Vicki Thorn, founder of the post-abortion ministry Project Rachel, is retiring. The ministry has been taken on by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (Photos courtesy Milwaukee Catholic Herald)

Karen Mahoney
Special to the Catholic Herald

Editor’s note: Vicki Thorn has presented nationally and internationally on her post-abortion ministry, Project Rachel. She was last in the Diocese of Superior conducting a two-day training session in 2013. Pro-life activist and filmmaker Jason Jones, who is referenced in the article, spoke at a fundraising banquet in Duluth in 2014.

In 1976, Vicki Thorn began serving as director of the Respect Life Office in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. She founded Project Rachel, a ministry focused on healing for post-abortive women, now an officially sanctioned ministry run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

On Monday, Nov. 30, Thorn retired as the executive director of the National Office of Post Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, located in the Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center, the position she has held for more than a decade.

The 2020 Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal recipient said she felt it was time to retire since the USCCB now handles Project Rachel and there are many other post-abortive ministries for men and women available within the church, including crisis pregnancy centers and other ministries.

“I planted the seeds in a lot of places and really at this point in my life and considering COVID restrictions and other things that were going on, there hasn’t been an opportunity to travel if somebody needed me.

Additionally, much of the information is available on the Internet; so I prayed about it and decided that this was as good a time as any to just kind of wrap things up,” she said. “I am leaving the mailbox open at the office for a year and I still have an email address; so people can contact me if they need to. We had actually become more of a consultative ministry in the last couple of years anyway.”

Thorn, a certified trauma counselor and spiritual director, founded Project Rachel in 1984 while working in the Respect Life Office. Since the first training workshop for a small group of attendees on Sept. 19, 1984, the ministry expanded to include the majority of dioceses across the United States and more than 25 additional countries around the world.

Thorn is the author of “Progetto Rachele, il volto della compassione” (“Project Rachel, The Face of Compassion”), published in 2009 by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, and is an internationally acclaimed speaker on the effects of abortion on women, men and families. With her husband, William (Bill), she was inducted in 2008 into the Pontifical Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. In 2009, she received the People of Life Award from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for her pro-life service to the Church, and in 2017, Pope Francis re-appointed her as a Corresponding Member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The highlight of Thorn’s years of ministry was an impromptu visit with Pope John Paul II while she and Bill were visiting in Rome with their family.

“Our youngest daughter was about 4 years old at the time and we had a private meeting with Pope John Paul II thanks to a priest friend who helped me start the ministry. He was also in Rome at the time and arranged the visit,” she said. “The pope gave us a blessing and told me that I was doing very important work. It was something I will never forget. We had all six kids with us and it was just unbelievable that it happened. We were reminiscing about it after his canonization, and I joked with my kids that they were blessed by a saint so that must make them a relic.”

Watching her Project Rachel ministry and later the work of the National Office of Post Abortion Reconciliation and Healing spread throughout the United States and to numerous countries was surprising to Thorn, who said her original plans were to begin a small ministry within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

“Because I am a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, it gave me access to some people that I would have never had access to otherwise,” she said. “It was an incredible gift from God to be able to do this ministry.”

One of the most surprising discoveries of Thorn’s research is the lack inclusion of men throughout the pregnancy and their woundedness when the pregnancy was aborted.

“All of the attention is on the woman. But in terms of biology, it really isn’t,” she said. “Fathers have biological changes about four weeks before the mom even knows she’s pregnant, by scent. He is connected with her in a very real way. We know men undergo physiological changes during the pregnancy. Everybody sort of discards that because we’re an abortion culture. It’s all about the woman, but he is part of this whole biology of bonding. I don’t recall when I came upon the research, but I did have knowledge of how men were touched by pregnancies because there were a couple of friends of mine who were the poster board for good fathers, and they were deeply touched by their wife’s pregnancies.”

With the emphasis from the Trump administration on the sanctity for the unborn, Thorne thinks that it is possible we might witness the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the near future.

“I am seeing more people who are adamantly pro-life, and I don’t even know how to say this, but they are determined to make a change and I think they are willing to do what needs to be done to overturn Roe v. Wade,” she said “I’m not sure if it will be done completely at one time as that all depends upon the courts, but I do think there will be a sort of eating away at it. If you look at it now, we have states that have abortions legal for all nine months and beyond, and then we have other states who have cut back on it almost entirely. For a long time, there was nothing going on but clearly people are not just accepting this as the law of the land.”

One area Thorn hopes to see grow is the emphasis on healing men from the wounds of abortion; men such as Jason Jones, who experienced the loss of his own child through a forced abortion. She has worked with him over the years and has an active ministry for helping men deal with the physiological and psychological wounds from losing a child.

“The average person doesn’t realize the man’s chemistry changes when the woman is pregnant, just as hers does, and they both carry the DNA of their child for life. If they have lost more than one child to abortion or miscarriage, it can be overwhelming to carry the cells from all of those deceased children,” she said. “The men get very angry and there are murder-suicides related to abortion – that kind of rage is very strong. I have run into fathers who have lost two, three or four children and not always with the same woman. There is a sense of overwhelming loss for so many children.”

Thorn, 71, plans to take a year off and then hopefully focus on getting a book published that she has just been working on. She and Bill plan to visit their children and 17 grandchildren located in Colorado, Minneapolis and Nebraska when they can, as well as do some overseas travel once the borders open and it is more conducive to travel.

“We are also blessed in that one of Bill’s brothers has a cabin in northern Wisconsin that he bought. He is a priest and, before that, he was involved in all kinds of things around the world; so he always lived with us when he came home,” she said. “He’s very bonded with our kids and they to him, so he bought this cabin that’s got four bedrooms and we enjoy getting together and just having fun. There’s room for everyone, a fireplace and a huge lot with nobody nearby, so we can watch the kids before they fall in the water. It’s a blessing for all of us to be together.”