The Respect Life Committee of St. Mary Parish in Franklin announced the winner of its “Defend the Culture of Life” essay contest at a Mass celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Aug. 15.
The winner, 19 year-old John Reynolds III, a political science major beginning his sophomore year at Boston College, wrote an essay titled, “Life Threatened: A Defense of the Culture of Life," said Bernadette O’Connor, the chairwoman of the essay sub-committee.
At the end of Mass, Father David Goodrow, one of the essay judges, introduced Reynolds to the congregation, and invited him to read his essay from the pulpit.
His parents, Donna and John Reynolds Jr. were in the pews.
His sister Katheryn, 13, and his brother Christopher, 16, were sitting just over his shoulder in their seats behind the altar. They were last-minute substitute altar servers.
Donna Reynolds was nervous when her son first stood up and walked up the aisle to the pulpit. “I was nervous, until I realized that he wasn’t nervous at all. Once I saw that he was relaxed, I relaxed,” she said.
"I knew he was speaking what he really believed, so maybe all along I knew he would be fine," she said.
Reynolds’ father said that he wasn’t surprised when his son won the contest. When he saw the contest in the bulletin, he encouraged his son to enter, he said. “He’d won writing awards at Franklin High, but I didn’t let on to him how confident I was that he’d win,” he said.
When he was working on his essay, Reynolds drew on lessons he learned in a full-year course he took at Boston College called, “Exploring Catholicism” taught by Angela Franks, Reynolds said.
He said he was trying to address his own frustration at people who ignore human dignity and God’s hand in the everyday things, he said.
"I was trying to change the focus from looking for miracles in sublime events and personalities, to the everyday miracles that we witness in our own lives," Reynolds said
Like the other entries, Reynolds was required to use Catholic sources and teachings, such as Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and papal encyclicals, O’Connor said.
"It was very well put," said O'Connor, of the winning essay. It was a remarkable piece of writing, using structure and reason, she said.
Because of the high quality of all of the entries, the committee awarded Honorable Mention certificates to all of the contestants at the ceremony held at the parish rectory after the Mass, she said.
There is a perception that the committee is only interested in protecting the unborn, said Betty Raneri, the president of the Respect Life Committee.
"The committee is involved in other issues, such as suicide, euthanasia, the challenges facing the disabled and the elderly. That is why we opened up the topic to cover the entire Culture of Life. Four of the essays were on chastity; others addressed Catholic teachings on capital punishment One very interesting paper was written by a physical therapist who drew on personal experience working with the disabled," she said.
The contest was open to high school and college students and was scheduled with the academic calendar in mind, Raneri said.
The committee decided to hold the contest during the summer, so it would not interfere with schoolwork. At the same time, summer is “when you have to get your money together to pay for books and tuition,” she said.
The committee hoped that $500 would be enough to get people interested. “We don’t have a big treasury,” Raneri said.
The response to the contest was so strong that the committee will do it again next year, said Father Goodrow. “It is a great feeling to see young Catholics thinking about their faith is such a serious and scholarly way,” he said.