In the new year, thousands of pilgrims will descend on the nation’s capital to show their support for the value and dignity of all human life at the annual March for Life. Students traditionally lead the march down Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 2017 the March for Life will be led by students, faculty and staff of The Newman Guide–recommended University of Mary (UMary).
The Bismarck, N.D., college is currently preparing for what Anne Dziak, UMary alumna and the person in charge of organizing the seven buses of marchers heading to Washington, D.C., called “the huge honor” of being asked to lead the March.
Dziak was among the students who found themselves stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike after the 2016 March for Life. When a blizzard suddenly swept in, the bus transporting students, faculty and staff of the university was soon entrenched in snow. Riders waited on the turnpike for more than 24 hours. “Their story is now almost legendary, and it drew more awareness to this year’s March than anyone could have anticipated,” Monsignor James Shea, president of the university, told the newspaper of the Bismarck Diocese, the Dakota Catholic Action.
The experience of being stuck on the turnpike after the March “was amazing,” Dziak told The Cardinal Newman Society in an interview. In the past, Dziak explained, the March “hasn’t received a lot of media attention, and it was amazing to see how people followed along” with those who were snowed-in. The media attention the snow-bound pilgrims received was “helpful” Dziak said, “in the sense that it got the ‘why we’re marching’ out there in the media [and] showed the dedication of the students for this issue.” Because of the increased coverage, Dziak noted, more people saw the joy that marching in support of the value and dignity of life brought to the students.
Dziak told the Newman Society that the University of Mary was asked to lead the 2017 March for Life shortly after they finally made it back to North Dakota. Since accepting the invitation, the university has been preparing its students to take advantage of what Dziak called “a once in a lifetime experience” for students to “go with [their] university and be there on the forefront, leading hundreds of thousands of pro-life people from across America.”
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There have been various events on UMary’s campus in preparation for the March, including rallies to motivate students. According to Dziak, however, the students have not needed much encouragement. “It’s been easy from our end,” she said. “Students are excited and thrilled to have this opportunity to lead the March for Life.” The student organization Collegians for Life has also hosted events throughout the semester, including one called “Grounds for Belief” where the film “The Drop Box,” a documentary about a Korean pastor who adopts children abandoned as newborns by their parents, was screened and discussed.
Dziak has planned another event for just before the contingent leaves for the March that will include speakers to educate the participants on the pro-life issue. Students from several North Dakota high schools will be joining the university’s bus convoy and will be invited to participate in the final rally.
In addition to leading the March, the University of Mary was asked to allow a student to speak at the March for Life rally. Katrina Gallic, a senior, will address the hundreds of thousands of March for Life attendees.
Including the high school students and the students, faculty, staff and families of the University of Mary, there are over 600 total participants associated with the university’s group. In 2016, the university bused 100 students to Washington, D.C. According to Father Robert Shea, chaplain of the university, over half of the students signed up during the first week the registration for the March was open.
Fr. Shea told the Newman Society that “especially for the University of Mary, life is at the very heart of the university’s mission, which is forming the whole person for the whole of their [lives] and to be engaged in the whole of society.” The university’s participation in the March for Life, “being able to speak and give witness to the issue of life,” is an important component in student formation and allows students to take part in one of the most important issues of our time, Fr. Shea explained. He further explained that the goal of the university’s pro-life education is to encourage students to “see everything through the prism of life and respect for life,” and know that “life is a great gift.”
Dziak also noted the importance of knowing about and having experience with the pro-life issue. “Understanding what the pro-life issues are and realizing the sanctity and dignity of human life” is necessary, Dziak explained, “so we can defend our stance of why we’re pro-life and why we’re traveling halfway across the country to stand up for this issue.” The university’s offer of the opportunity to participate in the March for Life helps students “explain [the pro-life issue] to their peers and anyone they encounter after college, like in workplace or to family members.”
Last year, students from the Newman Guide–recommended Catholic University of America were asked to lead the March for Life. In previous years, almost every Catholic college recommended in The Newman Guide as sent students to the March, along with a number of high schools on the Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll.