Nearly 250 high school students from diocese among March for Life throng

The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign sent 28 students to Washington, D.C. Here they hold a Sabers for Life banner on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. (Provided photo)

Whether they got there by bus or by air, the nearly 250 high school students from the Diocese of Peoria were in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 19 to walk. And pray.

The group from Schlarman Academy in Danville are shown in their bright yellow ponchos supplied by members of St. Paul Parish. (Provided photo)

“I wanted to go on the March for Life in order to stand up for the dignity of each and every human life, both born and unborn,” said Isaac Rudolph, a senior at Peoria Notre Dame and one of a record 119 students the school sent to the 2018 march. (See photo below.)

“We called ourselves the Orange Ocean,” said Sister Sara Kowal, SCTJM, theology teacher and campus minister at Peoria Notre Dame who was one of 30 chaperones for the group. She was referring to the orange “Life Guard” vests that Notre Dame pilgrims wore to the march and related activities such as youth rallies, Masses, and touring.

“We have to order more every year,” said Sister Sara of the vests.


Indeed, the pilgrims from the diocese added a great deal of color and enthusiasm to the march as they joined a throng of more than 100,000 prayerfully recalling the 45th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion.

The 21 teens from Schlarman Academy in Danville, for example, wore bright yellow ponchos made by women from St. Paul Parish. The students signed them and will pass them on to those making the trip in future years.

“I went last year and there was no doubt in my mind I was going to go back again this year,” said Maddy Sermersheim, a senior at Schlarman.

Lizzie Morris, a senior at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, is pictured walking in the march with a group of 46 students from her school. (Provided photo)

Schlarman Spanish teacher Anne Sacheli, who accompanied the school’s pilgrims, called the Schlarman group “incredible.” The student-led meditations and comments after each day’s activities “gave optimism for the future of our faith,” she told The Catholic Post.

Other schools sending delegations and the number of student pilgrims included Bloomington Central Catholic (46); The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign (28); and Marquette Academy in Ottawa (21). The schools’ priest chaplains were among those traveling with the groups.

Alleman High School in Rock Island and St. Bede Academy in Peru had sent contingents to March for Life Chicago on Jan. 14. Coverage of that rally, which also drew participants from other schools and Newman Centers, appeared in the Jan. 21 issue of The Catholic Post.

“March for Life is a perfect way for Catholics to fulfill their role as missionaries of the church,” said Michael Lee, a senior at The High School of Saint Thomas More.

“I really felt like I was putting my faith and beliefs into action by helping defend unborn children,” agreed Lizzie Morris, a senior at Central Catholic. “I truly believe that we are the generation that will bring an end to abortion.”


Prior to boarding the bus for Washington, D.C., on Jan. 17, Father Corey Krengiel, chaplain, and the 21 students and five other adult chaperones from Marquette Academy in Ottawa posed for a group photo at the school. (Provided photo)

While the march was a major highlight of the diocesan pilgrimages to the nation’s capital, it was far from the only one.

The high school students met with U.S. representatives from their districts and toured sites including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Arlington National Cemetery, the Holocaust Museum, the St. John Paul II National Shrine, and more.

“We tried to squeeze in a lot during our little time,” said Sister M. Bridget Martin, FSGM, a history teacher at The High School of Saint Thomas More. She said that Father Matthew Hoelscher, school chaplain, took the Champaign group to St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where they visited with diocesan seminarians.

Prayer was emphasized throughout the pilgrimages. In addition to always praying for the victims of abortion, changes in law, and for women in need, the pilgrims frequently remembered those at home.

“We prayed for all of our teachers by name” at the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton,” said Sister Bridget.

“My most memorable moment from the pilgrimage was the Youth Rally and Mass,” said Central Catholic’s Lizzie Morris of the pre-march event that brought 18,000 to the Capital One Arena. “I was in awe to see so many young people passionate about the pro-life movement. There were a lot of great speakers and the homily given at Mass was very moving. They really got us excited to march!”


The diocesan pilgrims were present during an especially busy time in the nation’s capital. The Women’s March took place the following day, and the government shutdown took place that weekend. The Women’s March kept some groups from touring the monuments on the National Mall on Saturday, and the shutdown kept some from touring the White House.

Several pilgrims were grateful to President Donald Trump for addressing the March for Life. (See related story.)

“It was truly reassuring to have the leader of our country hold a kindhearted view towards life,” said Schlarman’s Michael Lee.

All who spoke with The Catholic Post said they are sharing their experiences with family and friends, and encouraged those who can attend the March for Life to consider doing so in future years.

“I had been wanting to go for multiple years but had avoided doing so due to conflicts with sports, school, and other commitments,” said Peoria Notre Dame’s Rudolph. “But this year I finally made going on the march a top priority, and I wish I would have done so sooner.

“It’s an awesome experience,” Rudolph continued, “and it’s a very important and effective way of communicating the pro-life message to not only our legislators, but also to our country as a whole.”

Peoria Notre Dame High School sent three buses filled with 119 student members of its Teens for Life group as well as 30 adult chaperones to the Jan. 19 March for Life in Washington, D.C., and related events. Here the group poses with signs before taking part in the march from the National Mall up Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court and Capitol Building. (Provided photo)


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