Through the offices of the Vatican Studies Center, Thomas More College students Jeremy Lagasse and Jacinta Latawiec, both members of the Class of 2009, are spending this summer working as Junior Fellows at the Culture of Life Foundation in Washington, D.C. The Foundation was created in 1997 in answer to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, and works with philosophers and journalists, theologians and scientists.
Its mission, according to Jeremy, “is to preserve and encourage respect for life in all of its stages. With the rapid pace at which technology is increasing, the ethical questions that arise often do not get addressed in the public space. The Foundation has as its mission the work of educating the medical and academic communities in addition to the general public.”
Jacinta said that her work at the Foundation grows out of her religious formation and academic experience: “Growing up in an actively pro-life family, I have been educated from a young age in what it means to preserve and respect life in all its stages. Thomas More College gave me the opportunity to learn more about the dignity of man as seen in the Western traditions of political science, philosophy, and literature. The Culture of Life Foundation has helped me to continue in this journey of forming my heart and my mind. In a culture where the value of human life is not always at the forefront, it is important to bring these issues into the public sphere.”
In recent months, the Foundation has issued reader-friendly, media-savvy reports on such topics as stem cells, the evil of using condoms to reduce the spread of HIV, doctor-assisted suicide, and efforts to legalize abortion in Mexico—among many other issues.
Working at a thinktank in Washington, D.C. is quite a change from their normal summer fare, the students report. Jacinta says, “I normally spend the summer with my family in Minnesota. As a college student, I am usually trying to juggle a few summer jobs. One which I have been devoted to for the past few years involves working as a healthcare aid to the elderly and mentally handicapped.” Even as she works in Washington, her clients from past summers remain with her, she reports, as “a constant reminder of why the economically and physically defenseless must be represented at the nation’s capitol.”
Most summers, Jeremy reports, “I normally do some mindless manual labor job that yields nothing but a paycheck and atrophy of the mind. Even though there is a level of discipline that can be garnered from labor, there is no product and thus no lasting reward.” By contrast, Jeremy’s typical day this year “consists of reading, researching, and writing. The primary task that has been assigned to us is producing a piece that is fit to be published by the Foundation. After that, we will assist in planning a conference for the Foundation that will honor the addition of a new member, Dr. William E. May, the author of Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life. That conference will be held in Washington, D.C. on September 20, and entitled, ‘The Culture of Life vs. The Culture of Death: From Humanae Vitae to Cloning and Assisted Suicide.’”
Their time in D.C. is proving to be rich and inspiring. “There is a great network of foundations, centers, and organizations in the city, so we have taken the opportunity to attend as many events as possible. We have toured the Capitol building and had the chance to see the Supreme Court in session. We have attended events put on by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s Conservatism on Tap, the Leadership Institute, the Catholic Information Center, and the Heritage Foundation, to name a few,” Jacinta says.
“I met some amazing people,” Jeremy reports, such as “Father Arne Panula, the former vicar of Opus Dei in the U.S., who typically says a daily Mass nearby at the Catholic Information Center. We have also had the privilege of meeting Senator Sam Brownback, Morton Blackwell, and George Weigel. Another incredible event that we attended was hosted by a group called the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. It was the one year anniversary of their erecting a statue in memory of the over 100 million people who died because of Communism. Here we met several ambassadors, congressmen, and the Dalai Lama’s niece. Very exciting.”
What will they take away from the summer, apart from memories and worthy connections? Jeremy says, “I have gained a glimpse of evil, but more importantly I am learning about the responsibility that I have, as a man and a Christian, to respond to threats against the human person. It has shown me that the life I want is one of service. I would like to assist in the efforts being made to restore the human person to its rightful place in the eyes of the world.”
According to Jacinta, such work “has not only enabled me to continue learning about issues surrounding the protection of human life and dignity, it has provided a forum for me to express my own thoughts. It has given me a chance to reflect seriously on the ideals and reality of our culture. As I enter into my senior year at Thomas More College, I will be more conscious of what is being demanded of the next generation in terms of how I vote and what I write.”