BISMARCK, ND — Over 600 people in 12 charter buses from the University of Mary and other organizations representing Catholic education throughout North Dakota are just hours away from taking to the streets of Washington, DC, at the 45th Annual March for Life Friday, January 19, themed Love Saves Lives. While they’ll be arm-in-arm with pro-lifers from across the state, nearly 200 students, faculty, staff and University of Mary President Monsignor James Shea will be armed with banners, signs, chants and a whole lot of pride and honor taking part in what has become the event of the year for giving witness to the dignity of human life.

Kayla Keller, second from right, is arm-in-arm with classmates and next to Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of Saint Molla,second from left, at the Rome March for Life event

Kayla Keller, a senior from Fargo, ND, majoring in biology with minors in Catholic studies and psychology at the University of Mary, will be taking part in her sixth March for life—that includes five at our nation’s capital and one while studying for a semester at University of Mary’s Rome campus.

“Studying at the University of Mary forms my understanding of the value of the dignity of human life on multiple levels,” said Keller, who could very well be part of two more marches as she plans to slide into University of Mary’s master’s in bioethics program starting this fall. “Our professors and chaplains teach us about the dignity of human life on a philosophical and theological level, and they also model the value of human life in a very human way. They themselves live their belief in the sacredness of human life in how they interact with us students personally and in how they meet people who are in need. We also have chances to practice what we value—in spending 30 hours on a bus on our way to march with hundreds of thousands of others in a public, joyful proclamation of the goodness of life.”

Natalie Brown, left, University of Mary President Monsignor James Shea, center, and Kayla Keller, right, at the 2017 March for Life

Coming out of high school, Natalie Brown did what many students her age did before attending college in her home state of Maine and that was to follow the mainstream, and for that reason considered herself pro-choice. Ironically, after two years, that very culture of relativism is eventually what drove her away from college, temporarily.

“I was so unfulfilled by the education I was getting, by the students around me who didn’t seem to be dreaming the same dreams as me,” recalled Brown, a native of Brunswick, ME. “I wanted to change the world for the better, I wanted my life to mean something, and I wanted to make an impact with my life. I decided to take a year off from college to do service work—to get away from the mainstream college culture, and to find something that gave my life purpose.”

Natalie Brown, center, with her University of Mary classmates leading the 2017 March for Life

That led her to an organization in South Dakota called Benedictine Volunteers. Providentially, they eventually had a service site in Bismarck, ND, with the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Monastery, who happen to be the founders and sponsors of the University of Mary located next door.

“I lived, prayed, served at the monastery with the sisters for about five months. During this time, I also volunteered for University Ministry at the University of Mary while living at the monastery. Here is where I fell in love with Mary. The students were unlike any other university students I had ever met. They wanted to change the world just like me, and they actually believed they could do it, and their professors and faculty were helping them to prepare for how to give their lives away. Now, I know what I was looking for, because as President Monsignor Shea says, ‘your life is not about you.’ I was seeking a way to give my life away, and I wasn’t finding that in college,” said Brown, who is now a senior at Mary majoring in theology and is attending her second March for Life as a student. “Studying at the University of Mary, I have learned that people have value—not because of what they can give me, but because of who they are, as human beings. Leading the March for Life last year with University of Mary solidified the teachings I was learning in the classroom. An unplanned baby, a person with a terminal diagnosis, and an elderly relative—each have value—simply because they are human.”

Kaitlyn Fuglseth, far right, with her classmates during the 2016 March for Life

Junior marketing major Kaitlyn Fuglseth recalls her first March for Life two years ago as a freshman at the University of Mary. After the march their buses were among the many vehicles stranded for 24 hours on the Pennsylvania Turnpike after a semi jackknifed in the blizzard. That year’s march and being in a bus with classmates and the university president for so long made the most impact on her life and is her favorite memory.

“I was surprised at how prayerful and powerful the march was and how exciting it is to be part of the Pro-life Generation,” said Fuglseth. “That little suffering on the bus after the march isn’t even close to the suffering of the innocent and unborn experience. It helped me remember I wasn’t here for myself. Once we made it home safely, I really felt I was part of the University of Mary as a freshman. I got to know everyone on the bus and we created a bond with a community I didn’t know yet.”

In retrospect, that memorable experience became a microcosm of what was ahead during her time at the University of Mary.

“Receiving a Catholic education has taught me not only about the importance, but also the responsibility we have as human beings to maintain the value and dignity of every life at all stages. It has helped me understand, in light of various subjects, perspectives, career paths, and stages of life, the challenges that the value of life faces in our society today. In turn, it has showed me that, ultimately, the value and dignity of life is inseparable from our society and life as we know it, and is the only foundation on which our world can thrive. A Catholic education is what has helped reiterate these principles and reset my heart on using what I have learned to do my part to transform the world into one that is ​full of and for life,” added Fuglseth.

Kaitlyn Fuglseth, second from right, with her classmates during the 2016 March for Life

Wednesday morning Brown, Keller, Fuglseth and their Mary classmates, faculty and staff will be part of the traditional send-off Mass and blessing in the iconic Our Lady of Annunciation Chapel on campus, before they load the buses for their trek east across the country. They’ll arrive in DC at approximately 1 p.m. ET, Thursday, and celebrate Mass in the hotel before departing that evening for the Life is VERY Good Rally at George Mason University. Friday’s big day kicks off with a huge Mass for the entire North Dakota delegation in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church celebrated by Reverend John Folda, bishop of the Fargo Diocese. The March for Life procession then begins at 12 p.m. CT/ 1 p.m. ET.

The University of Mary has been part of some of the most memorable March for Life events ever in the last couple years. The university gained national attention for their perseverance and dedication to life and celebrated Mass with other stranded motorists in the storm two years ago. Last year, University of Mary student Katrina Gallic, along with Vice President Mike Pence, gave a passionate speech at the pre-march rally to thousands of pro-life attendees before her and over 600 of her classmates led hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers in the march down Constitution Avenue before ending on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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