Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer
April 30, 2019 // Bishop

Evangelium Vitae Medal awarded to Women’s Care Center

Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer

The Evangelium Vitae Medal is a significant lifetime achievement award for heroes of the pro-life movement, and honors those whose outstanding efforts have served to proclaim the Gospel of Life. Named for the papal encyclical promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II in 1995, “Evangelium Vitae,” the award’s name means “The Gospel of Life” in Latin.

Women’s Care Center was honored by the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture with the 2019 Evangelium Vitae Award April 27 for its pro-life support of mothers and children. Left, at the award banquet, is Dr. Janet Smith, who founded Women’s Care Center in South Bend; and current Women’s Care Center President Ann Manion. — Peter Ringenberg, courtesy of de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture

On Saturday, April 27, the last day of the Easter Octave and the vigil of Divine Mercy, the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture awarded the ninth annual medal to the national Women’s Care Center organization, founded and headquartered in South Bend. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart preceding an award banquet at the University of Notre Dame.

O. Carter Snead, director of the Center for Ethics and Culture, shared: “In his great encyclical ‘Evangelium Vitae,’ Pope St. John Paul II calls upon those who would proclaim the Gospel of Life to cultivate an attitude of wonder that celebrates the gratuitous gift of every human life. Even in the face of suffering and hardship, he writes, we are ‘challenged to find meaning, and precisely in these circumstances… [to be] open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue, and solidarity.’

“The Women’s Care Center has built a model of service rooted in John Paul the Great’s vision of radical hospitality, welcoming women precisely in their moment of greatest vulnerability and deepest need. Theirs is a ministry of love, based not on the proposition of an argument but on an encounter with the unique and unrepeatable individual before them.”

The Women’s Care Center was founded 35 years ago on the edge of the Notre Dame campus by philosophy professor Dr. Janet Smith.

“I did sidewalk counseling outside of the South Bend abortion clinic and thought it would be wonderful if there were a nearby place where I could send women for assistance,” Smith explained. As faculty advisor for the student right-to-life group, she connected local pro-life leaders “who were ready to help; and there was an exceptional set of leaders who were eager to take on the challenge.

“The Holy Spirit got us the first little blue house right next door to (a former) abortion clinic. We seemed to get just what we needed, just when we needed it — the house, furniture, counselors, funds, etc.”

Women’s Care Centers continue to open next to abortion clinics and offer life-affirming choices. Bishop Rhoades described them, in his homily, as “oases of God’s mercy in the desert of this culture of death. That’s why it’s a special priority of our centers to be located near abortion clinics. Women can go into an oasis of love, rather than into a place that violates the natural love of a mother for her child. Through their comprehensive care and their compassion for women and their unborn babies, those who serve the Gospel of Life in our Women’s Care Centers witness to the love and mercy of Jesus and to His glorious wounds, the wounds that bring healing to troubled hearts.” 

Since 1984, the Women’s Care Center have become the largest network of pregnancy resource centers in the United States, with 32 centers in 11 states. Statistically, every other baby born in St. Joseph County is of a mother who has visited a WCC location.

Over 400 women a day nationally are welcomed at a WCC. Offering free, confidential counseling and education to women facing unplanned pregnancies, the Women’s Care Centers support families from conception through toddler years. They care for both the mother and child, before and after birth, with services including free ultrasounds, helpful referrals and parenting classes.

Ann Manion, president of Women’s Care Center delivers remarks during the banquet. — Peter Ringenberg, courtesy of de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture

WCC volunteer President Ann Manion spoke of the center’s history during remarks at the award banquet. “The sole focus was on how to best love and serve the next woman who walks through our doors. And this hasn’t changed. This means outstanding counselors, nurses, sonographers and parenting instructors. It is and has always been about the personal connection. This is why in every community with a Women’s Care Center, abortions plummet. Ninety-two percent of the women we serve across the country choose life.

“Late last year, we surpassed 1 million visits to Women’s Care Center,” Manion noted. “That means 1 million times, a young woman has walked through our doors. One million times, she has been loved and served. The true lifesavers and heroes of this organization are and have always been the counselors.”

“This award gives us the validation and the courage to continue to grow this mission on a national level,” she said. “But it always starts with one. One woman a time. And one baby at a time.”

New Women’s Care Centers will open in Bismarck, Devils Lake and Fargo, North Dakota, and Fort Pierce, Florida, later this year, as well as on Lincolnway West in South Bend, across the street from a potential new abortion clinic.

WCC Foundation Director Bobby Williams described the modern climate in which the organization operates.

“I think with the heightened political volatility we see that is rampant not only nationally but locally, there is an unfortunate tendency to try and drag the life issue into politics to fit an agenda. What really separates the WCC is that we are apolitical and simply focus on what works, which is simply this time-tested, highly refined, unconditionally loving, nonjudgmental, professional model of care that ultimately serves the most women and saves the most babies from abortion. … In 35 years we have never turned a family away, and we never will.”

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades said Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame, prior to the Evangelium Vitae award banquet. — Peter Ringenberg, courtesy of de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture

In his homily, Bishop Rhoades preached: “In ‘Evangelium Vitae,’ St. John Paul II wrote that ‘the deepest element of this commandment to protect human life is the requirement to show reverence and love for every person and the life of every person.’ This is the secret of the success of the Women’s Care Center: the genuine reverence and love they show for every woman who enters their doors, and the real reverence and love they have for the babies these women carry in their wombs. The Women’s Care Center reminds us that our ‘No’ to abortion must always be matched by a compassionate and caring ‘Yes’ to those who find themselves faced with a crisis pregnancy.”

“The wounds of Jesus reveal His mercy and His love,” the bishop continued. “They also reveal how precious human life is and how priceless the value of human life. Gazing on the wounds of Jesus, we learn to recognize and appreciate, in the words of St. John Paul, ‘the almost divine dignity of every human being,’ and we ‘can exclaim with ever-renewed and grateful wonder the words from the Exsultet of the Easter Vigil’: ‘How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he gained so great a Redeemer.’ Gazing at the wounds of Christ, we draw strength to promote life, and we draw hope from those wounds that in God’s plan, life will be victorious.”

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