Francesca Sanderson of Ottawa to serve as a pro-life campus mentor at Loyola
OTTAWA — Chicago may be outside Francesca Sanderson’s comfort zone, but giving college students a better understanding of the sanctity of life at all stages isn’t. That’s why she is preparing to serve as a campus mentor for weDignify at Loyola University’s Lakeshore Campus, starting in August.
Formerly known as Students for Life of Illinois, weDignify was founded by John-Paul Deddens at the University of Illinois. It is based at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign, where Sanderson got involved while she was studying biology.
The daughter of Ed and Cynthia Sanderson of Ottawa, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in community health in May.
How you can help — In order to carry out her pro-life ministry, Francesca Sanderson needs the financial and prayerful support of monthly “mission partners.” These people, who become part of her “team,” may make gifts monthly, annually or as a one-time donation by visiting her online support site, weDignify.org/fsanderson.
“When I interned for Students for Life of Illinois, I remember the campus mentor at Loyola talking about how college was not the end of your pro-life journey. I’m not sure she meant it to be a profound statement, but it really stuck with me,” Sanderson said last week during a “support raising” visit to Peoria.
“I remember going to St. John’s Chapel and crying because I felt like there was a deeper call coming from God,” she explained. “But you know how it is — you push it away sometimes.”
When she finished her studies and was starting to attend career fairs and apply for jobs, God tugged at her heart again. So she applied to be a campus mentor with weDignify.
“It was different from any of the other jobs I was applying for,” said Sanderson, who was considering health care consulting and hospital administration. “Once I had my interviews and accepted the job, I have definitely had a sense of peace.”
FORMING PRO-LIFE LEADERS
The campus mentorship program of weDignify started in 2011, Sanderson told The Catholic Post.
In addition to the University of Illinois and Loyola University Chicago, weDignify has campus mentors at DePaul University in Chicago and Marquette University in Milwaukee.
“My job will be working with students in their own environment, whether that be at a coffee shop or the student union. I do have an official office, but most of my meetings will be where the students are,” she said.
The goal is to help them become “skilled, virtuous pro-life leaders.”
“It’s about working with the students and having the students be the ones who are influencing their peers and making an impact instead of us telling them what to do,” Sanderson, 22, emphasized. “The campus mentor is there to guide you and advise you.”
The other half of campus mentorship involves forming small groups — five to seven people — and presenting a pro-life “curriculum.” This setting will allow her to cater to the needs of each particular student, expanding on topics of concern to them, according to Sanderson.
This aspect of the program started in 2017 and has been well-received by the students, she said.
A LOVING APPROACH
Raised in a “very Catholic household,” Sanderson attended St. Columba School and Marquette High School in Ottawa, graduating in 2014. She went to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., while at Marquette and her mother would put a sign out for 40 Days 4 Life each October.
She said she took it for granted that everyone was pro-life, but discovered this was not the case when she arrived at the University of Illinois. Accepting the invitation to get involved in the pro-life club there helped her to find a community with the same values she had and her commitment evolved from there.
The change of name from Students for Life of Illinois to weDignify is important, Sanderson said.
“The way weDignify approaches the subject of abortion is a loving approach,” she said. An unplanned pregnancy “does not define you. We want you to be able to make the best of your situation and we’ll walk there with you. . . . You can do it.”
She noted that many women who had abortions said they wouldn’t have gone through with it if just one person had asked them to consider choosing life and offered encouragement.
SEEKS “MISSION PARTNERS”
In order to carry out her pro-life ministry, Francesca Sanderson needs the financial and prayerful support of monthly “mission partners.” These people, who become part of her “team,” may make gifts monthly, annually or as a one-time donation by visiting her online support site, weDignify.org/fsanderson.
“I’m dedicating the summer to this and then I can concentrate on my work with the students for the other nine months,” Sanderson said. “People are more generous than I ever thought possible.”
She knows that pro-life work can be difficult, but “you have more courage when there are all these people backing you.”