Although Beth Dillmann has never wavered in her belief that an unborn baby at any stage of development is a complete human being, she only became truly active in the pro-life movement when she began teaching science to middle-schoolers at Holy Name of Jesus in 1989.
A talk in the early 1990s by Peg Kenny, now head of the archdiocesan Respect Life Office, made her realize that God was calling her to be more vocal in her beliefs, including teaching her science students about the magnificence and preciousness of life.
“Science shows that every unborn child, from the time of conception, is a unique human being with its own DNA,” Dillmann said. “I don’t understand why people think science and religion conflict. They don’t! They actually support each other! The science teaches you it’s a human being, and your Christian faith teaches you it’s a human being.”
Dillmann and her former Holy Name colleague, religion coordinator Joal Kuebel, started a spiritual adoption program in the mid-1990s in which the school’s oldest students – now the seventh grade class – pray daily for an unborn baby at risk of being aborted. Students pray for their babies by name before every science class and put “diapers” made of pink or blue tissue on a bulletin board as a reminder of their babies’ upcoming births.
“We’ll pray for the baby and its mother and father every day for nine months,” Dillmann explained, adding that she erects a series of posters illustrating embryonic and fetal development over the nine months and passes around 3-D models showing prenatal growth.
During Respect Life Week in October, all Holy Name classes take part in a special Mass, rosary and “Baby Bottle” collection for ACCESS Pregnancy Centers.
The week culminates in a poignant way for Holy Name’s seventh graders. In an activity called “Precious Feet,” class members read the books “Before You Were Born,” and “On the Day You Were Born” to small groups of pre-kindergartners, then explain the significance of the pins they are wearing, which mimic the exact shape and size of a baby’s feet, just 10 weeks after conception. Finally, the seventh graders paint the bottom of their little buddies’ feet with pink or blue paint to help them see how their own footprints have grown.
“The little ones will remember having their feet painted, but (this project) is actually teaching the seventh graders about the continuum of life,” Dillmann said. “They learn that unborn children are just at a different age and stage – it’s not fundamentally different before you were born; it’s all just a progression. You get older and more developed but you’re still a human being, from the beginning.”
January is another busy month in the seventh graders’ pro-life calendar, with Dillmann and religion teacher Nicole Wood accompanying the class in a procession to Holy Name of Jesus Church. The students pound white crosses into the ground as a public reminder of the babies lost since the 1973 passage of Roe vs. Wade. The teachers also take their students to the January prayer service at the Tomb of the Unknown Baby in St. Patrick Cemetery No. 3.
“It’s extremely quiet and respectful,” Dillmann said of the half-hour service in which attendees stand near the memorial to pray, sing and leave red roses.
“I really think it is one of those little things that makes a difference,” she said, “because they see other people besides Ms. Dillmann preaching!”