Spiritual Adoption program spreads from Holy Family School to throughout the diocese and beyond

By Juan Guajardo

Correspondent

North Texas Catholic

Martha Jacobi and Tricia Hunter pose for a photo on July 25, 2013 in Jacobi's home. Hunter and Jacobi, sisters, formed the Spiritual Adoption Program five years ago and it is now being used in various schools all over the diocese.
Martha Jacobi and Tricia Hunter pose for a photo on July 25, 2013 in Jacobi's home. Hunter and Jacobi, sisters, formed the Spiritual Adoption Program five years ago and it is now being used in various schools all over the diocese. (Photo by Juan Guarjardo/NTC)

Five years ago, Martha Jacobi and her sister, Tricia Hunter, had no clue that their idea would spread to almost every Catholic school in the diocese and to places far beyond the diocese’s boundaries — like Kansas City and Houston.

Initially, their Spiritual Adoption Program, specially adapted to teach seventh- and eighth-graders about the sacredness of unborn life, was only aimed at Holy Family Catholic School in Fort Worth — where their kids and nieces and nephews had attended. But in a few years the program gained the endorsement of the diocesan Respect Life Office, spread to 17 schools and two youth groups and grew to include more than 1,000 students this year. It’s a far cry from the 40 students the program started off with.

“It was unexpected,” said Jacobi, who was initially unsure of how the program would be received. “We didn’t plan on doing something very big.”

The idea for the program came when the sisters, both long-time members of Holy Family Parish, became involved in the Peace and Justice group at the church. Through the group, they did some Respect Life activities, and they received more exposure to the issue of abortion, learned more about Planned Parenthood and the millions of babies’ lives lost over the years, and about partial-birth abortions. While they had been raised in a tight-knit Catholic family, they came to the realization that although they had always said they were pro-life, they weren’t doing anything about it.

“We realized how critical an issue it is,” Hunter said. “We realized it’s so important and we didn’t see a lot going on around us [to defend life].”

Jacobi added, “We were pro-life in our house,” but, “You can’t just sit in your den and not do anything about it. You have to do something.”

So they hit the Internet and started searching for ways to become more involved in the respect life movement. They came across a prayer request from the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who in 1973 asked Catholics all over the nation to “spiritually adopt” an unborn child in danger of being aborted and to pray every day for that child throughout the span of nine months. With this approach of one baby at a time, one prayer at a time, Sheen believed we could build a Culture of Life.

Hunter and Jacobi took that idea and developed it a little further. The sisters found an online link to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which had a spiritual adoption program of its own, and there they purchased prayer cards, monthly “thank you” cards, and posters depicting the developmental stages of the unborn child. They then added their own ideas and ordered monthly respect life “reminders” (little gifts like pro-life bracelets, pens, magnets, sticky notes, etc.) to give the kids. They also invited classrooms to celebrate the birth of their spiritually adopted babies by donating childcare items to local crisis pregnancy centers.

They then brought the idea to Holy Family School. School administrators and Msgr. Joe Pemberton embraced it and within the next few years the program spread to almost every seventh and eighth grade class in the diocese.

Jacobi and Hunter are quick to point out that the program doesn’t use negativity, gruesome details, or shock value, but rather reinforces the sacredness of life.

“We want to be more positive about life because life is beautiful,” Jacobi said. “We don’t want to be negative about it, and we don’t want to offend anyone.”

Rather the focus is on learning, praying, and providing witness, Hunter and Jacobi said.

The program invites each student to “spiritually adopt” an unknown, unborn baby in danger of being aborted, and along with their class say a prayer each day for nine months asking God to allow that baby to experience the fullness of life. While the spiritually adopted baby remains unknown to each student, making this commitment reminds students that their prayers are helping protect a particular baby from abortion.

Martha Jacobi and Tricia Hunter pose for a photo on July 25, 2013 in Jacobi's home. Hunter and Jacobi, sisters, formed the Spiritual Adoption Program five years ago and it is now being used in various schools all over the diocese.
(L-R) Tricia Hunter (in pink), Catherine Hunter, Stephanie Gavin, and Matthew Hunter sort items for schools participating in the Spiritual Adoption Program at Martha Jacobi's home on July 30, 2013. Jacobi and Tricia Hunter formed the program five years ago and it is now being used in various schools all over the diocese. (Photo by Juan Guarjardo/NTC)

To help students get a clear understanding that the unborn child is a human being, the Spiritual Adoption program provides educational material in the form of classroom posters showing month-by-month developmental changes and “thank you” cards bearing messages like, “I am one month old now. I have a heart pumping and a backbone. I am very tiny and I appreciate your prayers.”

Kimberly Pierce, a seventh grade teacher at Holy Family School, said the visual educational material appeals to the children — and to parents too, whenever they visit.

“Really visualizing the development of life has been exciting for them,” Pierce said of her students. “They really like that.”

Furthermore, the program gives students the opportunity to witness to the Catholic teaching on life, Jacobi and Hunter said.

By providing students with monthly “reminders” or gifts that they can use frequently, like pens and sticky notes, they can draw attention to the pro-life cause.

“You might use a pen or have a bracelet on and it may lead people to ask why you’re doing that,” Jacobi said.

Jacobi and Hunter had young Catholics in mind when they came up with the Spiritual Adoption Program, because they wanted to teach them at an early age that life is precious and it’s worth protecting. But why seventh and eighth grade? Because that’s the last time many students in Catholic schools receive a Catholic education since many go on to public high schools afterward.

“If we can get our Catholic kids to really understand that message, then as they get older, they become advocates for pro-life,” Jacobi explained. “If we get the kids started when they’re younger, then it’s not such an awkward thing to do.”

Pierce agrees. She recalled going on a pro-life walk when she was preparing for Confirmation as a young teen and how the good impression it made on her continues to carry over after many years.

Pierce says the Spiritual Adoption program, along with the teaching they get from their classroom materials, instructors, and other pro-life activities has helped the students at Holy Family “get the message, get that [respect for life] is important,” and has opened their eyes to more opportunities.

Indeed, Holy Family’s seventh- and eighth-graders have made blankets for Gabriel Project, listened to pro-life leaders brought by Jacobi, engaged in class discussions about current events concerning pro-life, written letters to politicians, and collected donations for the school’s unborn baby drive held in October, Pierce said. Some have gone on to participate in the March for Life in Washington D.C., 40 Days for Life, or have joined the pro-life club at Nolan Catholic High School, Jacobi said.

“[The program] has been very much a benefit to our children and I’ve learned a lot and they’ve learned a lot,” Pierce said. “It provides a venue to instill new awareness about life. I think it’s worked well for my kids. I enjoy doing it and they enjoy doing it. Overall, it’s been very beneficial to the students.”

Five years ago, Martha Jacobi and her sister, Tricia Hunter, had no clue that their idea would spread to almost every Catholic school in the diocese and to places far beyond the diocese’s boundaries — like Kansas City and Houston.

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