By Dan Russo and Jill Kruse
CASCADE — After protesting for the sake of unborn children in this year’s March for Life Jan. 22 five bus loads of people from around the Archdiocese of Dubuque — many of whom came from Catholic schools and parishes — were among those stranded on a Pennsylvania turnpike because of a massive snowstorm.
Despite over 20 hours on the roadside, those who made the trip came back energized for the cause and provided a witness to faith.
“The whole time it was positive,” said Katie McGuire, a teacher at Aquin Catholic Elementary School in Cascade. “Not one of my parents or students complained. I think that snow storm did a lot of good for the pro-life movement because the fact that we were stranded was all over the media.”
McGuire was on a bus with 17 parents and 17 students from her school, as well as four other adults. The beginning of their trip went as planned. After leaving Jan. 21, the group made it to the capital by Jan. 22, attending a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and seeing a few sites before lining up for the annual march.
“The experience was incredible,” said Carla Kasal, a parent who attended the march for the first time with her daughter Emily and a group from Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School. “It was neat to see all those people gathered together to stand up for innocent babies.”
Flurries began to cover Washington, D.C., as an estimated 500,000 people from around the nation walked from the Washington Monument to the Supreme Court building to protest the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade court decision that legalized abortion in the United States in 1973. Some groups didn’t even make the trip because of advance weather reports. For those that did, further sight-seeing was canceled and many got back on the road a day early, at about 3:15 p.m.
This caused some logistical challenges for the organizers of the trip, Dubuque County Right to Life (DCRTL). Staff had ordered pizzas for the marchers to eat on the way home, but some of the buses had to take off sooner than expected, leaving executive director Marian Bourek with a large amount of extra food. A decision was made to hand out the pies to those in need in and around Washington’s Union Station.
“I had the privilege of taking all those pizzas to the homeless,” said Bourek. “They know the gift of sharing better than most of us.”
At about 9 p.m. that night, the buses were delayed when a semi-truck jack-knifed on the highway ahead of them.
“At no time were we stuck,” explained McGuire. “We were stopped. The semi-trucks ahead of us couldn’t make it up the hill.”
Although the buses were able to maneuver, cars and smaller vehicles began to get caught in drifts. The National Guard came to assist, handing out food and water as the hours passed. Those in the buses, however, were already well stocked. They spent time getting outside talking with others and helping where they could. Trina Hingtgen saw two young women trying to shovel their car out and decided to lend a hand, using picket signs from the march to dig. When the car was excavated, the impromptu team pushed it down the road until it was able to reach the eastbound lane, which was clear.
“We spent all day shoveling and pushing and just talking to people,” said Hingtgen.
The students from Aquin were stranded near a bus carrying students from Beckman Catholic High School in Dyersville.
“It was fun,” said eighth-grader Isabelle Fransen. “We went outside and we played in the snow. I’d do it again. It was a great experience, especially the march.”
Gas tanks were full enough to keep the heat going. At night, students and chaperones slept on the seats of the buses and in the aisles. The discomfort didn’t faze Lilly Trumm, also an eighth-grader at Aquin.
“It was really an eye opening experience,” she said of the march and the storm. “No matter what happens, God has a plan and it is for the good in the long run.”
“Our classmates just got closer and bonded,” added Sophie Callahan.
One of the most moving and widely reported incidents during the hours on the highway was a Mass conducted outside in the storm.
At one point, McGuire noticed a group gathering outside to build what she thought was a fort. It turned out to be an altar made of snow. A priest from North Dakota celebrated the Mass. Although hosts were scarce, some were distributed.
“I was right next to the priest,” said McGuire. “They broke each wafer into pieces. He said his hands were freezing.”
Hingtgen, who was also at the Mass before the snow altar, said it was very moving to celebrate the Eucharist there.
“It was so beautiful,” she said. “They stood on this hill in two feet of snow. The kids on the hills were all singing.”
Once the trucks were cleared, cars went next and, finally, buses. At one point, Kasal’s bus was faltering in the snow, unable to gain traction. Pizza boxes, another spontaneous tool, were among the items used to dig out. Many in the group went to the back of the bus and said a “Hail Mary.” Shortly after that, the bus was on its way. Kasal said the obstacles of her first trip to the March for Life haven’t deterred her.
“I’d go back in a heartbeat,” she said.
The majority of the bus groups got home Jan. 24. Bourek and other DCRTL staff drove in a car to the event and didn’t get back to Iowa until Jan. 26, encountering some freezing rain in addition to the snow. On Bourek’s first day back, she got news that the Planned Parenthood facility in Dubuque, where telemed abortions are taking place, would be closing its doors soon.
“While this announcement is a victory for our community, we mourn also the countless lives lost and women scarred by abortion in Dubuque and across the nation,” she said in a statement released Jan. 26. “DCRTL Inc. will continue to work to educate the public on all life issues until every mother and child are welcomed and supported with the resources they need to live in dignity.”
This story is provided courtesy of The Witness, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.