholic schools offer a myriad of clubs to provide students with meaningful opportunities to explore special interests with classmates. While many Catholic schools have pro-life clubs, not all do—and not all existing clubs have sufficient support. Students for Life is a tremendous resource to help schools establish new clubs and strengthen existing clubs to promote greater involvement in the pro-life movement among students.
3. Organize buses to the March for Life. Many Catholic schools organize buses or allow excused absences for students who attend the National March for Life or one of the many State Marches and rallies across the country. Our school closes each year for the National March for Life and encourages all families to attend. We meet downtown and march together behind our school banner, creating memorable and positive experiences for our students and showing them the beautiful spectrum of pro-life Americans. This school year, we also closed on December 1, 2021, the day of oral arguments in the Dobbs vs. Jackson case. Many families went to the Supreme Court to rally and pray, while those who could not go downtown attended Holy Hours and special Masses throughout the Diocese.
4. Hold a pro-life essay and poster contest. The week leading up to the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children is the ideal time to engage students in pro-life activities, including essay and poster contests. In the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, essay winners from each Catholic school are invited to a banquet with the Bishop. National Right to Life also sponsors a pro-life essay contest with cash prizes for winners.
Our school holds an essay and poster contest and announces winners at a school-wide assembly. At the assembly, all lower school students display their posters and the winners of the essay contest read their work aloud. The younger children take great satisfaction in carrying their posters at the March for Life and all children benefit from having to craft a strong, age-appropriate argument in support of life. My upper school children have been assigned a creative variety of topics: biographies of pro-life leaders, arguing for which president was the most pro-life, analyses of Humanae Vitae, letters to elected officials in favor of or against proposed legislation, to name a few.
5. Host speakers. Many Catholic schools invite guest speakers to participate in special events for students and parents throughout the year. Given the importance of the life issue in our society, all or most speakers should incorporate life affirming messages in their remarks and some speakers should make the right to life the focus of their remarks. Every year, our school hosts a speaker from a local pregnancy center who shares how their work helps women with crisis pregnancies to choose life. Over the years, our school has hosted pro-life public officials, priests, religious sisters, grassroots activists, and writers who help students see the different ways members of the pro-life community use their talents and time to advance a culture of life.
6. Host bake sales and diaper drives. Raising money and collecting items for pregnancy centers is a wonderful way to inspire a spirit of charity among students who are eager to support mothers and babies. Catholic schools in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska recently collected nearly 170,000 diapers to donate to pregnancy centers. Our school regularly hosts bake sales and diaper drives. It also gives high school students opportunities to earn service hours by hosting diaper and baby item drives outside of grocery or big box stores. This is a quadruple win for the pro-life movement because it helps mothers materially, raises awareness of a pregnancy center’s presence in the community, shows that pro-life people help women to choose life, and unwittingly involves good-hearted shoppers in pro-life work.
7. Organize a spiritual adoption. A compelling pro-life activity that is growing in popularity in Catholic schools is spiritual adoption, whereby each student prays daily for an unknown baby whose life is endangered by abortion. Teachers begin the project in the beginning of the year and then instruct students on fetal development in real time throughout the year, holding a baby shower for items to donate to a pregnancy center just before summer break. Holy Heroes offers excellent resources for a Spiritual Adoption Prayer Adventure and other activities to involve kids in the pro-life movement.
8. Pray. Hopefully all Catholic schools are praying for an end to abortion. Is your school praying enough? Are prayers for the unborn a part of the Prayers of the Faithful at Mass? Do students and teachers pray a school-wide Chaplet of Divine Mercy or Rosary for the intentions of ending abortion and healing those harmed physically, emotionally and spiritually by it? My family is praying one additional St. Michael the Archangel prayer daily for the Supreme Court as they deliberate both the Mississippi and Texas laws that severely limit abortion. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas and of the unborn—don’t forget to pray for her intercession!
The next tragic anniversary of Roe vs. Wade is upon us this coming weekend, and there is some cause for hope that it will be its last. Back in 1973, the justices thought they would rule and pro-life people would accept their judgement and go away. Obviously, that has not happened for myriad reasons. The humanization of the unborn and the enthusiasm of young people to embrace respect for life have thwarted the pro-abortion movement. As Catholics invested in teaching our children what is Good, True, and Beautiful, let us prepare our students to lead others to appreciate the dignity of each human life, created in the image and likeness of God.
Holly M. Smith (right) became involved in the pro-life movement as a young person, serving as president of National College Students for Life while at Seattle University and relocating to Washington, DC to work at National Right to Life when she graduated. She left full-time pro-life work to be an at-home mom and also serves as PAC Chair for Virginia Society for Human Life (contributing to significant victories this past November). She lives in Manassas, Virginia, with her husband, Loren, and nine Smithlets, ages 17 to 6 months. Her school-aged children attend Holy Family Academy in Manassas.