She has met two popes and was known for her pro-life work, particularly for founding Project Rachel, a ministry focused on healing for post-abortive women.
Vicki Thorn, 72, died of a massive heart attack Wednesday, April 20. She was a member of St. Catherine Parish, Milwaukee, and is survived by her husband of 50 years, Dr. William Thorn, six children and 19 grandchildren. She leaves behind an inspiring legacy of healing.
In 1976, Thorn began serving as director of the Respect Life Office in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Since beginning Project Rachel in 1984, this ministry of the Catholic Church has provided healing for those impacted by abortion. It is a diocesan-based network of specially trained priests, religious, counselors and laypersons who provide a team response of care for those suffering in the aftermath of abortion. Project Rachel is found in more than 110 dioceses in the United States and provides confidential and skilled help to anyone coming to the ministry, and is open to women, men, parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and others whose lives are affected by abortion.
In 1990, she founded the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing to help Project Rachel coordinate additional post-abortion services and served as executive director.
After Thorn’s passing, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki extended his condolences and prayers. He said she dedicated her life to a single mission: caring for men and women wounded by abortion.
As the founder of Project Rachel, Archbishop Listecki said she single-handedly created a post-abortion healing ministry when none existed.
“I, along with the staff of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Pastoral Center, extend our deepest condolences to Bill, Vicki’s husband, and to her six children,” he said. “Vicki’s life and work stand as a living testimony to an unwavering and unconditional defense of life at all stages and to the mercy of God’s love.”
Thorn maintained an office at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center for 37 years. During that time, her ministry expanded across the U.S. and worldwide. Today, the ministry of Project Rachel continues and is operated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Lydia LoCoco, D. Min., director of community relations for the Office of the Archbishop, recalled serving in an internship with Thorn when she was 23 years old.
“When I ran the Nazareth Project and was responsible for Respect Life Ministry, Vicki and I worked intimately together,” LoCoco said. “She was one of my dearest friends, but I know that so many people would say that about her. To me, she was a national treasure. She literally single-handedly changed the pro-life movement. What was amazing is that she did it with six kids and a husband and while mothering all of us. She is the face of what all women are meant to be.”
LoCoco said many have reached out to her about Thorn, saying her death is “the end of an era.”
“I won’t accept that,” LoCoco said. “Vicki Thorn is who we are all called to be as Catholics living in the world.”
Thorn received several prestigious recognitions from the Catholic Church for her dedication to healing. In 2008, she was inducted into the Pontifical Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. In 2009, she received the People of Life Award from the USCCB for her pro-life service to the Church, and she had been a corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life for many years. In 2019, Notre Dame University awarded the Evangelium Vitae Medal to Thorn for her lifetime of work.
Thorn was also the author of “Progetto Rachele, il volto della compassionate” (“Project Rachel, The Face of Compassion”), published in 2009 by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, and was an internationally acclaimed speaker on the effects of abortion on women, men and families. She has spoken in Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, Australia, New Zealand, Guam, Ukraine, Italy, Austria, Poland, Chile, Slovakia, Romania, Sardinia, France, England, Scotland, Germany, Hong Kong and China. Her topics included abortion’s aftermath in women and men, the process of post-abortion healing, and the biology of bonding and attachment.
In surveying the challenges facing the Church, Thorn expressed hope that it would “continue to be a prophetic voice, proclaim the sanctity of all life: unborn, handicapped or uniquely challenged, those facing life-threatening health issues, those who are in the end stages of life, that they are treated with dignity and supported in their last days.”
Thorn served two terms on the ministry council at St. Lawrence Seminary High School when Fr. Gary Wegner was the dean of students. He is currently serving in Detroit as director of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.
“For many years, Bill and Vicki presented to the confirmation candidates on their lived-out experience of the Sacrament of Matrimony,” he said. “Vicki also gave a presentation to the whole student body one Holy Week.”
When Fr. Wegner returned to Wisconsin three weeks ago, Thorn contacted him, and she and Bill drove to SLS for lunch in the friary. The last he heard from her was when she texted him asking for prayers for an upcoming knee surgery scheduled for April 25. He said yes and asked for prayers for his surgery to remove kidney stones.
“When I got my cell phone back in the recovery room, the first message I saw was from Bill asking me to call him. Vicki must have passed while I was being prepped for surgery. I like to think she took her prayer for me and probably many others directly to the throne of God because while I believe in purgatory, I also believe Vicki is one of those saints who made it straight to heaven,” said Fr. Wegner.
Each time the two spoke, Thorn discussed their newest grandchild to be born or baptized and which one she planned to visit.
“She was so grateful to God for her children and grandchildren. They were everything,” Fr. Wegner said. “Vicki was very supportive of St. Lawrence and our program. She and Bill believed that we helped form young men who knew how to form deep friendships, which helped them when forming romantic relationships that were built on a firm foundation. She was a good, kind and holy woman. She was also a dear friend, and I will miss her.”
Thorn considered her family her most significant accomplishment despite her impressive resume and accolades. She was proud of her six children, grandchildren and husband, William, associate professor emeritus of journalism and media studies/Institute for Catholic Media at Marquette University.
Thorn’s death has impacted lives worldwide, but especially within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Richard Sosa, director of music and youth ministry at St. Anne Parish in Pleasant Prairie, remembers first hearing her speak at an event in Lake Geneva.
“I met Vicki years ago when she was the guest speaker, and I was leading worship at a Magnificat breakfast. Her joy and her talk were so impactful,” Sosa said. “She brought so much to the table regarding the tragedy of abortion and the importance of living a chaste life, but most of all, her ministry to provide hope, healing and mercy to all those who are post-abortive is probably the greatest gift she gave to the world. Through her, many souls have been saved.”
As state director of ProLife Wisconsin, Dan Miller’s path often crossed with Thorn’s.
“Vicki Thorn brought more post-abortive women and men to a place of healing than any other human being that has walked the planet since the fatally flawed Roe v. Wade decision in 1973,” Miller said. “We mourn the loss of Vicki Thorn, but she has left us with the gift of her life’s work at Project Rachael and her many other endeavors. She has saved countless souls from the horror of not being able to forgive themselves for their abortion or multiple abortions. Vicki spoke of God’s deep and abiding mercy at every turn.”
Reviewal at Schmidt and Bartelt Funeral Home, 10121 North Ave., Wauwatosa, will begin at 4 p.m. April 29, followed by the rosary at 7 p.m.. Services will be held at St. Catherine Church, 51st and Center, on April 30. Reviewal will begin at 10 a.m. prior to a noon Mass. The family will hold a private internment later.