By Becky Aubut
FALL RIVER, Mass. — The earliest mention that Marian Desrosiers, director of the Pro-Life Apostolate of the Fall River Diocese, could find of the annual Pro-Life Mass held by the diocese was in an article in The Anchor archives dated 1992 announcing a Pro-Life Mass being celebrated by the “new” bishop of the Fall River Diocese, Bishop Sean P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap.
Back in those days, the Mass catered to an older demographic of Pro-Life committees and Pro-Life representatives from parishes and schools with each Pro-Life Mass being held on a Sunday at a different parish every year. It took almost 10 years before it evolved into the Pro-Life Mass held today.
“In 2001, we added the reading of the Pro-Life essay winners at this Mass,” recalled Desrosiers. “It was around this time, or shortly after, that we switched the Mass to a weekday in order to allow our diocesan schools to attend. They have continued to be very supportive.”
The transition from older to younger came about because it became important to the Pro-Life Apostolate to develop an outreach in the diocese and build that Pro-Life generation that is desperately needed, said Desrosiers: “We see that generation rising up all over our nation.”
The Pro-Life Mass is a culmination of an entire year’s worth of the Pro-Life message, with each year’s essay theme based on the Respect Life Kit handed out by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This year’s theme is appropriately titled, “Moved by Mercy,” that pays homage to the Year of Mercy instituted by Pope Francis.
The essays give the young people an opportunity to reflect on what he or she has learned and share those reflections with others. Essay winners are awarded to middle school students (grades six-eight) and high school (grades nine-12) from parishes and schools from the Fall River Diocese. Each school and parish whittles down their submissions to the three best from their respective institution, and hand those over for consideration to the Pro-Life Apostolate.
“We carried the theme straight through until the annual Mass,” said Desrosiers. “Every school and parish receives a copy of the USCCB Respect for Life Kit, and this year the Moved by Mercy was the teaching on the Good Samaritan. We like to weave that interaction of the message of the Good Samaritan into looking at the life issues, and the dignity of the human person.
“What was happening over the year the more young people who attend the March for Life in Washington D.C., the more they’ve begun to weave that experience into the essay; not all, but we’ve seen an increase. Really what the Mass has done for us is to draw all the work into a focus of a final act of the ‘great prayer,’ not only to thank the Lord for all He’s given us over the course of the year, but to pray for the fight to begin our new year.”
In 2002, the Pro-Life Apostolate began to hand out the John Cardinal O’Connor Award in honor of the man who believed in protecting all human life, from the unborn to convicts on death row. Father Gerald Shovelton was its first recipient.
The John Cardinal O’Connor Adult Award was given at a banquet/convention from 2002 until 2006. In 2007, the Pro-Life Apostolate added this award to the annual Pro-Life Mass and no longer did a separate banquet. The following year they launched the John Cardinal O’Connor Youth Award, with Jocelyn Trindade and Lauren Murphy being honored.
For young people to be considered for the youth award, clergy and school staff send in a synopsis of a young person whose life they feel brings that message of mercy and dignity of the human person. Award recipients are those who have taken the Pro-Life message to heart and are living it out.
“It’s wonderful because you can receive different perspectives, depending on who is being nominated, and I look at those different perspectives and work on life issues; it can be very difficult to narrow it down,” said Desrosiers.
In 2013, at the Annual Pro-Life Mass, Kathleen St. Laurent, principal at Coyle and Cassidy High School in Taunton, was presented a special award titled, “To Live Each Day with Dignity.”
St. Laurent was instrumental in helping to defeat the 2012 bill, which would have legalized physician-assisted suicide in Massachusetts. St. Laurent also worked very closely with the Pro-Life office in developing “The Measure of Love is to Love Without Measure,” a parish educational guide that was distributed throughout the Fall River Diocese and beyond.
An offshoot of the success of the Pro-Life Mass and its reaching out to the youth of the diocese is the annual Pro-Life Boot Camp held at Stonehill College, a success in its own right.
“It’s another youth-focused event,” said Desrosiers. “They can take what they experience and internalize it. We like to say [the boot camp] is not necessarily a retreat, but it allows them to discover Christ within them and how that can manifest itself to the world. The young people are the movers and shakers of the Culture of Life today.”
Desrosiers believes the uptick in youth driven numbers spreading the Pro-Life message has been the answer to a call from the Holy Spirit, and the effect of the youth participating with their fellow peers in Pro-Life events: “They would come down [to the March] and would come back, and they would share their experience; it kept growing and growing.”
This is the Pro-Life generation, this generation “is overwhelmingly more Pro-Life than their parents or grandparents’ generations,” added Desrosiers.
The winning essays will be published in an upcoming issue of The Anchor.
The Pro-Life Mass will be held at St. Julie Billiart Parish in North Dartmouth on March 23 at 11 a.m. and will be celebrated by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V. All are welcome to attend.