Esther Gagliardi, a student at UW-Madison whose family belongs to St. Patrick’s in Hudson, participates in the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco in January. Walk for Life West Coast began in 2005 with 7,000 marchers. In 2022, more than 15,000 gathered. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Marching for life “has sort of become a tradition in our family,” said Esther Gagliardi of Hudson. She was supposed to participate as a high school senior in 2021, but the March for Life live event was canceled due to COVID-19.

The youngest of the Gagliardi children, Esther’s mother Barbara Gagliardi has been taking her children to March for Life events for the last 20 years.

Mother and daughter attended the 2022 Walk for Life West Coast in January in San Francisco. While they knew the Supreme Court’s decision would be coming months later, neither could know for sure that Roe v. Wade would be overturned.

“My favorite part of the event was probably the Mass before we started marching,” Esther commented. “It was a beautiful church and getting to meet some of the people who have been marching since day one, such as Fr. Pavone, was an absolute pleasure. They were so welcoming and wonderful to listen to.”

Gagliardi said the walk itself was short yet powerful and that she is grateful for the experience and, “the great people fighting for life in our country.

“Many people of different backgrounds coming together to fight for the lives of those who cannot fight for their own. A voice for the voiceless,” she said.

Gagliardi’s older sister, Susan Gotrik, marched in Washington, D.C., with the National March for Life in 2005.

“The people on the march were zealous voices for the unborn,” she said. She remembers joining in the chants with fellow marchers – “Hey, Hey! Ho, Ho! Roe v. Wade has got to go!”

In her experience as a high schooler, “the fire of the Holy Spirit” was moving throughout the different groups there… It was wonderful to be surrounded by prayer and people hopeful for change.”

“After the March came the bitter realization over the next two decades that the culture was still headed in the wrong direction: Redefining marriage and gender, extending abortion beyond birth, etc.,” Gotrik said.

She returned wanting to “do something, but unsure of how to proceed. I think I still feel that way,” Gotrik shared, adding that she and husband Kevin have financially supported or volunteered at different crisis pregnancy centers over the years.

A mother of six children, she commented, “It’s still difficult to live in a society where placing limits on abortion makes so many people literally terrified. I hope that raising my kids to embrace God’s plan for marriage and family life, acknowledging the difficulties of pregnancy and childbirth, but not fearing it, will be enough. I’ve been blessed with parents who witness generously to the challenges of child-rearing.”

A prayer box that she gifted her oldest daughter with this year on the anniversary of her baptism reads “Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.” It also quotes the Scripture from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

With the legal landscape changed by this recent decision of the Supreme Court in the Dobbs vs. Jackson case, Gotrik is again reminded of St. Teresa of Calcutta’s cutting words, “If you allow abortion to be done in your country then you are a poor country, because you are afraid of the child. You are afraid of the unborn child. The child must die. You are afraid!”

Gagliardi, about 15 years young than her sister, feels strongly about acting in ways that can help bridge the “divide between pro-choice and pro-life,” she said.

“I know in Madison there were quite a few protests,” she spoke of her own experience. “I was around many pro-life students who were allowing themselves to become upset and angry with the protestors. This is the opposite of what Jesus teaches us, to love our enemies. “If you disagree with someone, especially on a moral basis, casting hate and judgment towards them will do nothing but cause more pain and hurt.”

She has no doubt fellow pro-life peers will “receive persecution this coming school year for their joy in the overturning of Roe v. Wade,” but adds, “That is not necessarily a bad thing if we combat it with the love and grace of God. Only through his love can we show them the truth.

“Having peaceful conversations with those who see the world differently than you can be a great way to show them you care about them and their soul, especially if they are a close friend,” she said.

Gagliardi feels listening and being honest when unsure how to respond to an opposing statement or curious question are important: “Keep searching for answers and you will find all that the Catholic Church has done to help mothers in need.”

Gagliardi concluded, “Most of all, keep praying for the souls who have lost or not yet found the love of God and are fighting for the rights of the individual’s freedom rather than the freedom of one community of love.”