SOMERVILLE. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born, I consecrated you.”
These simple words from Jeremiah 1:5 now adorn an equally unassuming stone memorial, located on the grounds of St. Philip of the Apostle Catholic Church in Somerville, Tennessee. Titled “A Monument to the Unborn”, it commemorates all the victims of abortion, and was officially dedicated on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend following the 10:30 a.m. Mass.
“The stone monument is located next to the main entrance of the church, and its presence there is important because of what it says about conception, and our place in the world as caring human beings,” parishioner Rob Mac Main told OSV News.
Mac Main, who is father to one son, said, “The fetus is a human being from the instant of conception, and we have to protect it from that moment on.”
Mac Main is also a fourth-degree knight of the St. Philip of the Apostle Knights of Columbus Council 14482, which was instrumental in helping with donations for the monument’s cost and placement. The council raised around $2,500 in needed donations.
Edna Nelson who serves as pro-life director for St. Philip’s parish, credited parishioner Frank Frangenberg, also a Knight of Columbus, with bringing the gesture of remembrance to fruition.
“Frank saw the need for us to have something to draw attention to the issue of abortion, and also something that the knights could support, because the monument had to be installed on the church grounds,” Nelson told OSV News.
Speaking as a pro-life advocate who has actively participated in pro-life activities in Nashville and the national March for Life in Washington, Nelson asserted the area has “so many pro-life resources available” to make abortion an unthinkable choice.
The memorial, Nelson noted, “Tells us that we need to pray for our unborn and for God to open the hearts of their (prospective) parents; he created that tiny life – it is not just a piece of clay.”
Frangenberg, a member of St. Philip’s parish council who participates in the 40 Days For Life observances and in pro-life marches with Nelson, told OSV News that the parish worked with Donna Anderson of the Peebles Monument Company in Somerville who “saved us a considerable amount of money by not charging the church for any of her etchings or drawings.”
Parishioner Susan Thomas, who attended both the Mass and the dedication ceremony, told OSV News that “inspired by God, this monument speaks of the sanctity and dignity of human life – all human life in God’s own words.”
“This monument is a testament of the Eternal Father’s will for our life, his love for everyone … for everyone that may be pondering an abortion, for every father, mother, grandparent and child who has been victimized by abortion – it testifies that our great and wondrous creator loves us before we are born, after we are born, and forevermore.”
Mark Ginter, a Catholic theologian who is a strategic partnership liaison fellow for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Catechetical Institute and is a member of the parish’s Knights of Columbus council, praised the monument as being “strikingly beautiful.”
“It is both appropriately solemn and provides one a place to come to, remember and mourn the victims of abortion,” he told OSV News. “It was also a healing service for the men and women who have lost a child through abortion, and those health care people who participate in this horrific act.”
Ginter condemned abortion as “the deception of the Evil One,” and described the act as “the convenient option of a ‘throwaway culture,’” referencing a term Pope Francis has used.
Father James Martell, pastor of St. Philip the Apostle parish and its 300 families, told OSV News he was a mere teenager when the U.S. Supreme Court ushered in nearly 50 years of legal abortion throughout the U.S. when its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision came down. That decision and its related abortion precedents were finally overturned in the high court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June 2022, allowing state legislatures to regulate or restrict abortion.
Father Martell said he nonetheless remembered, growing up, learning from his mother and the Church that abortion was morally wrong.
“That is when I decided to be pro-life and that each person has dignity from the womb all the way to the tomb,” he said. “Since I was a seminarian ready to be ordained, I dedicated my priesthood to the pro-life effort of being a voice for the children who do not have a voice,” Martell said.
Father Martell himself chose the inscription from Jeremiah, which he called “one of my favorite verses.”
“When I was asked by a parishioner about the idea of having a living monument for the victims of abortion, I jumped aboard,” he said. “The living stone is at the entrance of our church and it says that each child matters.”