The University of Notre Dame announced Oct. 6, on Respect Life Sunday, that Vicki Thorn will receive

the 2020 Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal in recognition of her long-standing pro-life efforts.

The executive director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing and founder of Project Rachel will receive the honor at Mass and a banquet April 25.

“Vicki Thorn has dedicated her life to caring for women and men who have been wounded by abortion,” said O. Carter Snead, the William P. and Hazel B. White director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

“Her work is a living witness to the unconditional love and mercy that lies at the heart of the Culture of Life. We are pleased to honor her with the Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal,” he said in a statement.

While Notre Dame informed her about the award a few weeks ago, Thorn had no idea when the honor would be announced.

“I saw it on Facebook and there was a link to the Notre Dame news story; then I heard from a Catholic writer on the east coast about it,” she said. “I am stunned; I had not really thought about it, but it is the recognition of how important it is that we as a Church respond in a pastoral fashion to these particular issues.”

Thorn, a certified trauma counselor and spiritual director, started Project Rachel in 1984 while working in the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Since the first training workshop for a small group of attendees on Sept. 19, 1984, the ministry has expanded to most dioceses across the United States and more than 25 additional countries around the world. Now overseen by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Project Rachel is a diocesan-based network of specially trained priest confessors, mental health professionals, spiritual directors, medical professionals and others who provide ongoing, one-on-one, confidential post-abortion care.

“After I started this, a story hit the news in the Milwaukee Journal, and it blew me away how profound the need was for post-abortive help. I got letters from all over the world and I realized how deep the wound was for those involved in abortion,” said Thorn.

While much of the effort is in post-abortion healing for women, Thorn was surprised about the number of men suffering the effects and she realized that little help was available for them.

“For every abortion, there is a man, and the man, if he is in the picture, knows the woman has been pregnant for four weeks, even if he was not told. It comes through the woman’s scent, so in society, we say that it is none of the man’s business if the woman has an abortion, but it is an enormous wound for them,” she explained. “There have been a number of murder/suicides because of abortion, but the media doesn’t like to talk about it. The fathers don’t know what to do.”

Thorn recalled a free afternoon while she was in Washington, D.C., for a talk. She had planned on working on her notes for the talk, but the Holy Spirit had other plans.

“He kept telling me to go to the bar. I said, ‘It is 3 in the afternoon, I don’t want to go to the bar,’” she explained. “I hear him tell me to go again, so I go down to this restaurant bar where I was the only one in the place, sat down at a table and said to the Holy Spirit, ‘and?’ Soon, two middle-aged guys in cut-offs came in and sat down at the bar near me. One guy looked at me and said, ‘Hey, are you a writer?’ I told them that I am and talk to men and women about healing from abortion. He yells out to me, ‘You are pro-life? Can we sit with you?’ One of the men said that if he didn’t have his job, he would be burning down abortion clinics. I asked him what he did, and he told me he was the sheriff in town and the other guy was his assistant. He said he impregnated his girlfriend in high school and the parents severed the relationship and he assumed they made her have an abortion. Years, later, he met his daughter — and it triggered him to being pro-life.”

“Vicki Thorn’s work has been a source of healing for women and men whose lives have been touched by abortion,” said University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. “I’m grateful to the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture for recognizing Ms. Thorn for her service to the Church and to the work of mercy on behalf of a Culture of Life.”

Thorn holds a degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota, as well as a certificate in trauma counseling from UW-Milwaukee. She is a long-time member of the Association of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health and a frequent workshop presenter. She is also a trained bereavement facilitator through the American Academy of Bereavement and was certified through Resolve through Sharing Prenatal Loss as a Prenatal Loss Facilitator.

She and her husband, Marquette Professor William Thorn, are the parents of six children. As a couple, they were inducted into the Pontifical Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher in October 2008, as Knight and Lady. In August 2009, she received the People of Life Award from the Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops for her pro-life service to the Church. In 2011, she was appointed a “Corresponding Member” of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The annual Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae award consists of a specially commissioned medal and $10,000 prize, to be presented at a banquet on the campus of Notre Dame on April 25. For more information about the Evangelium Vitae Medal, visit ethicscenter.nd.edu/ev2020.