The Pro-Life Generation: How one Montgomery County teacher is showing teens that Life is more complex than left or right
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.
The 439th session of the Maryland General Assembly got underway on Wednesday, January 9. The session will last for 90 days, concluding on April 8.
The Maryland Catholic Conference staff will pursue numerous issues during the next 90 days, including issues of life, education, justice, and human rights.
Nearly 1/3 of the legislators who took the oath of office on Wednesday are new and the Conference has been working diligently to meet with and get to know the new members and leadership.
"We expect this to be an extremely busy legislative session for Maryland," said Jennifer Briemann, executive director for the Conference. "We welcome each legislator to Annapolis and look forward to a productive 90 days as we work to protect the vulnerable in our state: the poor, the unborn, immigrant communities, the elderly, persons with disability, the incarcerated, the sick, and victims of violence and trafficking."
To stay up-to-date on the Conference's work throughout the session, be sure to register for the Catholic Advocacy Network.
The Maryland Catholic Conference is pleased to welcome Patrick Hogan (left) and Cindy Tchuenkam (right) to our team as our 2019 session interns.
Both Cindy and Patrick are seniors at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, MD.
Patrick, a native of Pennsylvania, is majoring in Political Science. Cindy, who grew up in Cameroon, West Africa and moved to Maryland in 2008, is also a Political Science major.
"We are excited to have Cindy and Patrick joining us in Annapolis for the session," said Garrett J. O'Day, deputy director of the Conference. "Our interns are invaluable members of our team during these busy 90 days, and we are looking forward to working with both of them."
Each year the Conference offers internship opportunities for college students. To learn more about interning with the Conference, email Chris Santo at email@example.com.
Registration is now open for the Maryland Catholic Conference's annual event, Catholics in Annapolis, which will be held on February 21 starting at 3 p.m.
Each year, the Maryland Catholic Conference welcomes hundreds of Catholics from across Maryland to the capital to meet face-to-face with legislators and share the Church's position on important issues.
For the first time, this year's event will kick off with the prayer of the Rosary for our elected leaders, led by Maryland's bishops. Also new this year, inspiring speakers will address attendees to ignite passion for the issues.
"Our goal is to bring the event back to the core of our faith with the Rosary and to light a fire in the hearts of those who come so they can go share that passion on these issues with their elected leaders," said Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Conference. "We want each person to leave inspired and continue to be engaged on the issues."
Among the key issues Catholics will be asked to advocate on this session are a proposed abortion rights constitutional amendment, securing scholarships for low-income students, stopping the legalization of assisted suicide, and protecting human rights.
"This summer, Maryland's House Speaker said he would propose an amendment that would enshrine the so-called right to an abortion in our state's Constitution. As it stands, Maryland already has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the nation and this effort would only waste critical state resources, diverting time and attention away from issues that our state needs to address," said Therese M. Hessler, associate director of Respect for Life. "This proposal threatens the value of Life in Maryland. If passed, it would make it virtually impossible to pass any future legislation that would sanction protection for our most vulnerable citizens: the unborn."
The Conference is encouraging Catholics to join them in Annapolis on February 21 and stand up for life, justice and human rights.
To reserve your spot today, visit www.catholicsinannapolis.org or call 410-269-1155. A full agenda for the day and more info is available online.
It’s not clear exactly how many local Latino families the Our Lady of Guadalupe Ministry at St. Mary’s Parish in Annapolis has served since it began two years ago.
But if director Tamara Beigel had to put a number on it: “Several hundred,” she said.
What began as mostly legal aid to keep local Latino families together has grown to a full parish ministry providing everything from legal services and transportation to medical appointments, to prayer, a youth group, weekly bags of food, diapers, school supplies and clothing. This Christmas, the clothing committee, which operates a donation center out of a volunteer's home, gave each member of 65 families clothes, shoes and blankets.
“They are the most beautiful people and have such beautiful faith,” Beigel said.
Most of the families served by the ministry came to Annapolis from El Salvador to escape violence. Many are undocumented.
“Every single one has a story,” Beigel said, detailing some of the horrors past clients have faced in their journey to Annapolis. “It’s not an easy decision to risk life and death to come here.”
Once here, the families often face issues with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and those that have been torn apart by the immigration process, often struggle to afford basic necessities like food, diapers and transportation.
Each family has different needs and meeting those needs has enabled the ministry to continually expand. While it may not always be immediately clear how the ministry will meet those needs, Beigel said she prays to Our Lady to intercede and each time God has provided.
“When there’s a problem or a need, I give it to her and suddenly the right person with the right talents comes about,” she said. “We really are here to serve her vulnerable children and we’re taking our cues from her.”
Currently, the ministry has a diverse group of about 90 volunteers that include members of St. Mary’s Parish, local attorneys, immigrants and community members, like Joanne O’Keeffe, who said she heard about the cause and wanted to help.
Joanne O’Keeffe, a volunteer with the Our Lady of Guadalupe Ministry at St. Mary’s Parish in Annapolis cleans donated strawberries. The berries were distribute to more than 30 local Hispanic families as part of the ministry’s weekly food delivery.
O’Keeffe was among the volunteers who come on Friday afternoons to portion, pack and transport food for the families. In late 2018, the ministry was feeding 32 families.
“For some, this is the only food they will have this week,” Beigel said.
As she portioned fresh lettuce, volunteer Marge Frankovich said providing food to the families is “a labor of love.”
Along with lettuce, Frankovich, O’Keeffe and about five other volunteers packed bags with tomatoes, bananas, strawberries, potatoes, two loaves of French bread, egg noodles, rice noodles and canned fruit — all generously donated by Bel Air Produce and Graul’s Market. St. Mary’s generously offers the ministry use of the Carroll House to pack the food each Friday.
Beigel said each volunteer with the food committee will come at least once a month to help pack and distribute food. But some give their time every week, like Nelson Peña, who coordinates a group of men to deliver the food to the families every Friday evening.
“After a long week, these men will work to deliver food, sometimes being out ‘till well past 9 p.m.,” Beigel said.
But the men don’t just deliver the food and leave. Beigel said they will check on the families, ensure each family is OK and report back to Beigel with any additional needs the family might have.
“We serve the whole family,” she said. That includes children.
Thanks to donations primarly from Walk the Walk Foundation in Millersville, the ministry provides diapers, baby wipes, and baby food for 25 infants and toddlers. And it’s starting a youth group for the teens of the families.
“We realized these teens need to feel valued and integrated in the community,” Beigel said. “We want them to have dreams and visions of their future.” Beigel said she has volunteers who are artists, musicians and dancers that are working with the teens.
The families served by the ministry are both grateful and learning that there are those in the community they can trust, Beigel said.
“They feel they can trust us, that we are a place they can go when these issues arise,” she said “If not for us, they’d likely have no place to go.”
On a chilly December morning, as the streets lay puddled with rain from yet another downpour, about 150 of residents from the Millhill neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore queued outside Saint Benedict Church.
Each was there to pick up a turkey, bags of groceries — filled with bread, butter, eggs, fruit vegetables, and boxed and canned food — toys, clothes and books for their children, as well as blankets, coats and sweaters for the coming winter. Every item was donated to or purchased by the parish.
“For some of these children, they don’t have a whole lot to smile about,” said Mary Karpers-Burke. “If we can put a little twinkle in their eye, it’s well worth it.”
The Millhill neighborhood has changed significantly since Karpers-Burke took over the Christmas ministry at Saint Benedict in the mid-1990s, she said. Hit hard by the recession, the working-class community has seen increased turnover in residents, many who struggle to afford the added expenses of Christmas.
“We try to ease that burden for the families,” she said. “The goal of Saint Benedicts is to help people, to be of assistance to families.”
“There’s such a need for it,” said Grace Anne Boettinger, who recently took over leadership of the ministry. “To give to others, that’s the greater gift.”
For 22 years, Karpers-Burke ran Benedict’s Pantry, the parish’s monthly food pantry, as well as it’s Christmas parish outreach ministry. She is still involved today.
“This is our own way of sharing Christmas,” Karpers-Burke said.
Exactly how many years the parish has provided for its neighbors at Christmas is unclear, but pastor Fr. Paschal Morlino estimates the ministry has been active for more than 30 years.
Christmas at Saint Benedict starts in August when volunteers with the ministry begin to collect donations.
In the fall, community members can sign up to be a recipient of the food and gifts, which are distributed around mid-December each year.
Boettinger said the parish asks community members to sign-up so that it can collect the age, size and wish-list for the children, and so it can ensure that those who come in December to receive the donated items live in the community.
Each child age 15 and younger, receives a gift that includes toys, a book as well as clothes.
This Christmas, the parish ensured that gifts were under the tree for more than 200 children in the community.
A freezer at Saint Benedict Church in Baltimore is stuffed full of turkeys. The turkeys were distributed in December to about 150 families in the Millhill neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore as part of the parish’s Christmas ministry.
Ensuring that there is enough food and gifts for each family is something that Boettinger said she often thinks about.
“Mary always tells me ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry. Just trust in God,’” Boettinger said. “I worry just a little.”
Just a few weeks ago, she said they were short on turkeys and it was unclear how they would afford the 20 more they needed.
“I told her [Boettinger] ‘You’ll get the turkeys, they’ll come,'” Karpers-Burke said. “You have to believe that God provides. We’re doing the right thing.”
That afternoon a man called and asked what he could do to help. She told him they needed 20 turkeys. That week, 25 turkeys arrived, she said.
“God provides,” she said. “He truly, truly does provide.”
Boettinger said Saint Benedict also works with five sister parishes that help supply clothes, donations, gifts and volunteers.
In addition to gifts and food, the parish also provides blankets, coats and sweaters, which individuals can shop for on pickup day.
Blankets, sweaters and coats were a recent addition to the ministry, after the parish learned how many in the community were struggling to stay warm.
When pickup is over, Karpers-Burke said she marvels at the blessings the parish was able to provide.
“Look what we’ve done and how blessed we’ve been to be able to do this,” she said. “That truly is the spirit of Christmas.”
If any coats and sweaters remain after Christmas, Boettinger said the parish opens its doors to the community again in January to allow them to pick up additional items to keep warm throughout the winter.