Dcn. Jim Matthias, Director of the Respect Life Ministry for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, addresses people gathered June 17 at St. Mary’s Visitation, Elm Grove, to promote collaboration among pro-life groups and initiatives. (Submitted photo)

When Dcn. Jim Matthias became the director of the Respect Life Ministry for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, one of his goals was to increase collaboration on pro-life work throughout the archdiocesan community.

A big step in advancing that agenda has been two Respect Life Church Hall events, which facilitate communication, networking and resource-sharing opportunities for various pro-life ministries, both independent and those affiliated with a parish.

A second Respect Life Church Hall gathering was held June 17 at St. Mary’s Visitation Parish in Elm Grove. The first was held last fall in Menomonee Falls.

“The plan is to disseminate information, but also gather information,” Dcn. Matthias said. Since he came to this job last fall, Dcn. Matthias has been spending time building relationships with people leading pro-life ministries, opening the lines of communication between the parishes and the 10-county archdiocese.

At the most recent church hall event, six representatives of pro-life organizations and initiatives gave attendees an overview of their work.

“We want people to be aware of things that they can do,” said Dcn. Matthias. “We wanted people to be able to say, ‘Oh, I could do this in my parish.’”

Kathy Easter, a parishioner of St. Mary’s Visitation, presented information on her Life Fair initiative. Life Fair is “a way of spreading the truth about life issues and Catholic teaching in a way that celebrates, and is fun and uplifting,” she told the Catholic Herald.

Life Fair is a collection of posters, literature, games and giveaways that, taken together, create a fun environment where families can learn about respect life issues and what the Church teaches on them. Easter and her fellow organizers have already held one Life Fair at Holy Apostles Parish in New Berlin and one at Mother of Perpetual Help in West Allis. Another Life Fair is planned for St. Mary’s Visitation in October, and Easter is hoping to bring the free event to any parish that is interested in it.

“We’re just starting to get the word out to do this as many places as we can. Dcn. Matthias is just doing a bang-up job bringing people together and sharing those ideas and inspiring us,” Easter said.

Teresa Wolf, Development Director at Pro-Life Wisconsin, presented with her colleague Celia Barrett, Outreach Director at Pro-Life Wisconsin.

“It was wonderful to be able to present with other groups and to have focus from the community, especially the Catholic community, in the immediate area,” Wolf said. “It was really a great forum to get to hear from others and to present our own ideas, our own happenings and events, but also to hear how others are doing, how we complement each other, and to find opportunities to work together with the various groups who presented.”

Wolf and Barrett gave information about Pro-Life Wisconsin’s True to Life billboard campaign. Billboards have been put up at major entry points in Illinois and Minnesota encouraging mothers to choose life and offering Pro-Life Wisconsin’s website for further resources. Billboards at entry points to Wisconsin offer messages of hope for post-abortion recovery, information about abortion pill reversal and links to resources for healing from the trauma of abortion.

Mary Gilpin shared details on the work she is doing with the Women’s Support Center to counsel women and families against contraception.

“What I wanted to emphasize when I spoke was the success we have on getting women off of contraceptive birth control — it’s about 90, 94 percent,” she said, noting that the counsel at the center is never given in a forceful way. “It’s a discussion, back and forth with the woman,” she said. Gilpin and her colleagues always begin the conversation by discussing with the woman what the purpose of the marital act is, and how its unitive and procreative natures cannot be separated. She said she also shares with women the harmful effects of hormonal birth control, both physically and within a man and woman’s relationship.

“At the social part after everyone had given their talks (at the church hall), one of the men came up to me and thanked me for the talk and he said, ‘I didn’t know. I didn’t know,’” Gilpin said. “It touched me.”

Dcn. Matthias also presented to the group on the Walking With Moms In Need initiative, which is an ongoing program launched in 2019 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The program encourages “every parish to find a pregnancy center or maternity home, find out what they need, and support them — whether it’s volunteer work, whether it’s donations or whether they can do something like a diaper drive where people donate different items that are needed by the pregnancy center,” said Dcn. Matthias. “It’s so important to recognize that, as Catholics, we don’t just care about the baby up until it’s born. We are pro-life before and after the birth of the baby.”

Another Respect Life Church Hall is already being planned for later this year, with the date and location to be determined, said Dcn. Matthias. He hopes that more representatives from parishes throughout the archdiocese will reach out to him to introduce themselves, acquaint him with their respect life ministries, and let him know of any assistance or resources they need.

“We just want to encourage people to be pro-life,” he said. “We want to find out where they are and exchange ideas.”

To contact Dcn. Matthias, email MatthiasJ@archmil.org or call 414-769-3454.