Focuses on life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness

As the presidential election draws near and Covid cases rise at Notre Dame, the student body expressed feelings of isolation and distress in the administration’s wellness survey. This year’s Respect Life week, which was organized by Notre Dame’s Right to Life club and took place from October 12-16, provided an antidote for this kind of disconnect. As is the case every year, the week’s general purpose is to explore what it means to possess human dignity, as well as the way such ideas about our common humanity should be manifested in society.

Sean Tehan, the club’s Director of Dorm Outreach, explained that the week includes events like visits from speakers and film presentations in the hope of fostering “loving dialogue” about real issues. “It is easy,” he added, “to wear a pin or go on the annual March [for Life]. It is another thing to engage with others and learn more about the issues.”

This year, there was ample opportunity for discourse. Following Monday’s “Basilica Mass Kickoff,” students were invited to eat donuts outside as a community. The next day, the club offered a showing of a newly released documentary called “Divided Hearts of America.” The documentary, as described on the information flyer for the week, focused “on the history of abortion in America.” Tehan, who attended the event, identified it as a highlight of the week and remarked that the film wove insightful “facts and current trends” with “profoundly moving stories” and ultimately indicated that “the issue of abortion can go from [one] of extreme polarization to one that unites our divided hearts.”

Wednesday featured an information session centered around a Zoom call with Prof. Alesha Seroczynski which, according to the flyer, provided information about “Notre Dame’s prison ministry initiative.” The club also distributed a “Voting Information Sheet” that compared Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s stances on several life issues, as well as the specific actions they have taken and policies they have supported. For instance, the flyer noted that President Trump has Invested in HBCUs, advocated for school choice, and opposed abolition of law enforcement in America” but “continues to practice the policy of family separation begun under the Obama-Biden administration.”

Both Thursday and Friday also included opportunities for reflection and dialogue, with a testimony “on the intersection of race and the pro-life movement” offered by Dr. Alveda King (followed by discussion among viewers) and a question and answer session with the university’s Right to Life Board Members that wrapped up the week. Eucharistic Adoration was also offered all day on Thursday, as an indication that, for many, faith plays a central role in the recognition of our shared human dignity.

If this year’s events sound topical—and political—that’s because they are. As Tehan explained, the year’s theme—“life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness”—was inspired by St. John Paul II’s comments about the importance of defending life in the name of “justice for all.” According to Tehan, the week was intended to “put [the club’s] mission in the general context of America.” “To stand up for equality and the dignity of the person,” he said, “we must defend life and liberty for all.” In practice, this meant events like Dr. King’s talk, which “illustrated that racism is a pro-life issue” because “the reduction of individuals to skin color is an affront to human life,” said Tehan.

Despite—or, maybe, because of— the weight and seriousness of many of these issues, and the potential controversies to which they are attached, Respect Life week also serves as a bastion of community, said Tehan: “it is so great to be able to come together with such awesome people to learn more about such an important cause. Everyone is so welcoming and deeply motivated to fight for life.” 

ND’s Right to Life club strived to provide a sense of community with a purpose, especially in a time which, for many students, has been characterized by isolation. They continue to fight what Saint John Paul II called the “culture of death” by extending love and friendship to those whose dignity is not being recognized.

Nia is a junior studying in the program of liberal studies with minors in history and journalism, ethics and democracy. She loves running, cooking and watching the New York Giants lose every Sunday. She can be reached at