Tom Kolar, Religious Studies teacher at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Olney, Md.
If Tom Kolar was not teaching religious studies and coordinating the Students for Life group at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Md., the passionate pro-life advocate would be working somewhere in the movement.
“What keeps me going, what I think keeps any pro-life advocate going, is thinking about the actual children who are in the world now because of the work you do,” he said.
Kolar’s own religious studies as a teen played an important role in his faith formation and pro-life values, sparking in him a desire to pass both onto others.
“This is a cause I feel passionately about,” he said. “Being involved in the student club gives me the opportunity to do advocacy work and be part of the pro-life cause. This is the best way I can be involved in the overall movement.”
Kolar said he constantly meets young pro-life students who are committed to ending abortion and fighting for life. Their teenage passion and enthusiasm, he said, is generally unencumbered by the “stuff” adults allow to limit their time and energy to engage.
But what stops the teens from getting involved is a lack of knowledge of how to engage as well as underestimating the power they have to bring about change. While recent political movements led by teens from across the country have shown America’s youth that they too can make a difference, Kolar said he finds many still feel that until they are able to vote, there is little if anything they can do but rail against the injustices they encounter.
“I tell them, ‘You may be 14 years-old but you can be doing things,’” he said.
To provide students with opportunities to get active, Kolar regularly schedules speakers to talk to the club, often offering students service hours for attending.
“This [role] puts me in a position where I can share the wisdom I have with them and can hopefully help to solidify that belief into action,” he said. “Teens, in my experience, when they are passionate about something, are passionate about it in such a serious way that they can find that energy and find that time much more easily. As long as they get advice on how to channel that passion, they can be extraordinarily effective in political advocacy.”
He also organizes a Youth Life Conference — a one-day event for students that features workshops on life issues, an exhibitor hall and mass — and coordinates an annual drive to collect supplies for area pregnancy centers – an event he said is aimed at being a living witness that pro-life advocacy doesn’t end at birth, but also includes helping women facing crisis pregnancies.
On Friday, Kolar will help lead dozens of students from Good Counsel to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. And in March, his students will attend the Maryland March for Life in Annapolis.
Teaching at a school in a traditionally progressive area of Maryland means that not every student who comes through Kolar’s classroom is passionate for life. But among those who are not, many are passionate for human rights and dignity. For those students, Kolar isn’t trying to change their political identities, but rather open their minds to the arguments, logic and humanity behind the pro-life movement.
“With a lot of people, their opinion on abortion is determined by whatever their political identification is, not necessarily out of a passionate belief or careful consideration of the issue,” he said. “I think with young people, they are more open to seeing abortion not as a conservative or right-wing issue, but they are open to the argument that this is a human rights and human dignity issue.”
Despite the polarized, binary and partisan nature of life in national and even state-wide politics, Kolar said the issue is actually more complex and he works to help his students see the issue independent of politics.
“People from across the political spectrum can get involved in and advocate for the dignity of all human life,” he said. “I hope that the work we do as a club can bear witness to the fact that this is not a right-wing or left-wing issue, this is a human dignity issue. I hope that the students of this school go out into the world knowing that this issue is messier and more complex and less partisan than they encounter in general conversation.”
Regardless of political identity, going to the marches for life helps students have a sense of belonging in the pro-life movement.
“It can feel like the extreme pro-choice position is the norm,” he said “But going to the March and seeing thousands of people who believe like you believe, that is an incredibly heartening experience.”
Kolar hopes his students leave Good Counsel not quite fitting into either of the two major political parties and prepared to actively question the assumptions of what life is and who is pro-life.
“I hope they go into the world and hear people talking as if pro-life is an inherently conservative or Republican or right-wing position they draw on the experiences of being a student here and say ‘That is not necessarily so,’”he said.