Big event attracts youth from small parishes

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Parishioners Rita Mara, Regina Strenke, Elizabeth Arcand and Jordan Sandberg from St. John Parish, Clear Lake, participated in the annual March for Life Jan. 22 in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy the Novak family)
Parishioners Rita Mara, Regina Strenke, Elizabeth Arcand and Jordan Sandberg from St. John Parish, Clear Lake, participated in the annual March for Life Jan. 22 in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy the Novak family)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald Staff

Hundreds of thousands of marchers converged on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to affirm the most basic human right — the right to life — on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Among them were youths, chaperones and religious leaders from the Diocese of Superior.

“We had a great time,” said Megan Noll, diocesan director of marriage, family and youth programs.

Traveling with a group from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, the Superior contingent included Noll; Lynn Tracy, who works at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior; and youths and chaperones. Noll was unsure how many people from the Diocese of Superior attended — not all of them traveled with the group — but about 200 attendees from both dioceses rode the bus.

Snowstorms and cold weather closed down much of Washington Jan. 22, but Noll felt the dampness of last year’s cold, rainy weather was more difficult to endure. She was particularly impressed by the participation of small, rural parishes this year.

Julie Novak, religious education coordinator at St. John Parish, Clear Lake, and her son, Joseph, and daughter, Maria, braved a snowy D.C. for the march; joining them were several others from the parish; a friend from Somerset; girls’ chaperone Elizabeth Arcand; and Novak’s brother-in-law Lorne Brusletten, who chaperoned the boys.

“It was awesome,” Novak said. “They were really inspired by it.”

The idea to participate came up at faith formation one night, and “kind of just snowballed from there,” Novak said. She credits her niece with galvanizing others to join the march, but the teen unfortunately suffered a head injury at school.

“She was the person who kind of got it going, and then she wasn’t able to go,” Novak added. Friends and family continue to pray for her recovery.

As the group planned their trip and held fundraisers to raise $400 per person, Novak was impressed by “the huge part the Knights of Columbus play.” Theirs is a newer parish cluster — the Knights don’t even know many of the teens personally, according to Novak — but they were major supporters.

“It’s a huge presence at the march,” she said of the fraternal organization. “The KCs from our cluster were really supportive of our kids.”

By characterizing the trip as a pilgrimage, Fr. John Long, pastor of St. John Parish, also brought perspective to the journey and unity to the group.

“We just think we’re doing this march, but it is a pilgrimage, and we need to pray,” Novak said.
Before the march, Arcand, who volunteered to be a chaperone, described herself as “pro-life, but ….”
“I considered myself pro-life,” she explained, “but was not about to shout it out off the rooftops because I didn’t feel able to defend my beliefs without involving my faith and God.”

The journey filled Arcand with a fresh sense of mission and new-found strength.

“This trip provided so much clarity on what it means to be human and living at its most basic, even scientific, definition; and why the rights of pre-born humans are just as, if not more, important as the rights of those blessed to be on this earth already.”

Novak’s children also felt moved by the experience.

“It was so inspiring to be among pro-life celebrities of the movement, sharing their stories and how they found the courage to rise up to fight against the culture of death,” Joseph said. “It is hard to put into words, but their stories were so moving, so powerful, it made me feel like I need to, and can, do so much more in the pro-life cause.”

His sister hopes to return.

“It was a privilege and honor to represent my parish at St. John’s in small-town Clear Lake, but when we got there it became more evident that we were representing so much more,” said Maria. “It would be awesome to go back again!”

Novak encourages other religious education leaders, even in small parishes, to give students the opportunity to experience national Catholic events. She was gratified to see so much engagement from the parish.

“The people just really came for us,” she continued. “Not just going and coming for breakfast … talking to the youth and telling them they are really proud of them,”

The teens are giving a presentation on their trip Feb. 16.

“I’m excited about that, too,” Novak added.

Her daughter’s friend has gone to the March for Life for the past two years, and Novak hopes her children see it as “something that will grow and develop in your life, not just a one-time event.”

“It is a movement,” she added. “It is big.”

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