Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said the life and work of Project Rachel founder Vicki…
Remembering Vicki Thorn and the legacy she left
Vicki Thorn was a woman who didn’t believe in coincidences. If she met someone on a plane who later turned out to be a much-need resource of information, that was what she called a “God moment.” If she had missed that same plane and had to take another flight, she knew God’s hand was in that, too, because he must have wanted her on a different flight instead. Vicki’s life was dictated, wholly and entirely, by what she understood to be God’s will for her.
Thorn was best known for founding Project Rachel, a Catholic ministry for women and men wounded by abortion. A trained bereavement and trauma counselor, Vicki began to notice a distinct pattern among those coming to her for counseling: they had all been involved, at one level or another, with an abortion decision.
At the time, she was the director of Pro-Life Activities for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Like any archdiocesan employee, Vicki had many priest co-workers and friends, to whom she confided her hunch about the growing negative impact of abortion, psychologically and spiritually. They validated her concern, many explaining that they wished they “had something” to help them better understand how to appropriately minister to post-abortive women in the confessional. With their encouragement, Vicki went to the archbishop and explained her idea to create the “something” to meet that need. “He instantly understood the importance and the necessity,” Vicki told me. Vicki left his office not only with his blessing, but with the funding that she needed to begin.
Then, at her kitchen table in Wisconsin, Vicki drew up the outline for a groundbreaking program of accompaniment and healing for those impacted by abortion. As she did with everything else in her life, Vicki asked God’s guidance in naming the program.
Opening her Bible, her eyes fell on a passage from the book of Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: In Ramah is heard the sound of sobbing, bitter weeping! Rachel mourns for her children, for her children — they are no more!” (Jer 31:15) Vicki now had the name for her program: Project Rachel.
The passage was appropriate in more ways than one. Not only because it so powerfully captured the anguish of a woman who has lost her child, but also because it offered forgiveness, and a path to peace and restoration. The verse continues, “Thus says the Lord: Cease your cries of weeping, hold back your tears!…There is hope for your future” (Jer 31:16-17).
After the new program was introduced to the public, the response was far more than anyone imagined. Women called, as was expected, but so did men who had pressured their partners into an abortion, parents who had compelled their teenage daughters to have abortions and abortion clinic workers. Vicki became a sought-after expert, training tens of thousands of priests, deacons, and lay ministers worldwide, equipping them with the tools they needed to fully understand abortion’s aftermath and the unique healing process.
While never minimizing the gravity of the sin of abortion itself, Vicki developed a process that helped those involved with abortion understand that no sin is unforgiveable. In that respect, she anticipated — or perhaps even influenced — Pope St. John Paul II’s words to post-abortive women in the papal encyclical, Evangelium Vitae: “I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life” (No. 99).
Vicki was the personification of that “friendly and expert help” mentioned by John Paul II. When she died suddenly of a massive heart attack on April 20, the loss to the pro-life movement was incalculable.
But Vicki would have been the first one to remind me of God’s hand in all things. Vicki passed away in the middle of the Church’s annual Novena to the Divine Mercy. Beginning on Good Friday, the novena asks those praying it to remember a different group of souls each day. On the sixth day, the prayers for the novena read: “Today bring to me the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children and immerse them in my mercy. These souls most closely resemble my heart. They strengthened me during my bitter agony. I saw them as earthly angels, who will keep vigil at my altars. I pour out upon them whole torrents of grace. Only the humble soul is capable of receiving my grace. I favor humble souls with my confidence.”
There were very few souls as humble as Vicki, despite her many accolades and accomplishments and international fame for her work. How fitting that she was called home on the day the novena asks us to remember humble souls and the souls of little children. The little children, whose mothers and fathers Vicki worked so hard to reconcile with the Church so they could all be with each other in heaven for eternity, were surely there to greet her when the Lord called her home.
May she rest in God’s perfect timing and eternal peace.
Mary Hallan FioRito is the Cardinal Francis George Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the University of Notre Dame’s DeNicola Center for Ethics and Culture. She writes from Chicago.