Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Big River
Marie Regnier finds her purpose in pro-life work, in River Falls
As many college students prepare to face the harsh realities of life after college, it can be daunting not only to find a job in your field but to find a place where you fit in and feel most like yourself. When Marie Regnier applied for an internship at the Pregnancy Helpline during her junior year at UW-River Falls, little did she know a path was unfolding.
“I thought it would be a great way to make my college career more fun and seemed like a wonderful way to earn credits while also doing something ‘real life’,” she said. “The Pregnancy Helpline was somewhere I could fit, somewhere I could be comfortable. A ministry I was somewhat familiar with and run by someone I was familiar with.”
While working at the Pregnancy Helpline, now called Options for Women, Marie was able to finally explore a personal project through her internship.
“One day my friend Hannah and I were talking in the student center and she mentioned that she would love to have a pro-life group on campus. We would talk about it off and on but nothing really happened. Pro-life was of course an important issue for us, but the club didn’t happen yet,” she said. “But once I started the internship, it kind of served as the impetus and now we had a real reason to get it started and could dedicate time to it.”
Through this process, Marie and her co-founders started the pro-life group, Lifeguards. With the Newman Center providing the majority of the members, and a very supportive adviser at the university, the club was off to a great start.
“We got some really positive support from the Newman Center, I mean, almost 100% of our club came from there and the deacon was super supportive,” she said. “We also got a lot of resources from a national group called Students for Life of America and they help high schools and colleges with pro-life causes and gave us free materials and trainings, came out to our campus and helped us to create a display to show when does life begin.”
“I’m pro-life because God is pro-life. God made that baby, and just like my life isn’t mine, that baby’s life is his, too.”
They hosted a number of events on campus where they could present the human rights display, fundraise through bake sales to buy t-shirts but also to donate money to the Pregnancy Helpline.
Even though students on campus were generally accepting and approached the Lifeguards with good discussion and interest, it wasn’t always an easy topic for students to respect.
“One event stands out in my mind and it was when we had created a cemetery for the innocent where we put something like 60 wooden crosses that represented so many thousands of babies killed by abortion. The display was vandalized,” she said. “Now we could have gotten angry but we saw it as proof that people were looking at it and were moved by it, even if it was to vandalize it.”
Marie knew in starting the Lifeguards that it wouldn’t always be an easy journey but took solace in the fact that they were at least trying to do something in the pro-life cause.
“We showed that a student group could stand up for what they believe in. Jesus simply calls us to be faithful, and I think we were that by at least establishing a presence,” she said. “I think, in general, I hope the philosophy would not be to get angry because it’s hard to get angry when they just don’t understand. Instead of anger we need to look at our approach and see, are we doing this in the best way or in a way that could change their hearts.”
Marie graduated in December of 2015, but as the first president of the Lifeguards she is proud of the work they accomplished and hopes the future of the club will be successful.
“In fall of 2015 we won the most improved student organization and our adviser won an award for his advising that same semester,” she said. “One of the benefits, now, is I actually work for Options for Women so I can be a resource for them. They can host me at an activity or use me as a speaker. I would love to stay involved because these students are our boots on the ground to reach that age group and it can be really powerful to have that.”
Once Marie graduated and the internship was over, she wasn’t really sure what her next step would be. She majored in psychology but didn’t really want to pursue more schooling. After applying to many jobs, a process most college students would be familiar with, she began to look at her resume and her passions and with a helpful hand from fellow parishioner and Director of Options for Women, JoAnne, she found her place at Options.
“I kind of just applied anywhere at first, as you do, and nothing was really taking, so I looked at my skills and pro-life just kept coming up and my Catholic church background, so I thought that’s probably where I should try for,” she said. “JoAnne went to my church and knew me and knew she wanted to take on someone because it was just her and a volunteer at Options. The opportunity came at just the right time and I’m so appreciative that she was willing to take a chance on me.”
Previously as an intern, Marie mostly worked on establishing Lifeguards and educating herself on pro-life topics. But now as a part-time employee, she is able to use her degree and her passion for pro-life efforts every day.
“Now I get to do much more of the client interaction and it’s work I am so excited to do. It’s a Christian organization and a lot of us are Catholic so it’s nice to be around people who believe the same as you and to feel comfortable in that,” she said. “At Options, we don’t stand for abortion and birth control, so if someone comes in asking about them we see that as God’s own opportunity to share His plan, His love and His message.”
Marie finds her passion in the work she’s able to do with the women who come in for free pregnancy testing, with concern about their sexual health, for help learning parenting skills, or just to talk about life issues.
“It is really all about opportunities: opportunities to inspire a teen girl to see how much she is worth, opportunities to sit across from a woman considering abortion and try to be the support she needs, opportunities to bring hope and love where there isn’t any in a struggling mother’s life. One thing I really know for sure is that these are God’s opportunities. I am just supposed to be His instrument, and I only pray I can let Him work through me. I love the ‘Only Jesus’ prayer that begs Jesus to let others see Him in me. The goal is to let the women and families we serve feel Jesus’ love.”
An added benefit to working at a Christian organization, Marie says, is that she feels free to pray openly and to talk about God without feeling awkward or out of place.
“We often stop and get to do midday prayer, and I feel like I can breathe and I see it as a chance to reset. I have asked my co-workers to pray with me and I offer to pray for them and it’s so open and nice,” she said. “Having a type of work where I can make a difference through God’s love and can help women is an absolute blessing.”
Through her work with Lifeguards and now working at Options for Women, she has often had to answer the question, why are you pro-life?
“I’m pro-life because God is pro-life. God made that baby, and just like my life isn’t mine, that baby’s life is his too,” she said. “The choice we have is in the beginning, not after pregnancy. Even though it’s difficult, it’s Gods life and it’s his decision and I respect that.”
Marie said it can be hard to help a woman find her way through a scary situation like an unplanned pregnancy, but she just puts all the hope – the woman’s and her own – in God.
“What I want them to see is it’s Gods life, and it’s not our decision to make. It’s about accepting His will but that can be hard to accept sometimes,” she said. “In the kind of work we do, you have to acknowledge the difficult, look for the hope, reach for another option, and then practically help her make that other option a reality. The woman needs to see that it is about both her and the baby and that they can grow from here. That is the goal. I fail; I mess up in reaching this goal. But, that makes me open myself more and more to God and put more and more of my trust in Him. It’s His work.”
By Monica Organ
Photography by Michael Lieurance