All Catholics to benefit from new Evermode Institute in Springfield
Prior of community that will lead the Evermode Institute details timeline, mission, programing
By ANDREW HANSEN
Father Augustine Puchner was serving as pastor of a large, multilingual parish with a school in the Diocese of Orange in California earlier this year when he was approached by the abbot of his community with a new assignment. He remembers that moment as “a day my life changed.”
“I didn’t know too much about Springfield, Ill.,” Father Puchner said with a laugh.
Since that moment, he has come to know a lot more about Springfield. That’s because Father Puchner, a priest of the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey based in Orange, was given the assignment of being the prior of a community of Norbertine Fathers who are tasked with opening and leading the new Evermode Institute in Springfield, which the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois announced plans for last March. The Evermode Institute is something that is expected to become one of the nation’s top centers for Catholic spiritual and intellectual formation, opening in July 2023.
“The Evermode Institute will teach and train the teachers and administrators who themselves are in positions of responsibility and influence in regard to teaching the faith,” Father Puchner said. “Our mission is for the glorification of God and the salvation of souls through the imparting of Catholic doctrine, true Catholic teaching, in regard to all the aspects that will help school principals, administrators, teachers, directors of religious education, catechists, directors of RCIA programs — all of those involved in Catholic formation. They will be participating in the program in a variety of ways, and we’ll be offering classes that we’ll make sure that they themselves really know the faith and know it in a way that will give them the tools along with the enthusiasm and zeal to be even better teachers. But for all lay people, it will be a program that many people can benefit from.”
A native of Milwaukee, Father Puchner has been living in Wisconsin the past several months, making trips to Springfield often as he embarks on this rare and exciting opportunity to start the Evermode Institute from scratch. The Norbertine Fathers also announced Father Ambrose Criste as the director of the Evermode Institute. Both priests have already been working on the programing for the institute.
“It (the programming) will be at a level that is not overwhelming,” Father Puchner said. “It will start with a more basic curriculum to reinforce what our teachers already know about the faith, but maybe they don’t know the reasons behind some of the teachings or how those teachings can be effectively integrated with other teachings. So, it’s a comprehensive program of theology and spirituality. It will be accessible to the common person but it a way that will definitely elevate the knowledge of their faith.”
Located on Springfield’s northeast side on the grounds adjacent to the convent of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, the Evermode Institute includes St. Francis of Assisi Church, a large conference room, overnight accommodations for guests, and beautiful outdoor prayer trails, Stations of the Cross, and grottos.
“It’s an incredible gift, and we, the entire Norbertine Community, everyone realizes this is an incredible gift from God,” Father Puchner said. “The first time I came, and now that I am here, the beauty of the grounds and the property and the majestic beauty of this gorgeous church (St. Francis of Assisi Church), all this to glorify God and the mission of evangelization, faith formation, and celebrating the sacraments — it will be renewed in a very powerful way.”
Before the Evermode Institute fully opens in July next year, several more priests from the Norbertine Fathers will join Fathers Puchner and Criste as they will all set up full-time residence at the property, with the Evermode Institute being their primary apostolate.
“Our plan is to make this not only special for Springfield, but far beyond,” Father Puchner said. “There will be in-person classes at the Evermode Institute and electronically.
“The Nobertines have a long history of faith formation programs. We feel we bring a certain amount of gifts, talents, expertise, and experience in regard to the Evermode Institute which will really form the teachers and administrators to be even more well-versed in teaching and living the Catholic faith.”
For the past several years, the Norbertine Fathers were looking for another location in the country to grow their community as they have had to reject potential seminarians because they were full. This happened despite them completing a new and expanded home just last year in California.
Immersed in the 900-year tradition of their order, the Norbertine Fathers live a common life of liturgical prayer and care for souls. Their life at St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange, and next year in Springfield, is organized according to prayer of the Church: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. The public will be able to pray with them and attend Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church, many of whom call the church a “gem of the Midwest” for its striking beauty, history, and relics on display.
The Evermode Institute (4875 Laverna Road, Springfield, IL 62707) is being established under the patronage of St. Evermode, a Norbertine prelate who died in 1178 and was a close collaborator of St. Norbert. St. Evermode is credited with great and effective works of evangelization and formation in the Catholic faith.
In addition to the Evermode Institute, the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is also working with the daughter of one the most popular modern day Catholic saints, who announced plans to establish an international pilgrimage site and center very close to the Evermode Institute (a block or two away). Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of Italian saint, St. Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1962) and Pietro Molla, will establish the St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Pietro Molla International Center for Family and Life, which will be a peaceful place of prayer, learning, study, and spirituality for pilgrims geared to spreading the knowledge of and devotion to her holy parent’s virtues and, thus, to promote the holiness of the family and respect for the sanctity of all human life.
That means in the future, Central Illinois will be home to the Evermode Institute; the St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Pietro Molla International Center for Family and Life; Venerable Father Augustine Tolton, the nation’s first black priest who is buried in Quincy and who is on his way to sainthood; and Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who is buried in Peoria and is also on his way to sainthood. When asked if this area could therefore become a “Catholic mecca,” Father Puchner laughed and said, “That’s our plan.”
“After every meeting (with Bishop Thomas John Paprocki and his staff), we all agree that this can be huge,” Father Puchner said. “I mean, all glory be to God, we’ll do the work. God has chosen this place for a ministry that will be so far reaching and renew and reform so much in regard to Catholic education, Catholic formation, and sacred worship. It’s a lot to grasp, but we have great ideas and resources to make it all happen. It’s really exciting.”
Answers taken and edited from Andrew Hansen’s interview with Father Puchner on Dive Deep, the official podcast of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. To hear more of their conversation, go to dio.org/podcast or search “Dive Deep” on all the major podcast platforms. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast as a new one comes out every month.
By DEACON DAVID SORRELL
Special to Catholic Times
As we reflect over the past 20 years, much has happened regarding the permanent diaconate in our diocesan Church. Shortly after Bishop George Lucas was installed as our bishop in 1999, he began a conversation concerning the permanent diaconate in our Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Since Vatican II had restored the permanent diaconate, many dioceses in our country had already implemented a formation program and called many men to holy orders. Members of our diocesan Curia, Quincy University, and Father Bill Burton, a Franciscan Friar at Quincy University, began collaborating on a formation program for our diocese. From the effort, a dual path was created resulting in a certificate or master’s degree in pastoral theology.
After exhaustive consultation, in the fall of 2002, Bishop Lucas issued an invitation to all interested Catholic men, single and married, above the age of 35 and in good standing in the Church to come and learn more about the permanent diaconate in our diocese. More than 30 candidate families completed the application and evaluation. To be admitted to the formation program, it was necessary for each applicant to be supported by their family and parish. Supported by the faculty of Quincy University and diocesan priests, classes began in December 2002. Two groups of men and wives were graduates of the Quincy University program. In June 2007 and 2009, 28 men petitioned and were ordained to the holy order of deacon.
Periodically throughout the Quincy University program, goals were reevaluated. Further discernment resulted in the formation team looking east to the Benedictine’s at Saint Meinrad in Indiana. They were actively engaged in preparing deacons in more than 20 dioceses across the country and Caribbean in a non-degree model. However, the classes could benefit a deacon after ordination should he desire to continue higher education. The Villa Maria Retreat Center in Springfield, with all its accommodations, became the venue for the permanent diaconate formation. For 12 years, Saint Meinrad’s national network of faculty provided exceptional professors who traveled to Springfield monthly. During this time, 27 men petitioned and were ordained to the holy order of deacon.
Once again, as the formation team reevaluated process and goals, it was determined that formation was lacking in certain dimensions. It was also during this time that the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in Springfield entered into agreement with the diocese to assume responsibility of the marvelous campus and facilities. Now, the Evermode Institute at that campus has been formed to provide formation not only for teachers and catechists but also for priests and deacons. In August, a group of six men began their path to ordination, God willing, in 2027. Once fully implemented, this new model will allow for men to enter into formation every year.
However, what remains the same is the purpose of formation of future ministers for our diocesan family. So how might we ask the question, “What is a deacon?” A deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. There are three groups, or "orders," of ordained ministers in the Church: bishops, presbyters, and deacons. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came "to serve and not to be served." The entire Church is called by Christ to serve, and the deacon, in virtue of his sacramental ordination and through his various ministries, is to be a servant in a servant-Church.
This review of our permanent diaconate formation once restored and through these renewals remains in fidelity to the call to serve in the manner and example of Christ the Servant. Visit dio.org/diaconate to learn more about this vocation and contact information.
Deacon David Sorrell is director of the Office for the Diaconate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
Why are we asking for the “Sacred Heart” of Jesus to pray for us? Does the Heart of the Lord pray to the Lord or to God? In the traditional Mass, we ask for the Sacred Heart to have mercy on us and not to pray for us.
- Jake in Springfield
Thanks for your question. It brings up a couple of opportunities for clarification that I find are pretty common. First, on the distinction of asking for God's mercy versus asking the intercession of the saints: We can look at the centuries-long practice of the Church's use of litanies in her public prayer to answer your principal question.
Litanies today seem to be recited, more often than not, but in former times, they were nearly always sung, which better illustrates that they are a dialogue. Some of the litanies that people might be familiar with still today include the Litany of the Saints, Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus, Litany of the Most Precious Blood, Litany of the Holy Ghost (a central element of St. Louis de Montfort's Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary), the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary (commonly called Loreto), and the Litany of St. Joseph (to which Pope Francis recently added additional invocations). Since you mentioned the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, you might also be familiar with the Major Litanies of the Rogation Days celebrated each spring, leading up to Ascension Thursday, and those of the feast of St. Mark.
In all these, we begin by praying, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” These are supplications first to the Father, then to the Son, and finally, to the Holy Spirit. Then we ask for Christ to hear us, and then more emphatically, to graciously hear us. Then we pray, “God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us. God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us. God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us. Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.”
This would be the most appropriate point to address the second clarification. Many people colloquially use "God" when what they are talking about is "God the Father." Additionally, many use "Lord" only when they mean "Jesus," but we know from the Old Testament that Lord in Hebrew is "Adonai," and they were certainly invoking God the Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when saying "Lord." This leads to some people saying they invoked "both God and Jesus," which is extremely problematic language we should not use, because the three Persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are indeed all God and Lord. This is most clearly expressed in the ancient Preface of the Holy Trinity which says:
"It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God. For with your Only Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit you are one God, one Lord: not in the unity of a single person, but in a Trinity of one substance. For what you have revealed to us of your glory we believe equally of your Son and of the Holy Spirit, so that, in the confessing of the true and eternal Godhead, you might be adored in what is proper to each Person, their unity in substance, and their equality in majesty."
I am unfamiliar with any prayers that would ask the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus to "pray for us." Instead, the proper response is either "have mercy on us" or "save us" (as in the Litany of the Most Precious Blood), or "Lord, deliver us we pray" (as in the Litany of the Saints), or "hear us / Lord, hear our prayer" (as opposed to not hearing our petitions).
In the Litany of the Saints, the Litany of Loreto, the Litany of St. Joseph, etc., we always respond "pray for us" after invoking the saints. It's possible whatever resource you saw that put Jesus on the same level as the saints just made an error in typing. The distinctions in what we ask from the Persons of the Trinity and what we ask of the saints, by God's power, has been consistently expressed in the ways I've mentioned for a very long time. This is true in both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of the Mass.
To best envision how prayer works in general is to remember what happens at the Offertory of the Mass. We have the horizontal dimension of the faithful entrusting all their prayers and needs symbolically to the priest, who then offers all these needs along with the bread and wine that will later become the Body and Blood of the Lord at the consecration. Then there is the vertical dimension where the priest, on behalf of the faithful, offers up all these things to Jesus on the cross at the Consecration, Who, in turn, offers it all up to God the Father. The priest also asks that the Holy Spirit would come down upon the gifts on the altar and sanctify them. So, Heaven meets earth on the altar, and the vertical dimension of prayer (our love of God) and the horizontal dimension (our love of neighbor) meet. Many hours of meditation can be spent on that reality alone!
I hope this was helpful. Please pray for me and all the clergy.
Father Zach Edgar is in residence at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Quincy and is chaplain at the Illinois Veterans Home.
By ANDREW HANSEN
Aug. 26, 1959 is a date that will forever be in the mind of Sister Mary Ellen Backes, OSU.
“When Janet (her identical twin sister) and I were 14 years of age, a car accident took the lives of our parents and left Janet and myself with serious injuries,” Sister Mary Ellen recalls. “A tragic event such as this changes the course of one’s history. The feeling of helplessness, not being able to awake from a bad dream, ironically became a source of blessing. Amidst the tragedy, I came to know God’s nearness and presence in the human family, in the strangers who appeared to help mend our brokenness. I believe the sudden loss of my parents, the suffering of me and my twin, of my entire family, became the seed that nourished my faith.”
Fast forward to today, and that seed of faith has blossomed into a life-giving tree. Sister Mary Ellen has been ministering at St. Joseph Parish and previously the school before it closed for 27 years, but that is only half her life as a sister. She made her first profession as an Ursuline of Belleville in 1965. She has been an Ursuline Sister now for 60 years come 2023 (since 2005, she has been an Ursuline of Mt. St. Joseph Maple Mount, Kentucky, when the order merged).
“I thought religious life would provide a straight highway to Heaven with no conflicts or distractions,” Sister Mary Ellen said with a laugh. “Eventually I came to understand that it is God who does the choosing, that religious life is one of service, of carrying God’s presence into the lives of others. God chose me first and opened my life to learning what it is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to be a servant, to carry the light of God’s love, goodness, joy, and peace to others.”
Born in 1944 in North Dakota, Sister Mary Ellen says her parents and grandparents deeply influenced her faith life.
“They always attended church, never missed Mass, and lived their faith,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “They worked long and hard to cultivate crops of wheat, barley, mustard, and corn, and trusted in a higher power to produce the fruits of their labors. I remember well an often-repeated story that on Sunday mornings, at the exact time most ripe for harvesting the crop, the German pastor would remind them that Sunday ‘is the day of rest.’ Their prayer was unspoken as they walked into the crops to check the health of the wheat and to check to see if insects were present that might destroy the crops. They often looked into the North Dakota skyline for possible coming storms or damaging winds.”
In high school Sister Mary Ellen met the Ursulines, saying that she found them to be welcoming, relational, fun, humorous, and joyful.
“They shared their humanity,” she said. “I found this to be much more appealing. They invited us into their lives and their stories.
Sister Mary Ellen ended up choosing the name “Ellen,” as that was her mother’s name. Over the decades, she has lived in several places in Illinois and for nearly the last 30 years, in Springfield. Saying that she wanted to minister to children and adults in parish life, she received a master’s degree in theology along her journey to today.
“In 1995, I was offered a pastoral associate and director of religious education position at St. Joseph in Springfield,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “I was interviewed for this position by Father Pat Render, CSV, and remember telling him during the interview that I’m a long-time employee and would remain in this parish for years to come. I have loved the parish since the very beginning.”
At St. Joseph, Sister Mary Ellen has touched the lives of so many people, from children to older adults. With her vast knowledge of the faith and joy-filled spirit, her ministry has been a true witness of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. She was responsible for sacramental preparation when the school existed and continued that into the PSR program. Currently, she facilitates faith formation from birth to death, directs the Catholic Faith Formation program for children and those in RCIA, facilitates Scripture classes, and is involved in some way in several other ministries at the parish.
“Sister is incredibly inspirational to me,” said Amy Voils, executive director at Mercy Communities, which is next door to the parish. “We share a wall, so I see her almost on a daily basis. She is incredibly kind. Everything she does, I see her do it through Christ, and it’s very inspirational to me and my faith.
“When she does a program, she completes it, and she does it very good,” said Gary Schmidt, a parishioner at St. Joseph. “You name it, and she is doing it. She spends a lot of her time on building her classes on all these stages people go through to join the Church. I think people appreciate it, and they remember her.”
“It has been a joy to know and journey in faith, life, and death with so many sisters,” Sister Mary Ellen said as she looks back over the decades. “And, it has been a privilege to meet and accompany so many wonderful people who have come into my life through the Church, through my ministry, to struggle with them in their pain, and celebrate with them in their joys.”
Sister Mary Ellen describes her life as a sister as “an adventure.” With National Vocations Week Nov. 7-13, she offers this advice for parents and grandparents who see a vocation to the religious life in their daughter or granddaughter.
“I think the first thing parents and grandparents must do is practice and cultivate their own relationship with God so they themselves can begin to understand what a religious vocation is all about. In this way parents and grandparents can take a more realistic look at religious life.
“Religious life at this time is being transformed into something new and different. We, religious and laity alike, must remain open to the power and movement of the Holy Spirit.”
After her decades of experience being there for others, teaching others, and witnessing so much, she says that she has learned that “it’s more about what God is doing in my life than what I’m accomplishing or experiencing.”
“I would encourage young people to take Jesus as their model first and foremost, to be true to themselves, to live their lives with purpose,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “I’d tell them to give the best of themselves in all that they do, and to trust that life has meaning. I would advise them to be authentic and open to God’s presence and the action of the Holy Spirit in their lives. If they do, they will experience joy! I’ll close by saying I believe this is what it means to be religious.”
Who is God calling you to be? Go to dio.org/vocations.
Why do we not have an American flag in our church? We are "one nation, under God." We sing patriotic songs on July 4, etc., but the flag of our great nation is nowhere to be seen.
Nancy in our diocese
The practice of placing the national flag somewhere inside churches seems to be an American custom. In my travels, I cannot recall seeing a national flag in the churches I have visited in Italy, Scotland, England, Spain, Turkey, Greece, or Australia; I have only seen a national flag in some churches in the United States of America.
Neither the General Instruction of the Roman Missal — which governs the celebration of the Mass and certain aspects of churches — nor the Code of Canon Law addresses the topic of flags within churches, presumably because such a practice is unforeseen by the Bishop of Rome. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, however, has provided some guidance on the placement of flags within churches:
“The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy has in the past encouraged pastors not to place the flag within the sanctuary itself, in order to reserve that space for the altar, the ambo, the presidential chair and the tabernacle. Instead, the suggestion has been made that the American flag be placed outside the sanctuary, or in the vestibule of the Church together with a book of prayer requests. It remains, however, for the diocesan bishop to determine regulations in this matter.”
Why might this be?
The sanctuary is meant to be a representation of the heavenly Jerusalem and, ideally, represents in various means the worship given to God by the angels and saints, that same worship and life to which we aspire and for which we long. Just as in the life to come, there will be no marrying, neither will there be any national differences among humanity (cf. Matthew 22:30; Galatians 3:28). Consequently, nothing representing national boundaries has a place within the sanctuary because it is not — and will not be — part of the heavenly Jerusalem.
That said, it is permissible to display flags in the vestibule or parish hall, or some other such space, at the discretion of the pastor, unless the local bishop determines otherwise. As far as I know, none of the bishops of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois has issued a policy on the displaying of flags in parish buildings. The displaying of flags outside of the sanctuary is a possibility, but it is nowhere required.
Father Daren Zehnle is pastor at St. Augustine Parish in Ashland; parochial administrator of St. Alexius Parish in Beardstown, St. Fidelis Parish in Arenzville, and St. Luke Parish in Virginia; and is the director for the Office of Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
‘You no longer consider that this is a human being that you are killing’
After performing hundreds of abortions, this doctor is sharing the lies of the abortion industry so truth can prevail
Dr. Haywood Robinson grew up in Southern California and received specialty training in family practice medicine in Los Angeles. He learned how to perform abortions in 1978, after Roe V. Wade legalized abortion in the United States. (This year, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled that decision.) During his residency training, Robinson met his wife and the two started performing abortions together. After performing hundreds of abortions, he and his wife had a conversion, ending their practice of performing abortions after converting to Christianity.
Now, Robinson advocates for life and travels the country speaking the truth about abortion and the lies the abortion industry proclaims. Earlier this year, he was in Granite City as the keynote speaker at the 40 Days for Life kickoff rally next to the abortion facility there.
Catholic Times Editor Andrew Hansen interviewed Robinson to learn about the mind of an abortionist and how manipulation is fooling people into thinking abortion is simply “health care.”
When you were in medical school, what made you think that you wanted to perform abortions?
That’s an excellent question because it really doesn’t quite work out that way. What the abortion mentality or philosophy has been successful at is the mindset of making abortion seem like it is medicine. So, it wasn’t like I decided, “Oh, I think I will go see what abortion is like and go do an abortion today.” Abortions were performed in the hospital I trained in as part of “normal medical practice.” So, I started doing abortions because I thought it was normal. But, abortion is not medicine. Medicine’s purpose is to comfort, to heal, and to make an individual better. There is nothing about an abortion that improves the life of a woman. It kills the baby and damages the mother psychologically and many times, physically.
What is it like performing an abortion?
When I first saw my initial abortion, watching over the shoulder of another resident, I will say that there was something about it that made me queasy. God gives us this conscience that He puts in us, which lets us know when something just isn’t right. What the enemy is able to do, is the same thing he has done from scene one, act one in the Bible. That is deception. If he can deceive you to think, “The woman is getting an abortion anyway and this is legal and you need to know how to do this procedure,” you tend to fall for it.
Here is what happens: You have this progressive desensitization and dehumanization that happens, not only in the doctor, but the nurses, and the entire medical team, where you no longer consider that this is a human being that you are killing.
You mentioned when you first saw an abortion that it didn’t seem right. So, when performing these abortions, taking these now lifeless human beings out of the mother, was there still anything inside of you saying that this is wrong or were you just numb?
You tend to suppress that because you have to remember you are in a setting where your evaluation is looked at how professionally you handle situations like this. If you act like the way you probably should act, then you will possibly be labeled “not professional” or “not being sensitive to the patient’s needs.” So, you treat the abortion just like you treat any other medical procedure. But no, you can’t change that gut feeling that something is wrong.
We totally ignore the humanity of the preborn child, but on the flipside, we admit when a woman has a miscarriage, you’re supposed to handle that a totally different way, being sensitive that there has been a loss in the family, get counseling, etc. But, you can’t have it both ways. It’s a baby no matter what.
How much did money play a role in you doing abortions?
I will say right off, I never enjoyed doing an abortion. I’ve never talked to a doctor who said, “That was a fun abortion.” Abortions are done for money. The fuel for the abortion industry is simply money. If the variable of money was removed from the abortion equation, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because it is a very lucrative and easy business, you don’t have to file insurance, it’s cash, you never have to worry about patients being dissatisfied because once a woman has an abortion, they really don’t want to have anything to do with the facility anymore.
Then, there is the lie you hear of “this is a choice between a doctor and a woman.” I can tell you, it’s not. The doctor doesn’t see the woman until right before the time of the abortion. These abortionists are what we call transient doctors. They just move around to several different venues making their cash.
What are some other big lies about abortion?
Forty years ago, they said it was “just a blob of tissue.” But babies have become more humanized simply by technology. It happened (recently) where a 20 week (baby in the womb) survived in the neonatal intensive care unit and went home. Back in 1973, that didn’t happen. That’s halfway through a pregnancy. So, technology has helped.
Scott Peterson (of California) received life in prison for two murders. One for the murder of his wife and for the murder of the preborn child when his wife was 20 weeks pregnant. So, we have laws that recognize a preborn child is human in certain instances, but then if you flip the coin, they are no longer human (abortion).
In malpractice, if an obstetrician gives his patient, the mother, a drug that adversely affects the preborn child, that doctor is held responsible for the injury of that child. If a doctor suspects a woman is using crack or heroine, by law, that doctor has to report that to the state because the state has an interest of the child to not become drug addicted or harmed. So, we have this abortion distortion where you try to have it both ways, but it doesn't work that way.
You eventually stopped performing abortions after just a few years because first, the city you moved to with your wife, in your words, had this “community standard where they didn’t perform abortions.” But, then you converted to Christianity and that really changed you?
The Lord told me and my wife and said, “It’s time for us to talk about the past and abortions.” That’s where He really revealed the magnitude of that sin. The Lord really allowed us to see how wrong killing these preborn children are and soon thereafter, I launched into the pro-life ministry, and for me, my first pro-life ministry was pregnancy resource centers.
On March 7 this year, you were in Granite City in our diocese as the keynote speaker at the 40 Days for Life kickoff rally by Hope Clinic, the abortion facility there. What was your message?
That facility, they call it Hope, but it’s really hopeless. I know what it’s like to work in a building like that. All they do is bring women in and hurt them. That’s all they do. They do late term abortions there. The place looks hard, it looks cold. My message was thanking them for being a part of 40 Days for Life.
40 Days for Life started in Bryan, Texas (by College Station). Planned Parenthood opened a facility there and this was a facility many knew about — Abby Johnson was the director. She walked out after having a revelation about the sanctity of life and what abortion is. After that, the Planned Parenthood closed down because 40 Days for Life, (people) standing in front of the facility, fasting, and praying. It’s very interesting, when we as believers, when we do things that the Lord says we are supposed to do, like prayer and fasting, we are sometimes surprised when we get results when we shouldn’t be.
The science proves that it is a human life at the moment of conception but for those who support abortion, that doesn’t seem to resonate with them. What is your message to those who still believe abortion is OK?
I would ask them, when do think their life began? Was it two weeks after conception? A month? Have them consider their life personally.
Questions and edited answers taken from Andrew Hansen’s interview with Dr. Robinson on Dive Deep, the official podcast of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Hear more from Robinson by going to dio.org/podcast.
By NATHALIE CORBETT
Special to Catholic Times
March 4, 1993, 11:53 p.m. and March 5, 1993, 12:12 a.m. Those are the dates and times marking when my twin brother and I were born. But here's what they do not mark: they do not mark the beginning of our lives, nor do they mark the beginning of our stories.
Our stories begin with a brave woman named Cindy, our biological mother. A one-night stand resulted in her unplanned pregnancy, with not one but two babies. This is what Cindy was facing. She was alone and only 22 years old. I'm sure she was faced with a lot of concerns. She was probably scared and had numerous reasons for not wanting to bring my brother and I into the world, but she made the brave decision to keep us and to put us up for adoption once we were born.
This, however, is only the beginning of how brave Cindy was to make this decision. A normal pregnancy was not intended for her. Early in her pregnancy, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The doctors encouraged her to abort the two of us to give her a better chance at success in her treatment against the cancer. Instead, Cindy chose to give us a better chance at surviving and made the decision to keep us in her womb for as long as she could.
I heard this story for the first time when I was 18 years old. From that moment, my pro-life mission had more focus, and it couldn’t resonate more than with what Biking for Babies achieves every summer. The mission of Biking for Babies is to renew the culture of life one pedal stroke and one pregnancy resource center at a time. Every Biking for Babies missionary partners with a Pregnancy Resource Center (mine was First Step Women’s Center in Springfield), and we raise funds collectively to help these centers and the women entering them by teaming up with other missionaries and bike about 700 miles in six days. Different groups start in various places in the country, but everyone finishes in St. Louis.
In returning to Biking for Babies this year, I thought I knew what to expect when signing up a second time around, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Several curveballs in both my training and my experience during the national ride came my way. There were several moments where I wanted to give up, but the mission kept calling me back.
Due to injuries to my elbow and muscles to my left leg as well as getting COVID, I was unable to start training until a month before the national ride. I pushed through and managed to get an 80-mile bike ride in before the national ride, which is what I needed to assure the team that I could do this.
I met my fellow “western route’ missionaries in Dodge City, Kan., our starting point for our 700-mile ride to St. Louis. We were excited for the long week ahead of us, but our first day of biking, July 10, gave us an idea of what we would be dealing with the entire week: 106-degree weather and humidity. We had cooling towels to cool us off during breaks and an amazing support crew that would spray us with cold water every two miles, but it was quite a challenge.
My leg injury then started flaring up on day two of biking, which meant that I couldn’t do the entirety of the mileage. I started looking for ways to get back home. The week wasn’t going as I had planned. Whenever I started looking for a way home, I would always come to the following conclusion: This wasn’t about me, and it wasn’t about the mileage I was getting in. It was about supporting my fellow missionaries, being a witness to life on the roads, communities, and families we encountered during the week, and ultimately, helping mothers and their unborn children.
After the ride was finished on July 16, we were asked, “What was a ‘God-send’ moment for you and your team this week?’” For me, it was our last day of biking.
Two of our bikers had to leave that morning, which meant that only four bikers were left, including myself. I was worried at the news because I knew that at some point, I would be getting off the bike. So, at 4:30 a.m., we started on the Katy Trail which runs along the Mississippi River. I managed to do 70 miles before hopping off and giving my leg a break. While taking a break, I went to a bike shop with two of the support crew members to get additional inner tubes since we were completely out and biking on a gravel surface. When we got back to the group, another biker, Ryan, was out due to heat stroke.
I decided to get back on the bike because it was too dangerous for only two people to be biking. After biking five miles, we reached a support crew vehicle and were told to stop. Jimmy, the co-founder of Biking for Babies, came out of a van with a bike and said, “I heard you guys needed another biker.” The three of us were so relieved. Once we were getting closer to St. Louis, the hills got steeper and my leg couldn’t handle it, but I knew that the team was in good hands with Jimmy being there. Ryan and I re-joined the team for the last five miles and then continued to bike the final mile with all the Biking for Babies missionaries.
Our team went through a lot of hurdles that day, and Jimmy showing up when he did was exactly what we needed. It’s that moment that reminded me of my faith in God. He will show up exactly when you need help, so turn to Him and embrace Him.
Nathalie Corbett attends St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Springfield.
Given the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion, is the use of birth control pills considered an abortion? If so, does it prevent those who use birth control pills from receiving the Eucharist
Anonymous in the diocese
To answer your questions, we have to make several important distinctions. Briefly put, the Church’s moral evaluation of abortion is distinct from that of using birth control (contraception) because these are very different acts. Abortion is the “direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being” (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, n. 57). Contraception is “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation” (Humanae Vitae, n. 14). Abortion destroys life, contraception prevents it. If chosen freely and knowingly, both abortion and contraception constitute serious sins (see Pius XI, Casti Connubii, n. 56).
In the case of abortion, a new human life is already present, and therefore the only “birth control” possible would be to destroy the human embryo or fetus, a clear violation of the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not kill.” In the case of contraception, fertilization is prevented in some way, and so there is no question of destroying a human life. However, contraception violates the nature of marital love, in which the spouses should give themselves to each other unreservedly. Openness to new life is an essential element of every sexual expression of marital love, even when natural methods like Natural Family Planning (NFP) are used to avoid pregnancy for some legitimate reason (illness, spacing births for serious financial reasons, etc.).
When it comes to contraception, we have to be precise, because the term is often used to describe a variety of drugs with very different effects. The most common contraceptive drug is a combination of estrogen and progestogen known colloquially as “the pill.” The pill alters a woman’s menstrual cycle and prevents ovulation (the release of egg cells), rendering her temporarily infertile. This is contraception in the proper sense of the word because conception is prevented altogether.
However, other drugs advertised as “contraceptives” can actually allow conception (fertilization) to occur and then cause the death of the embryo afterwards. Such drugs are not really contraceptives but “abortifacients” (abortion causing drugs). This is especially the case for drugs sold as “emergency contraceptives.” The so-called “morning after pill,” Plan B (levonorgestrel), is the most popular of these. When taken after sexual intercourse (as advertised and instructed), the only remaining way for this drug to “work” is by preventing the embryo’s attachment to the uterus. This ultimately kills the embryo and is thus an abortion. Of course, given the typical woman’s fertility window of about six days per month, so-called “emergency contraceptives” certainly do not cause an abortion every time they are used. This does not diminish the moral evil of using them, but it does reduce the number of human lives destroyed.
There are also drugs that are explicitly advertised as abortion drugs. The most common one is RU-486 (mifepristone), openly called “the abortion pill.” It is usually used together with the drug Cytotec (misoprostol). These drugs are used throughout the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. They first cause the death of the embryo or fetus and then its discharge. This is called a “chemical abortion.”
So, to your question about whether the Church considers “birth control pills” to be a form of abortion, the answer is that it depends on which drug is used. The most common form of contraception, “the pill,” is taken daily and prevents fertilization itself rather than killing embryos post-fertilization. It is possible for the pill to make the uterine wall less hospitable to the embryo’s attachment. But this would be an indirect abortive effect and not an abortion properly speaking (many medications can have indirect effects on fertility and pregnancy). Recall that abortion is the “direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being,” not a rare, indirect, and unintended side effect of some other action. On this note, it is important to acknowledge that some women are prescribed the pill for therapeutic reasons, for example, to treat endometriosis, severe acne, and certain forms of cancer. This use of the pill is morally permissible provided that the contraceptive effect is not the intention of the woman, and she is still open to life (in the context of marriage, of course) (see Humanae Vitae, n. 15).
It is possible and perhaps even likely that someone could be ignorant of the abortion-causing effects of so-called “emergency contraceptives” like Plan B. After all, they are advertised as “contraceptives,” not abortifacients. This ignorance would reduce the person’s moral culpability for using the drug. However, it would be difficult for someone to claim ignorance about a drug like RU-486, which is openly advertised as an abortion pill.
Regarding worthy reception of the Eucharist, abortion and contraception are not unique: All Catholics who are conscious of committing any serious sin are obliged to refrain from holy Communion until they receive absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation (see 1 Cor 11:27–30 and Code of Canon Law, n. 916). Anyone who has been involved in an abortion in any way should ask for God’s forgiveness and come to the sacrament of reconciliation to receive mercy, grace, and healing. Anyone who has used contraceptives for the purpose of preventing new life should do the same. Behind every “no” in the Church’s teaching is a life-giving and liberating “yes” to authentic human love and flourishing.
Father Christopher Trummer, S.T.L, is parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Springfield, associate delegate for Health Care Professionals, associate chaplain of the Springfield Chapter of the Catholic Physicians Guild/Catholic Medical Association, and has a license in Sacred Theology in Moral Theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, Italy.