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St. John Paul II Life Center is Transforming Hearts and Saving Lives
With the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the St. John Paul II Life Center in Austin rejoiced and then quickly began helping more families. The center is a pro-life nonprofit whose mission is to provide free pregnancy services, holistic OB-GYN health care and life-affirming education programs necessary to recognize the dignity of every human life.
“The overturning of Roe v. Wade is an enormous legal victory in our life-saving mission, which has not changed,” said Linda Ruf, the center’s chief executive officer. “What is changing is the number of women and families in need. We have seen a 45 percent increase in clients and know this number will continue to climb.”
Those clients are seeking the center’s free services that include pregnancy help, material and supplies assistance, education, family planning, fertility awareness and other programs, all offered in a loving and confidential environment. By supporting and educating women on their choices, the teachings of St. John Paul II, who instructed, “If you want equal justice for all and true freedom and lasting peace, then America, defend life,” are literally brought to life.
“We believe every person is made in the image and likeness of God and is worthy of love and respect,” said Abigail Borah, the center’s senior director of advancement. “It is because of this belief that we serve women and families regardless of religious belief, race, income level and immigration status. Our faith guides us to meet people where they are with compassion and to serve them with the highest level of care.”
That care initially begins with trained client advocates who give assistance and counseling aimed at both helping women and empowering them through pregnancy and parenthood. Services provided are pregnancy tests; sonograms; parenting classes; and supplies such as diapers, wipes, formula, clothing, car seats and more to young families up until the baby is 3 years old. Also offered are rent and utilities assistance to families at the risk of homelessness.
The center’s unique “under one roof” structure also includes the Vitae Clinic, a private, full-time OB/GYN facility staffed with pro-life physicians, a nurse practitioner, sonographers and medical assistants who provide comprehensive OB/GYN care. The center’s combination of a pregnancy care center with a board-certified OB-GYN clinic sets it apart from similar organizations.
“We are truly blessed to have top health care professionals, advocates, educators, and doctors who are life-affirming and mission-driven,” Ruf said. “They all exemplify a deep respect for women of every age and background and offer services aligned with the teachings of the Catholic faith.”
To meet growing needs, the center partners with organizations like Central Texas Coalition for Life and Embrace Life to reach out to those in the Black community; is working with Catholic Charities’ Gabriel Project to bring talks to parishes; and has strategic partnerships with the Diocese of Austin’s “Walking with Moms” program, the Knights of Columbus, Texas Alliance for Life, Texas Values, the Sophia Institute, Live Action, The Charlotte Lozier Institute and others — all with the goal of sharing the dignity of life and providing assistance.
“We are a community dedicated to unity in our joint mission to care for babies, moms and young families in need,” Borah said. “We all have the same goal and when we work together, we can reach even more women and families in need.”
As the number of those seeking assistance grows, the center is also growing physically, with plans to add more offices for client advocacy and additional rooms for exams, sonograms and classes. Expanding its marketing and educational efforts on all fronts is also part of the center’s increasing efforts.
“Now, more than ever, it’s important to reach young people with the truth about life, the human body and the dignity of all people,” Borah said. “We live in a deeply confused culture, and we want to bring light to places where there might be darkness and confusion, particularly around the reality of life in the womb.”
Paramount to the JPII Life Center’s mission is education based on the motto “Informing minds, transforming hearts and saving lives.” An educational video entitled “A Glimpse Inside” will launch this month and is led by Vitae physicians who explain what happens inside a woman’s body when she conceives. In the guided program, aimed specifically for young teens, attendees learn the distinct stages of fetal growth, see live sonograms of babies growing inside their mothers’ wombs, hear a baby’s heartbeat and ultimately learn that the unborn child is a dynamic and unique individual person and human deserving of the right to life.
Staff is also in the process of reimagining the older “Blossom” program into a dynamic new tool to help moms and daughters talk about sex, a woman’s body and fertility cycle and the many societal pressures young women face today. The new program will also include a module to help dads and sons talk about sex, a man’s body, the roles and responsibilities of fatherhood, the dangers of pornography and other societal pressures on young men.
The JPII Life Center, a faith-based nonprofit, was started in 2010 by Tim and Pat Von Dohlen and Chris and Sheri Danze and inspired by the life and works of St. John Paul II. Motivated by their common desire to help women facing unplanned pregnancies, the founders joined forces to promote the importance of family in the health care and education industries and ultimately the dignity of life.
The center celebrates life this month as they host the Sacred Heart Pro Familia Pro Vida Festival on Oct. 6 and the “Life is Beautiful Gala” at the Austin Renaissance Arboretum on Oct. 30.
Carla Smith has been a writer for Catholic Spirit since 2016. A long-time Austinite, she and her husband are members of Santa Rosa Parish in Andice. They enjoy spending time with their daughter and their three dogs, as well as fellowship, golf and football.