Like many pro-lifers, Bill Gourley became involved in the pro-life movement shortly after the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions in 1973. As a father of two young children at the time, Gourley was appalled at the idea of abortion— that mothers and fathers could legally kill their own children. He knew he couldn’t sit by and do nothing. Gourley’s quest to join the pro-life movement led him from participating in pro-life political activism to giving local talks about abortion and working at his parish as the co-chair of the Respect Life Committee.
In his position, Gourley does his part to make sure that his parish and his community understand the value of every person’s life. Inspired by great pro-life saints, like Saint John Paul II, Gourley doesn’t just want to end abortion in his community; he wants to build a culture of life. He firmly believes that our homes, neighborhoods, and parishes are the real foundation where the culture of life begins: “I firmly believe that we can never rely on our courts and legislators to set the boundaries for what is right and moral in our society,” he says. Like many pro-lifers, Gourley recognizes that older strategies for ending abortion, such as political activism, are not enough to turn the tide and ensure protection for future generations. These older strategies have omitted a crucial piece, namely, education in terms of pro-life formation.
The missing piece
We have made great strides in Catholic education. Today, the United States is home to several great, solidly-Catholic universities. There are almost 2 million students in Catholic schools, and over 3 million students enrolled in religious education programs. Additionally, there are thousands of students being raised in a homeschool environment. Although many of these students learn about their faith through their coursework, few students leave Catholic school with a firm understanding of the pro-life message, let alone the tools they need to express their pro-life beliefs confidently and courageously.
As American Life League discovered at the 2017 March for Life in Washington, DC, 8 out of 10 pro-life students attending the March for Life Expo had no idea that Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood or that her racist and eugenic ideas are still fueling the organization. Today, even pro-life students are caught in the snares of the culture of death due to their lack of knowledge regarding even the most basic prolife principles and arguments.
Pro-life formation is key to building a culture of life because it lays an intellectual, moral, and logical foundation for pro-life beliefs. While still young, children should be taught about the beauty of a developing baby in his mother’s womb so that they can carry that knowledge with them their entire lives. If someone ever tells them, “It’s just a blob of tissue,” the students can confidently respond, “No, he’s a baby; he’s just not done growing yet.” They can respond with confidence since they have been given the tools to understand that we are all made in the image and likeness of God—no matter what stage of life.
Pro-life formation that starts as young as preschool is what will end the culture of death once and for all. It’s the missing piece in the pro-life movement that will ensure that the hard work of so many dedicated activists is not lost by the next generation. In Bill Gourley’s words, we can’t wait until students reach high school and college before introducing them to the culture of life: “If we don’t want to lose our children to the progressive, anti-life culture of our day, we need to start when they are young by building a strong faith-based, pro-life foundation in our homes and Catholic/Christian schools.” Pro-life formation cannot wait until a child reaches high school. It has to start when he is young so that, as his mind matures, he receives proper formation and develops ordered thinking.
This is why American Life League created the Culture of Life Studies Program—to help teachers and parents teach the pro-life basics to students of all ages. Every child should have the opportunity to learn that human beings are valuable, not by their own merits or appearance, but because they are made in the image and likeness of God. CLSP brings the truth to students in classrooms across the country because we believe that we cannot only end abortion through pro-life formation, but we can also build a culture of life that sees every human being as valuable. Pro-life formation is not only changing students’ hearts and minds—it’s empowering them to be pro-life without apology.
A man with a mission
Gourley believes pro-life formation is so important that he is dedicating his time and energy to spreading the gospel of life in his local Catholic schools. Last year, as he was searching for a pro-life program to use with the youth at his parish, Gourley discovered CLSP. “I felt like I had just stumbled on something amazing that I didn’t know existed,” he recalls. He immediately took action. At the next Respect Life Committee meeting, Gourley excitedly shared his discovery with his colleagues and soon the parish elementary school adopted CLSP into their curriculum.
But Gourley didn’t stop there. “I wasn’t satisfied just reaching the youth in our local parish when we have Catholic elementary and high schools across the diocese that are unaware of CLSP and not benefitting from any formal diocese-wide pro-life educational initiatives,” he said. “I am working to change that.”
Gourley is now one of several CLSP Ambassadors for Life. The Ambassadors for Life are people, mostly lifelong pro-lifers, who volunteer to make a difference in their own communities by helping CLSP become part of their parish or diocesan curriculum. They are using their time, talents, and local connections to make sure that the past 40 years don’t go to waste. “It is about the future of our nation and the salvation of our immortal souls. Do we want to be known as a nation that kills its own offspring or euthanizes its disabled or infirmed in the name of convenience? And we call ourselves the leader of the free world! If we stand by and allow this to happen, we are complicit in the evil that follows. We simply need to ask ourselves: ‘What would Christ do in the face of such evil?’ We already know the answer . . . which gives us no choice but to follow Him.” says Gourley.
With the help of dedicated Ambassadors like Bill Gourley, CLSP materials are being taught in over 50 schools across the country. We are currently working with Ambassadors in three dioceses to ensure that teachers have access to these valuable resources. CLSP has enjoyed great success in these past three years. However, dozens of dioceses across the United States still lack a firm action plan for teaching pro-life values to Catholic school students in every grade level. We need people like Bill Gourley who will help to pass the torch to the next generation.
Believe in your mission
Pro-life formation is what is inspiring our young people to be more pro-life than before. Educating the next generation is our mission; it is your mission. Will you respond?
“First believe in your mission and in your ability to make it happen,” Gourley recommends. “There are legions of people out there who are hoping someone just like you will come along to help them teach their children and grandchildren that life is beautiful at every stage and only God gives it and only He can take it away.”
Next, Gourley recommends exploring CLSP for yourself: “It is simply the best K–12-focused, classroom- ready educational materials available anywhere,” he says. “Take it to local faith-based educators. Be persistent, but be patient. Introducing new lessons into established curricula— regardless of its quality— takes time. Pray. God will inspire you and give you the strength to pursue His work.”
Would you like to bring CLSP to your local school or diocese? Through CLSP Ambassadors for Life initiative, you can be a positive influence in your community. Contact CLSP Outreach Coordinator, Mary Flores, at firstname.lastname@example.org.