As senior Hannah Bruckman prepared to join 23 of her classmates from Divine Savior Holy Angels on a three-day trip to her first March for Life in Washington, D.C., she spoke to her parents about her excitement and prayed with them about her fears.

“This was something that I’d wanted to do for a long time,” she said. “I knew God had put me on the path to go and I was ready to start walking it.”

When Bruckman entered high school, she didn’t know what some of her classmates meant when they said they were pro-choice, so one day she went home and asked. Her mother and father explained it to her and armed with the knowledge, she decided that as a Catholic there was only one option that was in line with the Church — she had to stand in defense of life. Instead of stopping there, however, she asked her parents if they could put their beliefs into action. They joined the Respect Life movement at their parish, St. Mary in Hales Corners, and have been a family of crusaders for the preservation of life ever since. When she was a sophomore, she learned that her mother was 19 when she was born, and that if she’d listened to her friends and her boyfriend at the time, Bruckman would have been lost to abortion.

“How could I know that and not be involved? I had to march,” she said.

Stephanie Monson, the director of salvatorian service at DSHA, who chaperoned the group along with Dean of Students Ruby Brock and parent volunteer Andrea Nelson, said from the moment they got to D.C., she felt an immense amount of joy. “This younger generation is so pro-life,” Monson said. “You felt it in the air.”

The 47th annual March for Life marked the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, decisions that made abortion legal in all 50 states and have resulted in millions of lost lives. It’s estimated that this year the national gathering drew its largest crowd with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flocking to the area for a three-day event.

Thursday night, Jan. 23, on the eve of the march, a vigil Mass was offered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with 300 priests, 40 bishops and three cardinals presiding, followed by an all-night prayer vigil.

The group from DSHA attended Mass with thousands of others. “People, mainly high school and college age, crowded in the aisles and side chapels to pray for life,” Monson said. “It was a powerful testament to the fact that we are not alone in our pro-life belief.”

She made a point to look at the girls’ faces as they took in the sight of so many people gathered together in the name of life and human dignity for the first time. As they left the church, Monson said she saw the joy that radiated from each girl as their eyes were opened to the many possibilities of what they’ll be able to accomplish as they get older. She said it was powerful to talk with them and feel inspired by their courage to live lives that not everyone will understand, with the full knowledge that they’re doing God’s will and the newly found comfort of knowing that even if they’re alone, hundreds of thousands stand behind them.

Before the March, Monson and Brock talked to the girls from their school about how to speak to others in a way that sparks conversation.

“I didn’t feel any apprehension about going to the March itself,” Monson said. “I’ve been many times before and it has always been such a positive environment. People can almost not be called protestors. They’re not screaming and waving signs. They’re there to show the love that they have for the human dignity of every person. It’s always been life giving.”

What worried Monson was social media and how, rather than evangelizing in a positive way, it tends to inform and shut down any hope of a conversation. They encouraged the girls to post their time at the March online but to do it in a way that opens the conversation, to go against the grain of our society that makes it difficult to have conversations about controversial topics.

“We want the girls to learn how to express themselves in a world that’s so ready to shut them down,” Monson said. They want to teach their students how to have difficult conversations about the pro-life movement in a way that’s respectful to everyone and builds relationships between people.

Bruckman was most surprised by all of the people her age and younger in D.C. for the March. “The news and pop culture make the world seem so pro-choice,” she said, and added that sometimes she feels like she’s in the minority, but during those three days, seeing all the people that were passionate defenders of life gave her perspective and strength.

Schools and parishes from all over the Archdiocese of Milwaukee sent groups to the March for Life.

Margie Mandli chaperoned a group of 18 students from St Joseph Catholic Academy in Kenosha along with two other parents, and Fr. Todd Belardi. She said it was electrifying to be there with such an enormous amount of people, that there was a sense of hope, nothing like anger or even sadness, but an optimism for the future and the certainty that the abortion laws will be overturned.

“We’re shifting; the culture is shifting,” she said. “This next generation is the pro-life generation. When you’re there, and you’re marching, it’s palpable. It’s absolutely true and so great.”

Her daughter, Ellie Mandli was among the students who attended the March and said her understanding comes from all the critical discussions on the topic in her theology class. As they learned about theology of the body, the dignity of life and the pro-life culture vs. a pro-death culture, they were able to really understand that every child is born in the image and likeness of God, and that life is being extinguished in our country daily because of an unjust law.

On Friday, Jan. 24, before the slow march to the U.S. Supreme Court began, a crowd of hundreds of thousands gathered in the grassy field to wait at the foot of the Washington Monument for a host of speakers, including Louisiana’s Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, two abortion survivors and, for the first time ever, the President of the United States, Donald Trump.

Lizzie Cantrall attended the March for Life with Wisconsin Right to Life along with 100 other high school- and college-aged students, and said that during the rally thousands stood outside the gates cheering and singing “Proud to be an American” as President Trump took the stage.

“For so many of us, we’ve been fighting for life our entire lives, beaten down by the media,” she said. “But in that moment, seeing our nation’s leader standing boldly for life before us, we knew we were going to win. I’ve never been so proud to live in a country that will fight (against) injustice and refuse to be silent.”

Corrie Christiaansen went to the March with her friends, Steph Haizel and Frankie Nethery. They went to 7 a.m. Mass before and stood together waiting for the speakers. Christiaansen has been before, five or six times, and said that every year is inspiring and peaceful but this year felt somehow more joyful.

“Each cluster or group is different,” she said. “It’s slow going marching to the Supreme Court building, but everyone is singing or praying or saying the rosary.”

None of the groups that attended seemed to notice many counter protestors, and all mentioned that security seemed relaxed and friendly. Christiaansen, who attended last year’s March, said that last year the March for Life was one day before the Women’s March and she noticed a palpable shift in the air as those who had marched for life left D.C. and the Women’s marchers seeped in.

“The spirit of joy that follows our movement says a lot,” she said. “The truth is coming out and one day we will end abortion. I truly, truly believe that.”

Afterward, the three women visited the office of Congressman Bryan Steil (District 1) and spoke with his team about pro-life legislation.

“I think it’s so important that we all make a point to do that,” she said. “We left feeling like we’d learned a lot and felt very heard.”

On the way to the airport, their Lyft driver asked why they were in town and ended up in a 15-minute conversation with him about the March for Life and why they’re pro-life.

“He was on the fence, asking us well what about rape, what about incest, and things like that,” she said. “He had a lot of questions and we just had a joyful, peaceful dialogue.”

By the time he dropped them off he thanked them for being an inspiration. She said, “That was my favorite part of the whole trip, seeing clearly how change can happen with gentleness.”