Catholic school students attend annual Pro-Life Mass
Pro-Life essayists, advocates honored with awards

By Kenneth J. Souza

NORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. — Five diocesan youth and the former diocesan director of the Pro-Life Apostolate were all recently honored at the annual Pro-Life Mass celebrated by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., at St. Julie Billiart Parish in North Dartmouth on March 25.

The yearly celebration, organized by the Pro-Life Apostolate of the Fall River Diocese, is a unique opportunity to recognize those who dedicate their lives to advancing the Pro-Life cause and promoting the Culture of Life.

“Our coming together here today, is our way of saying to the young people in our Catholic schools that life is the most precious thing that any person can ever have,” Bishop da Cunha said in his homily. “But not just my life, the life of every person God created. When we lose that sense of the dignity and respect for life, we’re all going to pay some price; we’re all going to suffer.”


For this year’s Pro-Life Essay Contest, students in the diocesan Catholic schools were asked to write on the theme: “Every Life Cherished, Chosen, Sent.”

The first-place essayist in the high school category was Giovanna Lemos, an 11th-grade student at St. John Paul II High School and a member of St. Francis Xavier Parish, both in Hyannis.

Lemos wrote about her brother Felipe, who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome shortly after his birth, and how he “opened my eyes to the gift of life.”

Second-place honors in the high school division went to Kylie Hyde, a 10th-grade student at St. John Paul II High School in Hyannis and a member of Christ the King Parish in Mashpee.

Hyde similarly cited the example of her baby sister, Lily, who was diagnosed with Chromosome Deletion, and how she considers her sibling “the most beautiful little sister anyone could ask for.”

In the Junior High School category, the first-place essay was written by Brendan Resende, an eighth-grade student at Holy Name School and a member of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, both in Fall River.

Resende noted how Massachusetts has some of the most stringent animal cruelty laws, and yet legislators are saying “it’s OK to perform an abortion in the ninth month.”

Second-place honors went to Veronica Medeiros, an eighth-grader at Holy Name School in Fall River.

Medeiros discussed how she has been inspired by the example of Frank Stephens, a man with Down Syndrome who has “committed himself to defend the unborn lives of people with Down Syndrome.”

The John Cardinal O’Connor Pro-Life Awards are given annually to one adult and one youth who have worked to promote and support the Pro-Life effort.

This year, Bishop Connolly High School student Sonja Morin, class of 2020, received the Pro-Life Apostolate Youth Award. Morin’s spirit and passion for the Pro-Life movement has made her a student leader at Bishop Connolly as well as a Pro-Life advocate in the Greater Fall River community. At Bishop Connolly, she founded the Cougars for Life Club, a Pro-Life student group dedicated to promoting education and advocacy for the dignity of the human person. 

Morin also has dedicated her time to educating her peers on important issues in the Pro-Life movement by creating and giving presentations to her classmates at Connolly. In the community, Morin is a member of Massachusetts Citizens for Life and is involved in the Respect for Life group and pastoral council at her home parish of Holy Name in Fall River.

The adult Cardinal O’Connor Award was given to Marian Desrosiers, former director of the Pro-Life Apostolate and Project Rachel in the Fall River Diocese.

“For 25 years Marian has spearheaded all aspects of the Pro-Life Apostolate and Project Rachel,” said Jean Arsenault, who worked alongside Desrosiers for many years. “At Cardinal O’Malley’s behest and with her own hard work and dedication, the March for Life in Washington, D.C. became a reality in our diocese. And over the years, this diocese has sent thousands of students and their chaperones to this national, important event.”

Desrosiers, who is now director of advancement at Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River, was honored and humbled with the award.

“To be recognized for my years of service to the Pro-Life Apostolate was a moment of humility, strong emotions and gratefulness,” she told The Anchor. “During the Mass, I prayed for all of those who have and continue to fight tirelessly for the Sacredness and dignity of all human life — the unnamed heroes of yesterday and today. I gained strength and hope listening to the next Pro-Life generation speak truth from the altar and share stories of love from their hearts. I prayed for my husband, Joe, and my family who lovingly and tirelessly supported and encouraged me at every moment along the way.”

Desrosiers said as she accepted the award from Bishop da Cunha, “I carried in my heart all of who have suffered because of the tragedy of abortion and the unborn who are not with us.”

She expressed thanks to all who have supported the Pro-Life Apostolate over the years, especially Bishop da Cunha, Bishop George W. Coleman, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, and all the diocesan clergy, employees, parishioners, educators and youth.

“Be assured of my thankfulness and continued prayers,” she added. “May all of us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, ‘renew the face of the earth.’

“To my family at the Pro-Life Apostolate who will continue to carry on rebuilding the Culture of Life and love — you have my admiration, thankfulness and firm belief that God has chosen wisely.”

2019 Pro-Life Mass Winning Essays

First Place, High School: Giovanna Lemos
Grade 11 - St. John Paul II High School, Hyannis

This year’s essay theme is “Every Life Cherished, Chosen, Sent.” What strikes me about this theme is that it couldn’t be more true. Every life is precious and has been planned by God Himself. Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born I set you apart.” When first hearing the theme, I knew that this would be the perfect year to share the story of my brother, Felipe.

During his earliest stages in the womb, his stomach was not developing properly, and because of this, my parents were being constantly asked and even encouraged to consider abortion before it’s too late. My parents knew that, regardless of the child’s condition, they would keep him, no matter what; because God had chosen him to be in our lives. God has a plan for everyone. It’s shocking to see that just because the fetus wasn’t considered “perfect,” the doctors assumed it was right to simply get rid of the child.

Shortly after his birth, my mother received the news that he had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome. As the doctor was leaving the room, she turned to my mother and said, “I’m so sorry.” My mother looked at her and replied, “Sorry? For what?” This was the last thing my mother needed to hear from a medical “professional.” Instead of congratulating our family and giving us hope for this next chapter in our lives, the Ob-Gyn felt sorry for us, for providing a life for someone she saw as imperfect and disabled.

After his birth, my brother needed a small, yet risky procedure done to his heart to detect what was wrong with it. After the procedure had begun, my mother walked to a store to get a magazine, to help take her mind off of everything. She came across one on the floor, with a picture of Pope John Paul II on the cover. When she got the chance, she opened up to a random page and it was a photo of Pope John Paul II embracing a child with Down Syndrome. Later that day, my mother had received a call from one of her closest friends, saying she had a vision of Pope John Paul II beside Felipe, interceding for him. All of this seemed ironic at first, until my mother then noticed that Felipe’s birthday, May 18, was also that of Pope John Paul II! We truly believe that St. John Paul II has been interceding for my brother from the moment of his conception and continues to do so.

Today, Felipe is currently seven years old and attends an elementary school like any other kid. He has speech delays, but with the help of therapy, it is getting better each day. Since he has reached the age where his delays and disability are noticeable to his peers, he does experience bullying, but since he is so kind-hearted and pure, he doesn’t even notice. Felipe effortlessly shows and expresses love towards everyone and he has shown me that I can do the same. If it wasn’t for the life of my brother, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. Felipe’s life has been cherished greatly by my family for all he has brought into our lives. He has been chosen and sent from God so that we may see the beauty of life and how everyone has something to offer regardless of being different. Felipe has opened my eyes to the gift of life and I am so grateful.

First Place, Junior High School: Brendan Resende
Grade Eight - Holy Name School, Fall River              

After being a bit stumped on where to start this essay, I walked into my brother’s bedroom and I asked him directly, “Why are you going to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. in a few weeks?” Being the man of few words that he is, he responded, “It’s the right thing to do; I’m doing my part in protecting life.”

The more I thought about it, the more I understood. Human life has lost its value. Senseless deaths are common, child neglect and elderly abuse are often in the news and the fight over abortion happens with every election. My brother was right. As Catholics, we need to do our part in protecting all life, especially the innocent and unborn.

At eight weeks, you can hear a baby’s heartbeat with an ultrasound machine. By this time, all the organs are formed as well. By 18 weeks, a baby can start sucking his or her thumb. There are many politicians who want laws changed to make abortions easier and more accessible. 

One example of this is Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York. As part of the “Reproductive Health Act,” Governor Cuomo would make ninth-month abortions legal, as well as repeal the “Baby Doe” law, which right now, has a doctor present at an abortion to take care of the baby if the baby survives. By repealing that, the baby would be left to die after surviving the abortion. These actions do not protect the dignity of life; they are not even humane. We treat our pets better than that.

Many people pride themselves of their love for animals and some call their pets their “babies.” My parents sometimes like to watch the TV show “House Hunters” and they have noticed that some people are more concerned about Fido’s room to run in the backyard than the layout of the kitchen! The comfort of their pet is a priority in this really important purchase. If people are willing to protect their pets like this, shouldn’t we protect the unborn and innocent like this?

Our animal cruelty laws have harsh penalties for people who disregard an animal’s safety. Take for instance a Massachusetts law — Mass. General Laws Chapter 272, Section 77 (2017), “Cruelty to Animals”:

“And whoever, having the charge or custody of an animal, either as owner or otherwise, inflicts unnecessary cruelty upon it, or unnecessarily fails to provide it with proper food, drink, shelter, sanitary environment, or protection from weather … or knowingly and willfully authorizes or permits it to be subjected to unnecessary torture, suffering or cruelty of any kind shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than seven years in state prison or imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than two-and-a-half years or by a fine of not more than $5,000 or by both fine and imprisonment.”

So, if someone denies food and water to an animal and causes them unnecessary cruelty or suffering, they can go to jail. If a mother abandons a newborn in a dumpster and that child dies, it’s murder. But if Governor Cuomo has his way, it’s OK to perform an abortion in the ninth month or let a baby who survives an abortion just lay there and die. How does this make sense?

There are many things that we can’t control in our lives. As Catholic youth, we need to do our part as Christians and help our fellow human beings. My brother was right. It is our job to help protect the innocent since every life is cherished, chosen and sent by God.

Second Place, High School: Kylie Hyde
Grade 10 - St. John Paul II High School, Hyannis

Pope Francis once said, “Our defense of the innocent unborn … needs to be clear, firm, and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life which is always Sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.” This quote allows us to understand that, no matter what the differences are in human beings, there is always a distinct plan created for each soul. With God’s grace, we are able to grow in a strong faith and fully understand the definite plan God has for each of us.

In 2003, I was welcomed into this world with the open arms of my two older brothers. About two years later, I became an older sister to my four younger brothers who joined our family. As much as I love my brothers, I always prayed the Rosary with my grandmother Mimi for a sister once a week. My Mimi always tells me that “the Rosary is the most powerful prayer in the world.” I really spent time thinking about that saying and thought maybe it would bring me a sister.

The year 2007 came along and on September 27, I was blessed with my first and only baby sister, Lily. I remember running through the hospital entrance and screaming with joy that God had given me such an amazing gift. I said to myself, “Yes! Now I will finally be given the chance to dress her up, play Barbies, and have endless sleepovers!” From the second I first held her, I could already see the face of Christ in her smile. I was extremely thankful for this amazing blessing.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later that she was diagnosed with Chromosome Deletion. A Chromosome Deletion is a condition whereby you are missing a piece of a chromosome containing DNA. This causes you to process things longer and act younger than the age you are. The doctors had told us that Lily was never going to be able to walk, but in order for her to stand and support herself, we would need to purchase a walker. We bought her a hot pink one and decorated it all girly so she would feel happy using it! She loved it! After having many house visits for her eating and walking classes, a miracle occurred. On February 22, Lily took her very first steps all by herself! Next thing you know today she is running, jumping, and playing on multiple sports teams and has even developed the skills of an awesome skier over the past few years!

My mother and father explained to my siblings and me that every life is cherished, chosen and sent; and that no matter what situation you are in, life is always worth living. Just because she will face greater difficulties in her lifetime, doesn’t mean her life is worth less or is different from any one of us. God knew Lily and chose her to be who she was even before her birth. Jeremiah 1:5 states, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I set you apart. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Abortion would never have been an option for my parents, even if they had known Lily was going to be born with special needs. We are more than beyond happy with what God has given us. We love Lily for who she is and how God created her. Every life should be cherished, and abortion should never be an option, no matter the circumstance. I am so grateful for God and my parents for blessing my siblings and I with the best and most beautiful little sister anyone could ask for.

Second Place, Junior High School: Veronica Medeiros
Grade Eight - Holy Name School, Fall River             

“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made.” — Psalm 139:13-14.

The other day, I was scrolling through my YouTube recommendation list and my eye caught sight of an interesting video titled “I am a man with Down Syndrome and I am worth living” by Frank Stephens. I was interested in the title, so I clicked on the video and by the end I was not only moved by his speech, but at the same time shocked to learn that several different countries around the world, like Denmark and Iceland, used abortion as a weapon to get rid of the Down Syndrome among their population. Frank Stephens says that “the pre-natal screening identifies Down Syndrome in the womb and 90 percent of those pregnancies are just terminated.” He also compares this terrible method to “The Final Solution.”

At one point during his speech, I felt as though Frank Stephens was basically begging for the unborn babies with Down Syndrome to have a chance to live. He says that Down Syndrome population is a “medical gift to society, an extra chromosome that may lead to the answers to Alzheimer’s and cancer, among other incurable diseases.” It’s very tragic how he had to basically explain to society why people with Down Syndrome should exist.

During his speech, Mr. Stephens spoke highly of Dr. Jerome Lejeune, an internationally well-known French doctor and the Father of Modern Genetics, who could see that in every human being, there’s God’s goodness and love. He especially saw this in every one of his patients with Down Syndrome. Dr. Lejeune was the first to discover “the cause of Trisomy 21” which has been misused to kill children before they are born. He committed himself to defend the unborn lives of people with Down Syndrome and their families. He received many awards because of his work, but was denied the Nobel Prize in Medicine because of his Pro-Life stance. His example of life and legacy call us to speak against what “the culture of waste” suggests and to promote human life no matter what.

The way this is all connected to the theme of this essay — “Every Life: Cherished, Chosen, Sent” — is because even though children with Down Syndrome have a disability, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t human or worth living. These kids can still make a difference in our world and lives today. Take Frank Stephens, for example. He has made an impact in the world by speaking out against aborting children with Down Syndrome. He has made a difference even though he has a disability. Just because he has Down Syndrome doesn’t make him less human or inferior to us because at the end of the day, we are all human and we should all have a chance to live.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts