Four Individuals Recognized for Their Work in Pro-Life Cause at 2022 People of Life Awards
Each October, the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates Respect Life Month, a time to focus on God’s precious gift of human life and our duty to cherish, protect and defend human life wherever it is vulnerable or threatened. It is also a time the Church honors those who have shown their commitment to the cause of life through their personal witness and sacrifices.
WASHINGTON - Each October, the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates Respect Life Month, a time to focus on God’s precious gift of human life and our duty to cherish, protect and defend human life wherever it is vulnerable or threatened. It is also a time the Church honors those who have shown their commitment to the cause of life through their personal witness and sacrifices.
Four champions of the pro-life cause, Mary Huber, Barbara Lyons, Greg Schleppenbach, and the late Laura Jean Ebert were honored this year at the 2022 People of Life awards for their lifetime contributions to the movement. The awards were presented during the annual Diocesan Pro-Life Leadership Conference on July 18 where approximately 50 diocesan Catholic pro-life leaders and guests were in attendance at the awards dinner. Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, and chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), presided over the festivities.
The People of Life award recognizes Catholics who have answered the call outlined by Saint John Paul II in The Gospel of Life (Evangelium vitae, 1995) by dedicating themselves to pro-life activities and promoting respect for the dignity of the human person. It is bestowed in honor of their significant and longtime contributions to the culture of life.
Mary Huber spent her 24-year career in dedicated pro-life ministry at the Diocese of San Bernardino, beginning as a part-time bookkeeper and ultimately becoming the director of Respect Life and Pastoral Care for the diocese’s Department of Life, Dignity, and Justice. Throughout her years of service, Huber worked closely with the California Catholic Conference of Bishops advocating for life-saving protections for pre-born children, women, and teen girls at risk for abortion, and the elderly at risk for assisted suicide. She launched their first diocesan Project Rachel program, coordinating training for priests and volunteers, and providing bilingual phone counseling as well as abortion healing retreats in English and Spanish. Huber also facilitated mental health programming in parish ministries, particularly for those wounded by abortion, or struggling with end-of-life care. She ultimately developed comprehensive programs to provide educational resources for accompanying the dying during their final journey.
Barbara Lyons began her lifesaving work in 1974 as the volunteer president of the Milwaukee County chapter of Wisconsin Right to Life. She joined the staff of Wisconsin Right to Life in 1977 where she served as legislative director for ten years, becoming executive director in 1987. Her public policy efforts resulted in multiple life-saving laws, and she showed great leadership in educational outreach through the Veritas Society media campaign, teen and college training programs and development of the organization’s grassroots efforts. Lyons “retired” from WRTL in 2014 after 40 years of outstanding work in the pro-life movement, yet in her seventies, she was asked to serve as coalitions director for the Patient’s Rights Action Fund, where her advocacy efforts prevented many states from adopting physician-assisted suicide. She has worked tirelessly into her eighties to prevent vulnerable persons from being targeted by assisted suicide.
Greg Schleppenbach has dedicated his career to defending human life from its beginning and at its end. During his studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he became a member of Students for Life. With the establishment of a pro-life directorship at the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) in 1991, he took up that position and served in it until 2014. He worked with Nebraska’s three Catholic bishops to implement the USCCB’s Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities. Then for two years he served as the NCC’s executive director. In 2016, Schleppenbach succeeded Richard Doerflinger as associate director for the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, where he was a force for coalition-building, innovation, and growth within the Church and the pro-life movement. After leaving the USCCB in 2022, Schleppenbach now works on the “demand side” of preventing abortion as executive director for the Culture Project, a missionary organization providing education and mentorship for teens on the issues of human dignity and sexual integrity.
Laura J. Ebert, who passed away in 2021, spent her life in dedicated service to the Catholic Church and the pro-life movement. Ebert helped establish pro-life pregnancy centers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, and also in Canada. She also served as a housemother at a maternity home in Arkansas. In addition to her pro-life witness, Ebert was passionate about Catholic education and worked for many years as a teacher in Illinois. She continued her leadership in compassionate service to women and children at pregnancy care centers near her home of Menominee, Michigan until her death at 73.
The awardees join 37 other People of Life award recipients since the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities established the award in 2007.
To learn more about People of Life, the bishops’ pro-life action campaign in the United States, please visit https://www.usccb.org/prolife/people-life.