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(LifeSiteNews) — A large group of current and former students at a Catholic women’s university have petitioned the school’s administration to re-dedicate to Church teaching, particularly on the issue of abortion.

Led by Ashley Kraker, a speech and language pathology major and member of the class of 2023, hundreds of current students and alumnae have signed a letter requesting that leaders of St. Mary’s College in Indiana commit to further dedication to Catholic teaching on abortion. Although secretary for Belles for Life, the pro-life club on campus, she wrote and sent the letter independently of the group. 

Kraker told LifeSiteNews in a phone interview that she and many of her peers have experienced a lack of firm standing on the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding pro-life issues. She explained that incidents have taken place within “the academic community specifically” which are motivated more by “the name of inclusion” rather than “trying to share and find the truth about this issue” of abortion. 

As highlighted by Kraker, the college has “done some good” through the formation of a “student post-Dobbs committee and an academic post-Dobbs committee,” the latter of which consists of faculty members. These groups have “brought some good dialogue and [brought] opposing views together to discuss things.” Additionally, a pro-abortion club has attempted to form on campus and has been rejected by the administration twice.

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However, she pointed out that there has not been a strong statement on “what the Church believes” about abortion and that the administration “hasn’t been advocating for the truth and about the dignity of life.”

In one case, speakers were invited to the campus to “give an oral history of reproductive justice in northern Indiana.” Kraker explained that the presentation was “very clearly pro-abortion,” with research based on testimony from abortion activists that was “very troubling.” While Kraker has only heard gender ideology mentioned in one of her classes, she noted that many of her friends are part of the nursing program, which recently required them to attend a seminar encouraging support for “gender-affirming care” instead of participating in their clinicals. 

But the “last straw” that prompted Kraker to write a letter of petition to St. Mary’s leadership was a panel discussion held in March in which faculty and staff fielded questions about the college in a post-Roe world. The discussion included language that undermined Church teaching on abortion, such as describing crisis pregnancies and a woman’s decision to kill her unborn child as “complex” without pairing sympathy for the situation with the truth that murder is always immoral, regardless of complicated circumstances.

President Katie Conboy, Vice President for Mission Julianne Wallace, Vice President for Enrollment and Engagement Lori Johnson, Provost Barb May, Vice President for Inclusion and Equity Redgina Hill, director of spirituality Father Dan Horan, and the school’s board of trustees were all recipients of the letter.

Shortly after submitting the petition, a group of students wrote an unofficial letter in response, which argues that Kraker’s letter is calling for “exclusion” of certain groups on campus, defends a “queer theology class,” and smears Kraker’s letter as “homophobic religious discourse.” The response generally frames Kraker’s attempt at dedication to the truth as misguided “hatred.”

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On April 18, President Conboy sent an email to the entire campus community addressing the sentiments in Kraker’s letter. She began by commending one family with a history of attending St. Mary’s, whose mother graduated in the 1970s and two daughters also attended the school, one with “liberal ideas” and the other “more conservative.” Conboy mentioned that the two sisters are now “raising families, one married to a woman, the other to a man.” She described this as “a story that gave me so much hope about St. Mary’s.”

“We should be a place where everyone, with all their differences intact, belongs and flourishes,” Conboy wrote. “And yet today many in our community feel we are a divided campus, and love is not bridging the divide. Efforts to open up dialogue on several controversial topics and ensure that all voices are heard and respected have ended with letters to the press and petitions circulated on social media that actually preempt opportunities for conversations rather than encouraging them.” 

Conboy added that she will not be “entering that fray” and instead recommended members of the college community “do some serious trust-building work.” The president also defended the administration against complaints that they are not firmly advocating for the Catholic faith, stating that they have “explicitly affirmed Church teachings while still inviting people of different beliefs into conversation.” 

“We have refused to make public statements that could lead to the silencing of members of our community,” Conboy concluded. “At the moment, however, we see people hurting and feeling not just challenged, but harmed… Whenever and however we engage in difficult conversations, we must avoid wounding any member of our community… In short, we should remain open and loving.”

Conboy also agreed via private communication to meet with Kraker to discuss her concerns. The president’s office did not provide comment to LifeSiteNews when requested.

Prior to receiving the president’s email, but after a group of students posted their unofficial response, Kraker told LifeSiteNews that “people just don’t understand that I’m doing this because I love people and people think that I’m doing this out of hate.”

“I think it would be very not loving of me if I didn’t stand for the truth [about abortion] and didn’t stand for women and didn’t stand for what it means to be Catholic and all of the beautiful things that, as a church, we believe in,” she said. 

Kraker also noted that the effort has effectively reminded students that “we’re not alone.” Many current and former students have expressed support for Kraker’s letter, which has a total of 250 signatures from women who have graduated or will graduate between the years 1984 and 2026. Below is the full letter, printed with permission by the author. Subheadings have been added by LifeSiteNews.

Dear Leaders of Saint Mary’s College, I am writing this letter out of my deep love for this school, the tri-campus community, and most of all, my love for our Lord and for His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I am writing in response to many actions — and lack of action — from the school that I have observed over my four years here as a student. I am also writing in response to the presidential panel held on March 28th that focused on Saint Mary’s in the post-Dobbs context. Bishop Barron said at his talk at Notre Dame that for a Catholic institution, the nature of the school should be that it is centered on Jesus Christ, where theology, Jesus, and His Church are at the center of all studies and activities, not simply window dressing. Saint Mary’s claims to be Catholic but falls tragically short in protecting and holding on to the truth of Jesus and His Church.  

‘Queer theology’

Even worse, the school undermines the very truths we hold as Catholics and causes confusion and scandal among the faithful – truths even about our Blessed Mother who we hold in our name, Saint Mary’s College. Professors degrade her name that we bless in the divine praises. The following is content from a reading in the Queer theology class: “First and foremost Mary is not a model, a type, an archetype, a prototype, an icon, a representative figure, a theological ideal, an ideological cipher, a metaphor, a utopian principle, a feminine principle, a feminine essence… a motif, an example, a paradigm, a sign, or in any other way a religious symbol.” (Elizabeth A Johnson, Chapters 1 & 2, Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology). To add to these lies, an event was hosted by the Center of Spirituality. One speaker stated she was no longer Catholic but had written a poem with the words, “she will rise” and she stressed it was without God. She said she chose this language because she wanted “to flip the Risen Christ trope upside down.” What a tragic, painful, blasphemous statement. The director of the Center of Spirituality commended the speaker’s work at the event. I would argue that it would be better for Saint Mary’s to completely abandon its Catholic identity if the administration, faculty, and staff continue to promote lies and host events that undermine the dignity of life and what it means to be a woman. If the school wants to cater to popular culture and celebrate secular values, fine, but please strip our Blessed Mother’s name from the title of this school, join the ranks of other woke colleges and no longer call this a Catholic college. In the name of “open-mindedness,” we have lost our minds, as a culture, and as a school. In an effort to be inclusive to all and embrace diversity (which in itself is good), Saint Mary’s has forgotten the treasure we are given and the task of safeguarding and protecting it. Saint Mary’s has forgotten the true justice and love that Jesus teaches us. Justice that gives everyone equal opportunity, but does not guarantee equal results. Real love that calls us higher, and wills the good for one another. It is not acceptance above all else. Love moves us to conversion and transformation. We can look at the cross to remember that love costs us everything, but brings forth indescribable joy and light in the Resurrection. We must remember our own Spes Unica Hall derives its name from the motto of the Congregations of Holy Cross – Sisters, Brothers, Priests: Ave Crux Spes Unica (Hail to the Cross, Our Only Hope) and Spes Unica is also the motto of Saint Mary’s College. 

March 28 presidential panel 

Now, I would like to respond to what happened on March 28th at 6 pm in Carroll Auditorium. There will come a day, hopefully soon when abortion will be clearly seen as the evil it truly is and history will not look kindly upon what was said and not said at this event. Does Saint Mary’s want to be on the side that says life deserves to be protected at every stage of life, especially in vulnerable, humble, and poor circumstances, and the side that believes women deserve to be empowered to be the mothers and life bearers God created us to be? Or on the side of history that in the name of “empowerment” endorsed the decision of mothers to betray their children and themselves in an act of desperation and brutality because eliminating their children will bring them “liberation”? This mindset is perilously close to that advocated by John C. Calhoun who argued that slavery was a “positive good.” Many in his day applauded this as he skillfully cloaked the evil of slavery in a faux morality that excused the abuse of power over a vulnerable class of people as some type of benevolence. President Conboy, you brought up in the panel that Father Hesburgh valued intellectual thought and said that a “Catholic university is where the Catholic Church does its thinking.” This a beautiful and true statement from a priest that actively stood against the injustices of his time. To use this powerful quote as a cover for those supporting “reproductive justice” in the form of abortion is disingenuous. Father Hesburgh encouraged authentic debate, while he took heroic and strong action to protect all people, no matter the color of their skin. I urge you to follow in his footsteps and also take a stand against abortion, which is the most serious injustice of our time.  

Vice President for Mission, Julianne Wallace, you rightly stated that the Catholic Church firmly establishes that a new sacred human life is present at conception. In your PEW study statistics, you highlighted where the Church must do better. It is alarming that 56% of self-identified Catholics believe abortion should be legal. What you left out from that study is that only 30% of practicing Catholics support abortion. An alarming amount of Catholics do not accept the church teaching on abortion, but for people fully living out their faith, there is a much larger percentage of pro-life views. The Church does not need to bend over backward to meet these opposing views, but instead needs to “speak the truth in LOVE” (Ephesians 4:15). The entirety of the Church is tasked with communicating the truth about life in the womb and working to serve mothers and fathers and their children. You and other panel members, specifically Redgina Hill, said this was a complex issue. True, every mother who is pregnant will have different situations, unique needs, and difficult challenges, but this is a simple issue at its core. Life begins at conception. No matter how challenging the situation may be, it will always be morally wrong to kill the person in the womb. Church teaching on this is irrefutable (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2270-2272). Murder is wrong and always will be.  

Julianne, you said that “acts of terminating life even in the most extreme circumstances”… and paused… I was hoping you would say a tragedy… but you said, “difficult when doing so saves another one’s life.” I urge you to look at the USCCB’s stance which says that killing her child is never the solution for addressing the mother’s health. Also, in the vast majority of cases, mothers are not getting abortions because their health is at risk. Abortion is not a treatment for cancer nor does it not eradicate a life-threatening disease; it is ending the life of a human being with completely separate and unique DNA from his or her mother. As a Catholic and women’s college, we need to help mothers who are post-abortive and suffering. This is an area we are clearly lacking in as there was silence for over 10 seconds from every panel member when asked about resources for post-abortive students. When Belles for Life attempted to fill this gaping hole, it took us months to get resource posters approved for pregnant students and post-abortive students. And even then, they get torn down by students. Where is a statement condemning these actions by students who tear down resources while claiming they are pro-choice?

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Vice President for Enrollment and Engagement, Lori Johnson, you stated at one point that faith and reason have tension in the Church. This statement is false, as Saint Pope John Paul II states, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”  

Provost Barb May, you said faculty cannot misrepresent Catholic teachings. I agree, but can you please ensure this is true from top to bottom within the faculty and administration at Saint Mary’s? Provost May, I believe you tragically missed the point when you said that Catholic teaching can not be misrepresented if it is brought up in the classroom. The school, as a Catholic institution of higher education, has a responsibility to present the teaching of the Church — not accommodate, hide, and subtly promote the corrupt zeitgeist of our time. We as the Church Militant are not called to be passive in this regard, waiting to read a boilerplate version of Church teaching as if it were an advertising disclaimer. Throwing the cloak of academic freedom over these discussions to make those dissenting from the Magisterium feel validated does not show true Christian love for confused or poorly catechized students. Accurately presenting Catholic teaching is important and necessary. The Catholic Church is rich and deep when it comes to truth and intellect. Anything from the study of language, and sociology, to science classes, can be viewed through the prism of our Catholic faith. I appreciate that you welcome controversial topics in class and for saying that we deserve to know the why behind Church teaching.  

It was deeply troubling for Fr. Horan to say that only experts can make claims on issues like abortion. He said that faculty at Saint Mary’s are not obligated to even know Catholic teaching and that a biology professor at a Catholic school, even if he or she is Catholic, would not have the “magisterium” to speak to this. I am dumbfounded at the claim. If I follow the thinking of Fr. Horan, then as a student I can not have a well-formed stance on abortion because I am not an “expert.” Does that mean only priests and religious can speak on this topic? I firmly reject this condescending stance. Anyone can take a stand against evil. It is quite simple to research online to see what an abortion is and develop a strong opinion on it.  

Vice President for Inclusion and Equity, Redgina Hill, you spoke of many injustices and tragedies that have occurred in the black community. I want to shine a light on how abortion directly harms minority groups and adds to their suffering and discrimination. The Wall Street Journal stated in a recent article that “in New York City, thousands more black babies are aborted than born alive each year, and the abortion rate among black mothers is more than three times higher than it is for white mothers.” Planned Parenthood targets minorities by putting most of their clinics in minority neighborhoods. The Wall Street Journal also states: “In 2014, 36% of all abortions were performed on black women, who are just 13% of the female population.” Black mothers, fathers, and their children deserve better. Killing black babies is not a solution to racial disparities that exist in our country. Abortion only creates deeper wounds surrounding race in this country.  

In response to how the questions from the audience were presented, it was abundantly clear that questions were being filtered, re-worded, and omitted. In the future, organizers and committee chairs like Liz Bauman and Fr. Horan should be sure to accurately represent the questions, or even better, let us students ask the questions ourselves. Most of the students at the event were from Belles for Life and the editing of questions actively shut down anti-abortion students’ voices. If we are going to have the tough conversations you encourage, then you have to be prepared to answer the tough questions. When presenting a question that asks about Catholic teaching and how the school can not be in full support of protecting life at conception, Fr. Horan, said, “How do we maintain Catholic identity and at the same time uphold some of the space needed in higher education to have difficult conversations especially when it seems to some folks that there is more of a black-and-white worldview than what Vice President Wallace explained in her remarks.” Why are we dismissed because we see abortion as either morally wrong or morally right? We embrace the Church’s teaching on this issue as it is clearly defined in the Catechism. If this is a place for thinking and tough conversations, our concerns and beliefs should be valued.  

President Conboy, in response to a question on how to present the Catholic Church’s stance on the issue of abortion in a setting like this, you avoided giving a real answer. You painted it as an intellectual pursuit and nothing else. You failed to respond to how as a Catholic school, we are tasked with supporting moral truths about abortion. When asked about why you would not give a statement, you gave two options as if they would contradict one another. You said you could give a statement as a Catholic college or as a woman’s college. This is a false dichotomy. Pope Saint John Paul II stated in his Papal Letter to Women, “It is thus my hope, dear sisters, that you will reflect carefully on what it means to speak of the “genius of women,” not only in order to be able to see in this phrase a specific part of God’s plan which needs to be accepted and appreciated, but also in order to let this genius be more fully expressed in the life of society as a whole, as well as in the life of the Church.” The Church values women and wants to see the fullness of her gifts expressed in this world. Mary shows how to embrace our feminine genius throughout her entire life. Being Catholic means honoring women and the unique role we have that Mary shows us. The students needed to know that a Catholic college values the Church, the dignity of life, and the dignity of women. If you think universities should not be making comments on issues like abortion you should be consistent across all issues. President Conboy, you said there is no amount of Catholic students you are striving to enroll. This is concerning since the percentage of Catholic students dropped from 80% to 60%, as you noted. We should welcome all students. However, shouldn’t the school’s first priority be to build the Church here on earth, starting first with Catholics?  

Limiting free speech of practicing Catholics 

I, along with many other students who I know and many who have gone before me, have been treated horribly because we dare to believe what our Mother the Church holds true. We live in fear of speaking about our faith or non-Progressive ideas in the classroom. Supposedly a diversity of ideas are welcome, but why are our ideas not? If all are welcome, why can’t a student start a club that thinks critically and may challenge the transgender ideology? The school likes to promote certain culturally-celebrated ideas under the banner of “academic freedom,” while denying an opportunity to discuss the issues of our day in light of Catholic teaching. By trying to deny pro-life and anti-abortion students the opportunity to have models of what human development looks like in the womb, the school is clearly limiting our free speech, while not so subtly supporting those who support abortion. There are still a good number of Belles who stand by Church teachings that are directly stated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Pope. Pope Francis recently warned against the evil of transgender ideologies. The USCCB also said Catholic hospitals could not perform “gender-affirming” surgery for children. The USCCB has been unwavering in saying that every single abortion ends a human life and permanently harms and violates the mother.  

The USCCB has also stood by the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. Why does this Catholic institution actively promote ideas and campus events that attack the teachings of the Church and these truths? And when a student group, Fiat, gets Bishop Rhoades to come, why was only one staff member, Nicole Labadie, there? It is so apparent that leaders at this college have no regard for Catholic tradition and faith, so have no care for Catholic students.  

Petition to re-commit to truth 

I have prayed over whether or not to write this. I know the measure I use will be used on myself, as Jesus tells us, but we are called to high standards as Catholics. The standard is to be in heaven and to be a good and faithful servant of our Lord. He called me to write this. I know the school can do better. It must do better. And I pray with joyful hope that this school can be a force for power and truth. Let us not forget that objective truth exists. The truth remains the same despite our feelings. May we all be strengthened with heavenly grace to pursue the truth with unwavering faith and hope. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. As a Catholic school, we must follow Jesus in all that we do. That means pursuing the truth with great love. I urge the leaders of the college to discern whether or not they are living up to the standard to which we are called at this Catholic institution. Catholic students will not remain silent. I know from my experience that you will be judged, intimidated, disrespected, and ostracized, even at this Catholic school. May we invest in the communities of faith we have built on campus. May we pray for conversion on this campus. May we hold close to our hearts what St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:11 -12: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” President Conboy, please let me know when you would be available to meet with me and other student leaders to discuss our concerns in greater detail.


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