The world has just lost a prolife hero: Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, died suddenly, on April 20, at 72 years old.
Although I did not know Mrs. Thorn personally, I had massive admiration for her, ever since I wrote about the ministry she founded, Project Rachel, for the Review in 1994.
From that article, “Rachel Weeps”:
Rachel mourns her children: she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more. Thus says the Lord: Cease your cries of mourning. Wipe the tears from your eyes. The sorrow you have shown shall have its reward. There is hope for your future. Jeremiah 31: 15-17.
One Friday evening in February, on the kind of night that most of us seek light and cheer to assuage the mid-winter blues, I found myself in a dimly-lit church in a pleasant neighborhood in the Bronx, at what the note on the door called a “healing service.” With me, scattered around this basement church, were women, most of them huddling alone, some in pairs. In front of me were a young man and woman, sitting close. There was also an elderly couple to my right. All of us sat in silence.
At 7:30, a priest came out and the service began. After his welcoming remarks, there was an Old Testament reading, a response, the gospel and then a brief sermon; the priest spoke of our weakness, our need and the forgiveness found in the Christian community and in the Catholic Church. It wasn’t until a woman came up to the altar and started to speak of her life that the meaning of this service became clear: we were there to mourn the loss of babies. The service I attended is called “At Peace with Your Unborn,” and it is a healing service for those women, and men too, who have lost their children through abortion, miscarriage, or stillbirth. The At Peace service is a program of the New York Archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office, and it goes hand in hand with Project Rachel, the Church’s postabortion counseling and reconciliation service.
Project Rachel, named of course for the above biblical passage from Jeremiah, was begun in 1985 by Vicki Thorn, who was then the Respect Life Director in the archdiocese of Milwaukee. She and her associates chose the name because they wanted a name that reflected their ministry, but they were keenly aware that people broken from abortion might be better reached if the name was synonymous with the program’s purpose, rather than obviously self descriptive. What is crucial about the biblical passage, Thorn says, is that it ends with “There is hope for your future.” She wanted a program which let women know that there is hope, there is a future, even after abortion.
The Project Rachel program grew out of a response to the Catholic Church’s 1975 pastoral plan for pro-life activities, which included a call for pastoral ministry in both crisis pregnancies and postabortion counseling. Mrs. Thorn wasn’t sure how to go about this counseling, but what gave her insight and motivation was a high-school friend who had been an incest victim and was coerced into an illegal abortion. Mrs. Thorn watched her friend go through self-destructive behavior which apparently stemmed from her abortion, and she thought to herself, if there is one woman going through this, there must be more. By the early 80s, groups like Women Exploited by Abortion and American Victims of Abortion started getting attention, and women were “coming out” with their postabortion trauma. There was a lot of evidence that postabortion counseling was needed. Project Rachel began to grow by training other dioceses how to do postabortion counseling and reconciliation, and eventually there was a real need for a national office to guide and coordinate the new chapters.
In 1990, Thorn founded the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing (NOPRAH) in Milwaukee to expand Project Rachel’s services to a growing list of dioceses in the U.S. and abroad. The ministry is now run by the U.S. Conference of Cathoic Bishops (USCCB). You can learn more about it at Hope after Abortion.com.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki issued a statement at the news of Thorn’s death: “Vicki’s life was dedicated to a single mission; caring for men and women wounded by abortion. As the founder of Project Rachel, she single-handedly created a post-abortion healing ministry at a time when none existed. I, along with the staff of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Pastoral Center, extend our deepest condolences to Bill, Vicki’s husband, and to her six children. Vicki’s life and work stand as a living testimony to an unwavering and unconditional defense of life at all stages, and to the mercy of God’s love.”
In July 2021, the de Nicola center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame awarded Thorn its Evangelium Vitae Medal. The center’s director, O. Carter Snead, called Thorn “a living witness to the unconditional love and mercy that lies at the heart of the Culture of Life.” In a tweet at the news of her death, the Center shared a brief video about Vicki Thorn’s life and ministry, which you can see here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACxQQkJxsJs
It comes as no surprise to the faithful that Thorn, who taught that nothing we can do is bigger than God’s mercy, went to her reward during the Divine Mercy novena, a time of prayer leading up to the great feast of the Divine Mercy this Sunday, April 24.
Requiescat in Pace.