My Longing for Truth, by Emily O’Donnel, research assistant

Emily O'Donnel

Emily O’Donnel, research assistant

Written for FertilityCare for Young Women, Fall 2014

I took an honors English class my first semester of my freshman year of college entitled “Rhetoric as Argument”. Fabulously naïve and painfully zealous, I prepared myself for what I imagined would be a delightful daily gathering of intelligent individuals willing to discuss differing opinions in a sophisticated and enlightened manner. My professor was a young, single, female PhD candidate with a vibrant personality and a thinly veiled bitterness towards the patriarchy, whose goals included shocking the conservative Midwestern students in the front row while simultaneously encouraging us to question everything we had ever been told was truth and drastically change our life plans “for the greater good”. Needless to say, the semester proved an interesting one.

We read provocative environmental pieces, radical feminist literature and profound works on the history of obstetrics and gynecology in America. While I admired that professor for several noteworthy reasons, her ability to keep her opinion to herself and grade papers impartially were not among them. I respectfully locked horns with her several times over the semester as I struggled to meet her ideological expectations in my writings. To her dismay, I chose to write my final research paper on the subject of hormonal birth control and its detrimental effect on women’s health. I interviewed Teresa Kenney, the Nurse Practitioner at the Pope Paul VI Institute, read several books cover to cover, and turned in a very concise argument on the environmental, emotional, spiritual and physical ramifications of hormonal birth control.

According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, feminism is “organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests”. In my paper I stated that I am, in fact, a feminist. I do firmly believe in women’s rights and, as a woman, am incredibly supportive of female interests. As a result, I firmly believe that a woman’s reproductive system should be celebrated and not suppressed by hormonal contraception. In my paper, I stated something of this nature. To this day, my most profound college experience was flipping through my graded paper full of comments from my professor, and seeing my sentence “I am a feminist” underlined several times with a penned comment: “No. You are not.”

In retrospect, that class actually did radically change the trajectory of my life goals and plans, though ironically in the opposite way that my professor had hoped, and I wouldn’t realize its full effect until almost two years later. From that moment on, I did become restless with the system — with everything society had told me was truth. I read everything I could get my hands on about Natural Family Planning methods, NaProTechnology and the Creighton Model FertilityCare System. I began charting my own cycle a few months after that semester ended in order to monitor my own fertility. I devoured everything I could find about fertility, cycles, pregnancy, nutrition, hormonal birth control, feminine spirituality, holistic women’s health care and current issues in the field of obstetrics and gynecology. I began compiling a library collection specifically devoted to these subjects for the purpose of lending books to fellow women on this journey of truth. (My collection now needs another book shelf).

Along the way, a few important saints have nudged me in the right direction and continue to guide me and encourage me daily. St. Edith Stein, a brilliant feminist and philosopher, has been a continuous light and sisterly presence for me on this journey and I am so grateful every day that this beautiful and holy woman of God pursued my friendship. St. Gianna, mother and physician, has become a major role model for my life, encouraging sacrifice and selfless love. St. Joan of Arc, a warrior woman of fearless passion and devotion to our Lord, has continued to surprise me with words of ardent wisdom, quiet strength and dedicated grace. And of course, the Blessed Virgin herself has been my motherly companion, especially those days when I felt most alone, a relationship for which I will spend every moment until my last breath thanking God. These holy women are a few among thousands who questioned everything society told them was true, lived their lives with a passionate zeal for Christ, and gave brilliant examples of what it truly means to be a woman.

Interestingly enough, my journey to learn more about these issues surrounding the modern approach to women’s health pointed out other fallacies in our society’s key teachings. Reading St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Love and Responsibility, as well as revolutionary writings like Pope Paul VI’s Humane Vitae and St. Edith Stein’s Essays on Woman, began an incredible new chapter in my journey of discovery. I started making new connections and began filling in dots I hadn’t previously known existed. New light was shed on issues like homosexuality, environmental disregard, consumerism, abortion, the “hook-up culture” so prevalent in modern society, divorce, mental illness, pornography, atheism, loveless marriages, abuse and rape. As time went on, it became more and more clear that none of these issues stand independently from one another. I came to realize more deeply that they all have two major things in common: 1) they are all intensely on the rise 2) and they all largely stem from society’s rampant hormonal contraceptive use. As this understanding grew more solid, my passion grew deeper and much more fervent. In the eloquent words of the wonderful St. Edith Stein, “My longing for truth was a single prayer.”

It took a period of deep discernment, but eventually, everything started to quickly change. My life turned upside-down. I switched my major, I withdrew from several programs I had planned on participating in my entire life, and dove head first into totally new things I never dreamed I would include on my resume. I am now majoring in Biology at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and looking into medical school, nursing and bioethics graduate programs as exciting options for my continued education. I am currently on staff at the Pope Paul VI Institute as a research intern for Dr. Thomas Hilgers, a hero of modern reproductive medicine.

I just applied to become a practitioner of the Creighton Model and I am so excited for this journey. The Creighton Model FertilityCare System has radically changed my quality of life, restored hope in my reproductive future, and empowered me as a woman more than I could have ever possibly imagined. I desire to become a FertilityCare provider because charting is a brand new language that has allowed me to understand myself, my body and my fellow sisters in Christ in a much deeper way. As a NaProTechnology surgical patient myself, I know first-hand the miracles that the CrMS working hand-in-hand with NaProTechnology can facilitate. I want, with every fiber of my being, to help other women’s lives go through similar miraculous transformations. If feminism involves female empowerment, the Creighton Model FertilityCare System proves to be the epitome of reproductive empowerment. The CrMS allows a woman to take control of her reproductive health, schedule preventative and diagnostic procedures, pursue holistic and necessary fertility treatments, and work cooperatively with her spouse and/or doctor regarding her fertility.

In the last two years, Christ and His beautiful servants the saints, have very clearly guided me towards the path I am supposed to follow. I do not know the details of the future, but I do understand that I am supposed to join in this glorious mission of spreading the word about diagnostic women’s health methods, rather than today’s widely used suppressive “medicines”. I firmly believe with all that I am that hormonal birth control is the root of many of society’s greatest ills today and I have a fierce desire to help reverse the current trends. My greatest wish is that every woman, of every age and every state of fertility, can receive the truly beautiful gift of deeply understanding the miraculous thing that is her reproductive system, and that this understanding will help her realize how much God faithfully loves her.

Institute Hosts Pre-Medical and Medical Students for an “Amazing” Summer

From left to right: Courtney Skow, Emily O’Donnell, Dr. Tom Hilgers, Marah Smith, Dino Francescutti, and Samuel Smith.

From left to right: Courtney Skow, Emily O’Donnell, Dr. Tom Hilgers, Marah Smith, Dino Francescutti, and Samuel Smith.

From the Fall 2014 Culture of Life newsletter

Each year, the Pope Paul VI Institute attracts a select number of pre-medical and medical students from across the United States to participate in a summer-long internship program that immerses each intern in the Institute’s cutting-edge research and medical environment.

This year’s interns included Courtney Skow (Texas A&M University), Emily O’Donnell (University of Nebraska-Omaha), Dino Francescutti (University of Tennessee-Knoxville), and siblings Marah Smith (University of South Dakota-Vermillion) and Samuel Smith (South Dakota State University).

During their time at the Institute, the interns shadowed Dr. Hilgers and other medical staff, providing them the opportunity to view ultrasounds, and participate in lab reviews. One student even observed a robotic surgery. The Internship Program is one of many programs sponsored by the Institute’s education department, and similar to the Institute’s other educational initiatives, it is designed to build a culture of life in women’s health care.

This mission was not lost on the students. “It radically changed the trajectory of my life, my goals, and further strengthened my views on Catholic social teaching,” remarked Emily. “I definitely want to pursue a career that supports Dr. Hilgers’ work.”

For Marah, the experience had an equally strong impact. “If you are a Catholic and you are going into medicine, it is easy to avoid issues such as contraception, sterilization, and so many others. To come here and see medicine that is inspired by the Catholic faith … it is something that makes you very proud to be a Catholic.”

Her brother, Samuel, agrees. “It is a medical community that promotes the Gospel and there are so many great people here who are living out their faith in the community.”

Perhaps one of the most memorable aspects of the internship was the opportunity to work directly with
Dr. Hilgers, who the interns affectionately describe as both a “role model” and “hero.”

“Despite everything I knew about the Institute, I was still surprised by the scope of his research,” said Dino, referring to Dr. Hilgers. “It’s amazing to think that one guy made all this.”

Andersons Proud to Help Build Culture of Life

The Anderson Children (from left to right): Gloria (4), Mary (12), Joseph (10), and Martha (13).

The Anderson Children (from left to right): Gloria (4), Mary (12), Joseph (10), and Martha (13).

From the Fall 2014 Culture of Life newsletter

Having suffered through four miscarriages, Allison Anderson and her husband, Dirk, of Portland, Oregon, found themselves hopeless. That is, until they found the Pope Paul VI Institute. An initial conversation with a nurse at the Institute confirmed for them that they had chosen the right place.

“She told me that they treated every life equally … whether that child is four months old or still within the womb,” recounts Allison.

Upon arriving at the Pope Paul VI Institute after a long trip from the west coast, their first impression of the Institute was a good one. “We saw the building,” Allison said, “and right there, at the top, was the Chapel … God was at the top.”

The healing and services she and her husband would soon receive at the Institute would have a profound effect on the Andersons. Not only did they lead to healing and the birth of a beautiful baby girl, Gloria Anne (who was born on Easter Day), but they would also inspire the Andersons to give back to the Institute, which had given them so much.

“We were shocked at the medical services we received through our ordeal. Dr. Hilgers was different. He did not rely on the temporary ‘fixes’ we had found with other doctors, fixes that were ultimately unsuccessful,” said Allison. “He instead looked at the underlying causes, and this led to true healing.”

As a long-time member of the monthly giving club, the Andersons provide a monthly contribution to the Institute. Through their tax-deductible donation, the Andersons are helping the Institute build a culture of life in reproductive health care, ensuring more women and families receive the healing and comfort she found at the Pope Paul VI Institute.

“If not for the generosity of other people whose donations helped build the Institute, Gloria Anne might not be here today. In fact there are a lot of lives in the world today solely because of Dr. Hilgers’ research,” she said. “It is another good Samaritan story, and we are proud to be supporting what we strongly feel is the Lord’s work.”