By Dave Jolivet
EAST FREETOWN — Nothing ever gets done in this world by waiting for someone else to do it. Keeping with that philosophy, a handful of faithful from St. John Neumann Parish in East Freetown decided to venture into new waters and develop a parish Pro-Life group, not with a limited agenda, but with a Pro-Life perspective in all aspects of life.
Becoming active in several 40 Days For Life campaigns, some St. John Neumann parishioners, including Colette Costa, gave much thought to creating a Pro-Life ministry in their parish. The thought process led to action, which then led to the spawning of the Circle of Life Ministry (CLM) in the fall of 2019.
“The beginning of Circle of Life Ministry (CLM) actually started in our Sojourner evangelization group,” Costa told The Anchor. “At the time our leader was Lenny LeBeau who is a very Pro-Life advocate. He spoke about abortion and the fight to end abortions often. A few of us from that group decided to take part in the 40 Days For Life campaign and began praying outside the Four Women’s health center abortion clinic at 150 Emory Street in Attleboro, on Saturday mornings.
“Karen Howard then spoke to our pastor, Father Gregory Mathias, about starting a Pro-Life group in the parish.
“An email was sent out to see if there was interest. I did email Father Greg and was asked if I would lead the group. I told him I had never done anything like that in my life and it was way out of my comfort range. Long story short, this group took on a life of its own.”
“The Circle of Life Ministry was conceived primarily to keep the serious Pro-Life issues in the consciousness of parishioners,” Father Mathias told The Anchor. “The primary task is to alert people to the ongoing threats to the unborn in the forms of radical legislation in our state and at the federal level. The ministry is also concerned with issues concerning Catholic bioethics, and the pope’s call to care for the planet God has given us as our home.”
In the fall of 2019, unknowingly the cusp of the COVID-19 pandemic which would basically shut down the world in a few months, the group started meeting.
“We came up with an agenda of what we would like to do,” explained Costa. “We also had two showings of ‘Unplanned,’ the movie about Abby Johnson [a former clinic director at a Planned Parenthood location, who became a Pro-Life advocate after witnessing an abortion]. We continued participating in 40 Days For Life, Lenten and fall campaigns; and the USCCB program ‘Walking With Moms In Need,’ a program where the bishops encourage women with an unplanned or difficult pregnancy to turn to the churches first instead of the abortion clinics.”
“I really think our CLM could serve as a model for other parishes who want to begin a Pro-Life ministry, for our group is concerned with abortion and Project Rachel, and so much more,” Howard told The Anchor. “From the beginning we wanted to cover a number of life issues, from abortion to euthanasia to helping moms in need or crisis, to legislative action, to general bioethics education, adoption and foster care, taking care of the planet as envisioned in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, the death penalty and prayer and witness.”
After a brief period of activities, CLM had to shut down because of the pandemic.
But prior to the shutdown, the group hosted an information table on foster care and adoption resources. “We made some good contacts with state and local foster care and adoption agencies,” Howard told The Anchor. “Though we got all the necessary permissions for representatives to man those tables, with the pandemic still in force, we decided just to offer the info without person-to-person contact. Some people did pick up information — we have a lot of young families in our parish.”
Eventually, earlier this year, there appeared a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel and the group, when possible and following all of the pandemic protocols, started to meet again.
There is a core group of five with another nine or 10 who meet when they’re able.
“We got back to work with the projects we had already initiated,” said Costa. “In January we had a diaper and wipes collection for two weekends.” The parish response was very generous. “We were able to make donations to a few women’s health centers — Abundant Hope in Attleboro, Your Options in Fall River, and Birthright in Taunton and New Bedford” Costa continued. “This is when I learned Birthright in New Bedford had to close.
“I started volunteering at the Taunton Birthright and have been trying to help Birthright in New Bedford find a place to re-open. Ann Tremblay, who has been involved in Birthright for many years, and I have been working and have been unsuccessful.”
“Colette has been working tirelessly trying to locate a space in the New Bedford Area to house Birthright of New Bedford since they lost their office space this year,” added Howard. “That is a dire need, but as of yet, there is no space available.” Howard has made several contacts, including emails, with no responses.
If any reader knows of a possible space for Birthright of New Bedford, they are encouraged to contact Colette at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since many things have opened up again, including weekend Masses, the group has already had several activities and have more planned.
Members of the group participated in the 40 Days For Life campaign during this past Lent. “One of the highlights there, was on the last Saturday, the priests from the New Bedford chapel said Mass at the park where we prayed and witness to life near the Attleboro abortion clinic and then had a procession with the Eucharist praying for life, right across from that clinic,” said Howard.
In May, CLM hosted a poster contest for children, teaching them the basics of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, and taking care of the planet.
CLM members sold roses at all Masses on Mother’s Day weekend, with the proceeds going for the benefit of pregnancy clinics.
Each month the group selects a column written by Anchor columnist and bioethicist, Father Tad Pacholczyk. The group makes copies of the columns and leaves them in the church narthex. The month’s topic is announced in the Sunday bulletin. The group has a table set up in the narthex with a poster board that lists the calendar and members, next to a table with hand-outs like Father Tad’s article.
Costa, Howard and the CLM members like the concept of being proactive in all areas of Pro-Life, not just certain aspects.
“It is more like Cardinal [Joseph] Bernadin’s ‘seamless garment’ idea. Not everyone in the group is involved in every activity either,” said Howard. “If one wants to work on ‘x’ for instance, one could actually go out and find a few more folks who wanted to help with ‘x’. That has given us some more flexibility and an opportunity to involve more parishioners.”
It’s not always easy to start a new project and then maintain it — especially when it’s interrupted by a year-long pandemic. But if one wants something bad enough, one will work even harder to achieve it. The faithful members of the Circle of Life Ministry at St. John Neumann Parish in East Freetown, want to promote a culture of life very badly, and it shows — and countless individuals will benefit from that tenacity.