A gymnasium full of people showed their love on St. Valentine’s Day for those who haven’t yet been born.
More than 400 people gathered for the 11th annual Dinner for Life hosted by Sacred Heart Major Seminary on Feb. 14. Each year, the dinner and fundraiser raises money for a pro-life organization — this year it was Mother and Unborn Baby Care in Southfield — while teaching seminarians to be advocates for life.
Seminarians planned the Mass at the seminary’s chapel and dinner, from registration and set up to booking this year’s keynote speaker — Teresa Tomeo of Ann Arbor-based Ave Maria Radio — and picking the organization that will benefit from the estimated $16,000 raised.
Transitional Deacon John Carlin, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Detroit, has been involved in the dinner for six years running. Along with the dinner, Deacon Carlin also has been involved in pro-life youth conferences and has volunteered with Mother and Unborn Baby Care.
Deacon Carlin, along with Andrew Smith, a first-year theology seminarian for the Archdiocese of Detroit, were the lead organizers of the team of 10 seminarians who made the dinner happen.
“A big part of my ministry is doing sidewalk counseling and helping with crisis pregnancy centers,” Deacon Carlin said. “I learned a bunch of things working with pro-life organizations that I want to take into my priesthood with me. God put some people on earth to protect his people, and that is what I want to do with my priesthood.”
An estimated 410 people attended the dinner — tickets were $30 — and included a raffle drawing with donated prizes that included religious art, sports memorabilia and a new flatscreen TV.
The seminarians spent the evening serving tables with water and wine, prepping food and cleaning up.
“We handle all aspects of organizing it with registration, promoting it, coordinating with the caterer and staff at the seminary,” Smith said. “We started organizing this back in September, meeting once a month to check in and coordinating, see how everything it is going. Making sure everything it set for February.”
In addition to supporting a pro-life cause, Smith said the logistics of hosting the dinner helps seminarians hone their administrative skills.
“For men and a lot of the guys, it’s really about building those leadership skills, stretching yourself beyond where you are comfortable in planning an event like this,” Smith said. “There are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of, a lot of balls in the air. As a pastor, it is the same situation at a parish, with a lot of different pieces that you have to bring together to make one whole.”
Mother and Unborn Baby Care, founded in 1984 by Mike and Peggy O’Dea, each year serves more than 500 women and provides “boots on the ground” support for mothers in dire circumstances who need material and emotional support.
Nancy Peterson, executive director of Mother and Unborn Baby Care, said when the crisis pregnancy center opened, it represented a “new front line in the abortion battle.”
“Mike and Peggy realized there were far too many women who could become victims of local abortionists,” Peterson said. “Thirty-six years later, we are called to continue to serve. Last summer, we reached the 10-year mark at our current building, and here we are carrying on the O’Deas' original motto: ‘To love babies into life by loving their mothers.’”
Tomeo, in her keynote, talked about the need for brave witnesses who are willing to combat a culture that seems saturated with anti-life messages.
“A lot of people listen to me on a regular basis (on the radio), and I discuss a lot of pro-life issues, but I wasn’t always pro-life,” Tomeo said. “If someone like me can come out of the secular media, given the attitudes that I had before, which were strong, and I can change them and become a pro-life activist, then there is hope for everyone.”
Tomeo's message — and the pro-life message in general — is critical for seminarians to hear, Deacon Carlin said.
“If we are not preaching truth from the pulpit or living it in our life, people will just end up being informed by the culture,” Deacon Carlin said. “As priests, we need to preach the sanctity of life, marriage, what the Church teaches about end-of-life issues and why. We need to teach what God wants from the people in the pews — that is what people are expecting of us — so we have to have a heart for it.
“We hear it in the Psalms: ‘God has prepared my hands for battle, my fingers for war,’” Deacon Carlin continued. “From the judges to the prophets, God always asked people to speak His word to His people, to protect His family. That's how I see myself in my priesthood. I’m celibate, and I won’t have a family of my own, but God has asked me to protect His family.”