Knights at the George Washington University support vulnerable women and children at D.C. pregnancy resource center
By Cecilia Engbert
Janet Durig, executive director of the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, proudly watched a group of college Knights unload and sort boxes of clothes, diapers and other donated infant supplies one morning in February.
It was a welcome but not an unfamiliar sight. In the past six years, members of George Washington University Council 13242 have regularly volunteered at the center, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that aids women and families experiencing crisis pregnancies.
“They’re literally showing the love of Christ,” Durig said. “They’re witnessing to the world that doing good and being of service is what really counts.”
In recognition of its service and ongoing commitment to the pregnancy resource center, Council 13242 received the Life award at the annual College Councils Conference last year. Just a few months earlier, in the weeks before the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June 2022, Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly announced the Order’s ASAP (Aid and Support After Pregnancy) program. Launched July 1, 2022, the initiative to strengthen support of pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes raised more than $6 million in its first year.
Tens of thousands of unborn lives have been saved in the United States since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. But for the Knights and others standing on the front lines, the fight for life continues.
“The Knights’ mission to support mothers in need and their children is a sacred responsibility we’ve carried for over 140 years,” said Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly in a June statement on the anniversary of the Dobbs decision. He concluded, “Together, more than 2 million strong, the Knights of Columbus will continue to serve as a voice for the sanctity and dignity of every human life.”
The GW Knights have been more motivated than ever since the fall of Roe, the launch of ASAP and the recognition of the Life Award.
Miguel Solis, grand knight of Council 13242 for this academic year, said, “It encourages us to keep going, to keep doing this work, no matter how small it might seem — because it’s something that has a very real, tangible impact.”
‘CARING FOR THE WHOLE PERSON’
Throughout her 20 years at the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, Janet Durig has witnessed the hands-on impact that Knights in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia have made. She is especially proud of the George Washington University council members who have a history of sacrificing their Saturday mornings to help with maintenance, yard work or other chores at the center.
“I praise God for all the volunteers. Without them, we couldn’t keep the doors open. They come in and they’re willing to just scrub the floors and clean the building,” Durig said. “They’ve even folded baby clothes in the past; they don’t always fold them well, but they do fold them,” she added with a smile.
As community director for the council during the 2017-2018 academic year, Jared Bulla saw a need for more community service in the U.S. capital. He reached out to the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, aware that past GW Knights had occasionally helped there before.
“I knew immediately that the center is doing real work in real communities,” said Bulla, who later became grand knight and now serves as financial secretary. “Being pro-life is about caring for the whole person. This is a place that deeply, deeply believes that.”
The center seeks to be a voice and a lifeline for not only the unborn but every woman and family in need. This mission is one the Knights have taken to heart as men striving to be examples of responsible, compassionate masculinity.
“I knew immediately that the center is doing real work in real communities. Being pro-life is about caring for the whole person. This is a place that deeply, deeply believes that.”
“We need to show [women] that we are there for them. They need us, and we need them. That’s how God made us,” Bulla said. “That’s why our work with the pregnancy center is so important — because we’re here, we’re listening and we’re showing up.”
During their work days, council members have cleaned the grounds and interiors, moved and painted furniture, sorted donations and shredded old paperwork. In taking care of such manual tasks, they free up time for the CHPC staff to help more women in need of assistance.
Volunteering at the center allowed Justin Rinaldo, deputy grand knight this past year, to relate to the human dignity of the unborn in a very simple, tangible way. While he was sorting diapers one day, it struck him that they were for a person — someone who wasn’t yet born but who needed them soon.
“We’re really dealing with other people, even if they’re a little smaller and less developed than us,” he said. “Our call to help others extends to all human beings.”
Jamie Maloney, director of client and volunteer services at Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, said she has been encouraged in her own work by the dedication of the college Knights in the pro-life movement.
“It’s really encouraging to see young people engaged and willing to get their hands and their feet dirty, not just saying what they believe but actually doing something,” she said. “To see that servant heart from the Knights of Columbus is not only practically helpful, but very nourishing to our spirits.”
WITNESS ON CAMPUS
Students at the George Washington University are known for their political involvement, and pro-life advocates on campus have met with pushback and counterprotests. But the college Knights recognize that their charitable and pro-life work transcends politics, and others at the university have noticed their efforts.
During his junior year, for example, Bulla was surprised and gratified when Council 13242 received an award from the Student Association at the George Washington University for the most impactful community service.
“GW is a very secular institution,” Bulla explained. “And it would shock a lot of people that the most impactful community service was done by this group of Catholic dudes — that we gave the most money and donated the most hours out of any non-Greek fraternal organization on campus. That’s pretty astounding to people.”
Beyond the many hours serving at the pregnancy center, the council also upholds the sanctity of human life by witnessing to their fellow classmates and citizens in D.C. The Knights partner with the Newman Center and GW Students for Life to make the pro-life message known on campus. They even led the praying of the rosary outside a nearby abortion facility every night during the 2021-2022 academic year.
Last year, the GW Knights donated the funds raised at the council’s annual Knights Charity Gala to the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center. Their work to build a culture of life also included volunteering at St. Mary’s Court, a nonprofit residence for seniors and persons with accessibility needs. In addition, they supported the Newman Center in several ways and coordinated a consecration to St. Joseph in the spring.
“We are trying every day to be better men, for the Church and for God,” said Logan Earnest, the immediate past grand knight. “As men, it is our role to be protectors and to defend the innocent. There really isn’t anyone more innocent than an unborn child.”
Bearing Christian witness within a secularized college culture that sees abortion restrictions as a threat to personal freedom will never be easy. But the GW Knights have a solid fraternity that gives them the strength to keep showing up.
“The council has had a very positive impact on campus simply by being present, actively professing faith in Christ and welcoming others,” Earnest said.
Aidan Labadie, chancellor of Council 13242, noted that many college students lack the moral framework to guide their lives but are curious when they see others following their convictions.
“They see people in communion, living a moral life, and it’s very attractive,” he said.
Without the Knights, Labadie said he would never have found so many opportunities to serve the pro-life community or to practice his faith.
“Being a Knight at GW has given me a lot of human materials for living out the faith,” he said. “You need your brothers to constantly push you to be the saint that God has called you to be.”
This academic year, the council plans to continue working hard to support the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center and to bear witness to the sanctity of life on campus.
“Sometimes you look at the pro-life movement and you think these are far-away issues that might not apply to you,” Solis said. “But there are definitely ways that you can be involved and help out, even in your own small way. And we’re going to keep trying.”
CECILIA ENGBERT is a content producer for the Knights of Columbus communications department.