“Abortion . . . has broken our hearts.” When I heard Fr. Mike Schmitz speak those words at the 2022 March for Life, my heart felt the pain in his voice. Like those of us within the pro-life movement, he understands the tragedy that comes with the loss of every preborn baby. It’s a truth we must all take responsibility for teaching.
Most people know Fr. Mike Schmitz from his Ascension videos about the faith or from his widely popular Bible in a Year and Catechism in a Year podcasts. But the speech he gave at the March for Life showed us another side of Fr. Mike, who also serves as the chaplain for the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth and as the director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth. In those roles, he offers spiritual direction and formation in the faith to young people—something that is crucial in today’s society and something that is at the heart of American Life League’s mission.
At ALL, we understand the importance of building a foundation of faith so that youth can continue to build upon it as they grow. We have seen the heartbreak that results from a disregard for human life, and we feel the heartbreak that comes when children walk away from their faith.
As kids grow and move from their parents’ houses to a dorm or to their own home, they become more susceptible to the culture of death. Their circle of friends widens, the temptations grow, and it becomes more difficult for them to live an authentically faithful life. That is why they need solid pro-life people to emulate, strong examples of people living their faith, and supportive groups that help solidify these values.
We know that parents are worried, and we know today’s culture is both complicated and confusing for young people, so we wanted to chat with Fr. Mike to seek his advice for not only strengthening the faith of today’s youth but for helping them understand and promote the dignity of every person.
In a recent Catechism in a Year podcast about strengthening faith, Fr. Mike explained that one of the things he teaches the students at the University of Minnesota Duluth is to take personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth. While in college, students are responsible for getting themselves to Mass, for receiving the sacraments, and for learning about the faith. Parents have laid the foundation, but now it is up to the kids to continue. For the most part, the parents’ role has gone from teaching to simply praying that their children make good decisions.
But a good parent knows that teaching about the faith never stops, so we asked Fr. Mike if he had any advice for parents of college-aged students or any ways in which parents could guide from afar. He responded, “Keep praying for your children. Fast for them. Ask them about where they are with their faith. But then listen. So often, in the midst of the pain that accompanies children drifting away from the faith, parents will either numb themselves and pretend that they don’t care, or they will not listen to the actual questions and ideas that their children are wrestling with. I would encourage parents to be persistent in their encouragement but patient in their listening.”
This patient love that truly listens and then teaches the truth is what young people today need. Judgment is God’s job. When it comes to our children, we simply must love and guide them toward the truth as best we can, especially when they wrestle with difficult questions regarding faith.
We then asked Fr. Mike what advice he would share with kids in college—especially secular colleges—about staying faithful to Catholicism. He responded, “The good thing about going to university (and the challenge with going to university) is that no one can make you do the right thing. There is a degree of agency that every human being is given and is called to use. We get to choose, and we have to choose. No one has ever ‘drifted’ toward holiness; it involves a decision. So I encourage each and every college student to make that decision. No one can make the decision to live Christ for you. And this is a good thing. If a person wants to follow Christ in college, they can! It will definitely mean that you are saying ‘no’ to the average college experience, but you are saying ‘yes’ to a great thing, and great things come at great cost.”
He continued, “One of the most powerful ways that our students have come to know Christ is through virtuous friendships. These friendships have opened the doors to asking about Jesus and the Catholic Church. Once those questions begin pressing on the human heart—and once the answers are communicated—so many people come into the fullness of the faith.”
Encouraging college-aged children to attend Mass and to participate in activities at their Newman Center will benefit them immensely and will help them find positive connections and quality friendships that are based on something more solid than the time and location of the next party. These are the meaningful relationships that will last a lifetime.
Building a respect for all human beings
Not only do we want our children to remain faithful to Catholicism while in college, but we want them to respect and uphold the dignity of all human beings throughout their lives. We pray that they are not swallowed by the culture that advocates for abortion “rights,” that promotes the “goods” of contraception, or that preaches the “benefits” of dying “with dignity.” We understand that these are very serious topics and ones that are often difficult to talk about. Fr. Mike’s MFL speech offers us wisdom and insight.
During this address, Fr. Mike described the first time he ever gave a speech. He was in the 8th grade, and he spoke about the sanctity of life from creation until death and about the evil of abortion and euthanasia. He chose this topic because it was something that had not only been an integral part of his life but an integral part of the life of his entire family.
Fr. Mike explained that when he was young his mom kept several pictures on the family fridge, but two in particular stood out to him. One was of a baby who had died because of an ectopic pregnancy, and another was of a garbage bag with the remains of aborted children who had been thrown away. These pictures made a lasting impression on him because they clearly showed the humanity of these tiny babies.
He then told the story of his grandmother, who had been a nurse at a hospital that began committing abortions in 1973. She understood that abortion is a grave evil, so she told the administration that they either could stop doing abortions or she would leave. The hospital, of course, would not stop committing abortions, so she walked away from her job and from nursing. This story made an impact on Fr. Mike because, as he said, “it broke her heart.” He expressed how proud he was of her because she stood up for what she believed was right. He said, “She stood and she walked. And that matters. Because every person matters. Every life matters.”
He then asked the crowd what her actions changed. Did it change the hospital policy? No. Did it change the culture? No. But it changed her.
And that is what he tries to impart to the students at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He proudly told CLM that many students are well formed about abortion, euthanasia, and chastity before they arrive on campus, so they want to enhance their faith by joining student pro-life groups. The Bulldog Students for Life group hosts speakers and prays at abortion clinics. And he said that after graduation many students have gone on to work at—or even found—pregnancy resource centers.
Fr. Mike stressed that it’s important for students to speak out about these evils because, “if they do not speak, a culture of silence in the face of evil distorts everything.”
Walking in faith and speaking out in truth and charity are vital actions we must teach our children to partake in. This moral courage is what will make a difference in the culture so that one day our hearts will no longer be broken by the horrors of abortion or by the tragedy of children leaving the faith.
And so we are thankful that our young adult children have faithful priests like Fr. Mike Schmitz—men who help them see the beauty of the faith and who teach that though doing the right thing may be difficult, our heavenly reward will be far greater than anything we could ever imagine. And there, no hearts will break ever again.