Marian-themed pilgrimage marks second year of post-Roe march

Students in Notre Dame’s Right to Life club joined thousands from around the nation for the 51st annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. Over 300 students from Notre Dame attended this year’s march on January 19 to give personal witness to the sanctity of human life, echoing the university’s commitment to defend the most vulnerable. 

This year’s march was the second since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June of 2022. With the passage of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the pro-life movement now can focus on advocating for policies on both the state and federal level, instead of only at the Supreme Court. Despite this development, the national march still occurs in D.C. The non-profit organization March for Life explains its new emphasis: “The necessary work to build a culture of life in the United States of America is not finished. … The goal of the national March for Life is to not only change laws at the state and federal level, but to change the culture to ultimately make abortion unthinkable.”

Notre Dame Right to Life leadership emphasized that this year’s march should be thought of as a pilgrimage. Accordingly, the theme for the trip was “Under her Mantle,” a tribute to the university’s namesake, a mother herself. Gregory Pratt, a current junior and this year’s Trip Coordinator, reflected on the importance of this message: “Supporting expectant mothers is such an important part of promoting a culture of life, that we wanted to turn to Our Blessed Mother to ask for her intercession and her protection for all mothers and their babies.” In line with the theme, students carried signs with images dedicated to various Marian apparitions and invocations.

The morning of the march, the group attended Life Fest, an event hosted by the Sisters of Life that included adoration, Mass, and testimonies given by mothers who were supported by the Sisters during their pregnancies. 

Students also attended the rally held on the National Mall before the march. Arousing conflicting feelings in many of the Fighting Irish present, Michigan football coach and 2024 national champion Jim Harbaugh gave the introduction to the keynote speech, delivered by former NFL player Benjamin Watson. Other speakers included Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, and Jean Marie Davis, a survivor of human trafficking. 

Though the number of attendees was lower this year, returners to the march noted that the joyful atmosphere was unchanged. Father Karl Romkema, C.S.C., Director of the Old College Undergraduate Seminary, spoke to the continued sense of enthusiasm in the post-Dobbs era: “There’s always been a surprising amount of joy at the march, but I think it feels more peaceful. There’s more resolution about the issue, and so the overwhelming feeling would be celebration.” 

Fr. Romkema continued, “As a priest, my favorite thing about the March for Life is seeing the Church in Her grandeur, Her beauty, especially united over a real-world justice issue. You look around, you see so many clearly Catholic people, and that’s my favorite part—even more than the political, it’s the ecclesial.” 

Junior Annaliese Anderson reflected on the experience, saying, “The atmosphere of the march is electrifying. To witness thousands of people singing, praying, and laughing as they trudge through freezing snow (and, in our case, after a sleepless bus ride) is a truly impactful experience. It made me love my classmates even more and really testifies to the fact that the culture of life is one of joy, fellowship, and strength.”

For many students, this trip was their first time attending the march. Freshman Annabelle Wehrle told the Rover, “It’s incredible to see everyone from around the country trying to support and protect life at a national level. Here in the place where our government is supposed to protect the rights of our citizens, we’re here protecting the most vulnerable. Just like so many other historical movements over the years, this will be another success story.”

This year, the feast day of Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, aligned with the Saturday after the march. In celebration of this fortunate coincidence, tri-campus students joined Holy Cross priests at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for a Mass offered by Fr. Terry Ehrman, C.S.C., Right to Life Chaplain. Gregory Pratt noted, “I remember sitting there in the pew thinking how amazing it was that our club was able to have Mass at the National Shrine, a basilica dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, reminding us that Mary always keeps us under her mantle.”

 In the post-Dobbs era, many are looking to influence state governments as the fight against abortion moves to include the local sphere as well. But giving advice to students at Notre Dame hoping to promote a pro-life culture on campus, Fr. Romkema suggested a broader focus: “A big part of the reason we come on the national March for Life—to walk alongside hundreds of thousands of other people who believe in life—is to understand that we are not a fringe, radical point of view. As a matter of fact, we are mainstream and may even find ourselves in the majority, especially among young people. And so I encourage us to take solace in that; it’s an issue that you can talk about and that we must talk about.”

Lucy Spence is a freshman from Northern Virginia studying piano performance and Something Else. She can be found on campus at the piano, avoiding North Dining Hall, or chasing the squirrels on God Quad. Order personalized pictures of these glorified rats at

Photo Credit: Matthew Scherber

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