by Joe Bollig
OVERLAND PARK — Some ideas — like the annual eighth-grade pro-life forum — are too good to keep down.
That’s why this coming October, pro-life activists will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the forum’s revival.
The Wyandotte and Johnson County forum in its current incarnation began in 1992, but apparently there was an earlier, defunct effort, said Courtney Williams, director of the forum.
“In 1991, Fred McAulay — a man who had been involved in pro-life activities for years — approached me,” said Williams, who at that time was Johnson County parish pro-life coordinator. “He said, ‘Now that we have someone like yourself in place, let’s see if we can reinstate a pro-life forum like we had at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee.’”
Williams liked the idea and decided to give it a go. She recruited a few volunteers to put on an event that would feature talks, a panel discussion, and a question-and-answer period. Principal Dorothy Lancaster from Curé of Ars School in Leawood promoted the forum with other Catholic school principals.
Not all the principals understood what Williams was trying to do.
“In the 1980s and 1990s, we almost had to apologize for being pro-life,” said Williams. “One principal called me up and asked, ‘You’re not going to show gross movies and pictures, are you?’ I said, ‘No way. I refuse to do that. You don’t need to do that to tell kids how evil abortion is.’”
The forums have gotten bigger over the years, outgrowing the single half-day session held at the Community Room of St. Joseph Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. Currently, they are held at the larger Johnson County parishes. There is a Wednesday morning session for students who attend Catholic schools, and a Sunday evening session for students who attend public schools or who are home-schooled.
Last year, about 1,000 Catholic school students attended the forums, and 500 public or home-school students.
The purpose of the forum is simply this: to educate young people, who are about to enter high school, about why they should be pro-life and in conformity with the teachings of the church, said Williams. It’s vital information that they are not likely to get anywhere else.
The format has stayed fairly stable over the years, although the speakers have changed, and there have been some adjustments. The Sunday and weekday sessions each last slightly over two hours.
The weekday session for Catholic school students will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 17 at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood.
This year, the Sunday evening session for public school and home-schooled students will be on Oct. 21 at the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park. It’s scheduled after the 5 p.m. Mass, so people can worship beforehand if they wish. Mass is followed by a pizza feed at 6 p.m., and then the session, which starts at 6:30 p.m.
The format is basically the same for each session. Students will receive an information packet upon arrival. They will listen to a series of speakers who present short talks. Four or so short videos are also shown.
This year’s speakers will include: Father Shawn Tunink, on the church’s teaching about abortion; Kansans for Life executive director Mary Kay Culp, on the history, politics and law of abortion; pro-life educator Michelle Thomas, on abstinence and chastity; St. Paul, Olathe, school principal Tonia Helm, on the theology of the body; and archdiocesan pro-life consultant Ron Kelsey, on the eighth-grade pro-life essay contest.
“The [success of the Wyandotte-Johnson County] annual event is a testimony to the value of its format in educating eighth-graders on the various pro-life topics,” said Kelsey. “Courtney Williams is to be congratulated on initiating this pro-life forum.”
There is a separate, although similar, pro-life forum for eighth-grade students in Topeka. This event will be from 5 to 8:15 p.m. on Sept. 30 at St. Matthew Parish hall.
Both the Topeka and Wyandotte-Johnson County forums are held with the support of the archdiocesan pro-life office.
For information on the Wyandotte-Johnson County forums, contact Courtney Williams at (913) 642-1730 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about all pro-life forums for eighth-grade students, contact Ron Kelsey at (913) 647-0350 or by email at: email@example.com.