By Tony DeGol
Pregnancy always comes with risk, so it is comforting for an expectant mother to know that there are people on her side.
“That’s how I’ve always seen the ministry of the Church,” stated the Very Reverend Alan Thomas, Vicar General of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. “The Church is always on the side of women. The Church is on the side of those who are trying their best to bring about life or maybe even made poor choices along with way and now want to make things better in their lives.”
One shining example of the support Father Thomas mentioned is found at a place called Every Life Matters in Tyrone.
Founded in 2010, ELM provides hope and assistance to women and men facing unplanned pregnancies, assuring them that they are not alone on their journey.
“We offer many services for families,” explained Carol Steffen, Executive Director of ELM.
Among them are prenatal, parenting, and life skill courses.
One of the jewels in their crown is ultrasound technology, administered by a medical professional, which uses high-frequency soundwaves to indicate things such as how far along an expectant mother is in her pregnancy and the size of the fetus. It can also detect a fetal heartbeat.
For many pregnant women – especially those facing an unplanned pregnancy – an ultrasound can be a game-changer. When a pregnant woman who may be considering ending the life inside her sees the unborn child through the ultrasound as a living human being growing inside her body, her heart and mind can change.
“You have a mother who comes in who might be unsure what to do,” Steffan said. “At that moment, they’re scared. They don’t always share their circumstances, but you can see the fear in them. When they are doing the ultrasound, you can see them relax, look at the screen, and be amazed that something like this is growing inside of them. You can almost see that transformation in their face. They start to smile, or they’ll start to cry.”
The ultrasound technology at Every Life Matters, which is free and open to people of any faith tradition, is made possible through the vision and generosity of local councils of the Knights of Columbus in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
“This ultrasound at Every Life Matters was donated by three Knights of Columbus councils in Bellwood, Tyrone, and Hollidaysburg,” said K of C Field Agent Mike McAndrew. “The councils had to raise money, which was matched by our Supreme Office in New Haven, Connecticut, and an ultrasound machine was placed in a local community.”
Since 2009, there have been more than a thousand ultrasound machines placed around the world, thanks to the generosity of the Knights and parishioners who have aided in fundraising.
The fraternal organization is, of course, well-known for its good works, but this ultrasound initiative is arguably the Knight’s most important outreach.
As of late May, just the one machine at Every Life Matters had performed 93 ultrasounds.
The pastors of the local parishes that helped the Knights in making this ultrasound possible in Tyrone hail the technology as a blessing – especially at a time when some people still falsely insist that life does not really begin at conception.
“This equipment, first of all, allows people to see what they can’t see with the naked eye,” remarked Father Thomas, Pastor of Saint Michael Parish in Hollidaysburg, and Administrator of Saint Mary Parish in Hollidaysburg. “They can see a child in very early gestational stages. It helps people to understand what’s in the womb is a child. I think that’s what really inspires my parishioners. They understand that, and they want people to have that experience.”
Father Thomas expressed gratitude to his faithful and the Knights of Columbus for their generous support.
“When Every Life Matters approached us, we were very open and very excited to provide this, because we need resources like this for women so they can make the right decisions,” added Father Jozef Kovacik, Pastor of Saint Matthew Parish in Tyrone and Administrator of Saint Joseph Parish in Bellwood. “Having the ultrasound machine here was crucial, and people got on board through the Knights of Columbus. It has made such a huge impact and united people in such a good cause.”
Through the support of ultrasound equipment in Tyrone and in many other ways, the Catholic Church always walks with women who are struggling with their pregnancy.
“The Church is always on the side of people who want to try to find life and find it more abundantly, and we try to do it in the most nonjudgmental way possible,” stressed Father Thomas. “Part of what happens here that’s so wonderful with Every Life Matters is that people simply have a chance to see what’s going on inside their bodies, what’s going on in their families, and to celebrate that.”
Added Father Kovacik: If we believe that God is the source of life, then how can we not respect it?
“Life comes to us in unexpected ways, but the value is still there,” he assured. “It’s precious and it’s priceless, and that’s why we need to protect it. Hopefully by having this place, women can come here and feel comfortable to ask for what they need so they can make the right choice.”
[Photo: Carol Steffen, ELM Executive Director; Donna Detwiler, RN; the Very Reverend Alan Thomas, VG; and Mike McAndrew, Knights of Columbus Field Agent stand by the ultrasound technology at Every Life Matters in Tyrone.]