In Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” he writes that our advocacy for human dignity and respect for life must be consistent and all-encompassing. It is a mistake, he tells us, to limit our defense of life to one particular issue or cause. “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development,” he writes. “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.” On May 4, I was honored to join the staff and benefactors of Maryville Academy for the dedication of a new addition to their Crisis Nursery and Children’s Healthcare Center, where I saw Pope Francis’ words being put into action. The work of St. Mary’s (the original name for Maryville) dates back to the days of our first archbishop, Patrick Feehan, in 1883, with the establishment of St. Mary’s Training School for Boys. On this 880-acre working farm, boys learned trades and received an education that provided a pathway out of crime, homelessness, hunger and loneliness. Eventually, St. Mary’s transitioned into what is now known as Maryville Academy, which carries on a tradition of rebuilding lives and meeting the ever-changing needs of children and their families. After blessing the new addition, I had a chance to visit with some of the children, the staff and some donors. I learned a great deal about both facilities and the good work they carry out. For instance, the Crisis Nursery provides short-term care for children of families who are experiencing a severe disruptive crisis or are challenged with an urgent family matter. Children aged newborn through six are given 24-hour emergency child care up to 72 hours, in a safe and nurturing environment designed to protect them from experiences and situations that could harm them. Families may utilize the Maryville Crisis Nursery up to 30 days in a rolling calendar year and they have access to immediate support, counseling and referrals to community resources for extended services. The quality services provided to both children and families in need are free, but Maryville Academy must raise every dollar to carry on this work. Their ministry deserves our support as part of our pro-life commitment. Sharing the same building as the nursery is Maryville’s Children’s Healthcare Center. This long-term acute-care and sub-acute-care facility provides specialized clinical care for medically fragile children, aged newborn through 21. As I saw first-hand, these children, many of whom are technology-dependent (e.g., ventilators, apnea monitoring), are cared for lovingly. The Healthcare Center also provides training for parents, caregivers and siblings to help them become more confident when attending to the fragile child’s specialized needs, and respite care for caregivers, providing them much-needed breaks from demanding schedules. The state recently allowed this facility to expand from 12 to 16 beds. This remarkable labor of love at both the nursery and the healthcare center is overseen by School Sister of St. Francis Catherine Ryan, an able and dedicated leader. She has served as executive director of Maryville Academy for nearly 15 years and comes to this work with an impressive background. She was formerly the chief of the Juvenile Justice Bureau at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. She has instilled in her collaborators a passion for caring for youth and families, which has spilled over to benefactors who are inspired by her example. It’s not too much to say that the staff of Maryville are doing heroic work. Indeed, Maryville Academy and so many of our agencies that support children and families are doing exactly what the Holy Father urges. They are carrying out a truly consistent pro-life ethic, reminding all of us that our task is to make sure that no one is excluded from the table of life. But they are also providing each of us with an opportunity to participate fully in the pro-life work of the church, which I strongly encourage. If you feel called to learn how you can join Sister Catherine and her coworkers or support them financially, you can contact Maryville at 847-294-1999 or visit www.maryvilleacademy.org/donatevolunteer. I am confident you will be inspired by the great work they do. I sure was.