Honoring Exemplary Pro-Life Leadership
ago, my office established the Gospel of Life Award to
recognize and thank Catholic individuals who have
demonstrated exemplary efforts to promote the Gospel of
Life in their parish and community. One individual is
chosen from each of the three dioceses of Nebraska.
On Oct. 22, at the annual
Bishops’ Pro Life Conference banquet, three women were
recognized for their decades of extraordinary commitment
and leadership to building a civilization of love and
Mrs. Bernadine Overman of
the Diocese of Grand Island
This year’s recipient from the Grand Island
Diocese is Mrs. Bernadine Overman from Scottsbluff. Thirty years ago, Mrs.
Overman saw a need for helping pregnant women who saw abortion as their only
option out of a difficult situation. After months of prayer and discussion
with others, she founded Birthright in Scottsbluff and served as its
director for 30 years until her retirement this October.
Over those 30 years Bernadine recruited and
trained volunteers, rented space for an office, maintained the accounting
and correspondence and gave talks about Birthright throughout the community
and region. In addition, she made sure there were at least two scholarships
available each year to the local community college for those who gave birth
to their babies and needed an education. According to Bernadine, it was a
"labor of love."
Mrs. Shirley Lang of the Diocese of Lincoln
The recipient from the Lincoln Diocese is Mrs.
Shirley Lang. Mrs. Lang has an extensive background of pro-life leadership
with state and local pro-life groups. She was a founding member of Lincoln
Right to Life, serving as its president, secretary, treasurer and speakers
bureau chairman. She also served as president, national director and
lobbyist for Nebraska Right to Life and was the master of ceremonies for the
annual Walk for Life in Lincoln for many years.
As impressive as this list of accomplishments is,
Shirley’s commitment to the pro-life cause is best exemplified by her
willingness to open her home to a pregnant teen in need of help. Shirley’s
positive influence on this young mother was evident in a number of ways. The
mother eventually married the father of her child, went back to school and
became a nurse and, with Shirley as her sponsor, was welcomed into the
Mrs. Agnes Schleppenbach of the Archdiocese of
The recipient from the Archdiocese of Omaha is
Mrs. Agnes Schleppenbach. If her last name looks a little familiar it’s
because she is my mother! Mrs. Schleppenbach built the foundation of Pierce
County Right to Life shortly after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in
1973. It was one of the first county pro-life groups in the state.
Despite raising 11 children, she found time to
lead the group, recruit members, conduct meetings, develop educational
materials, fundraise and serve as a regional director and board member of
Nebraska Right to Life. In addition to her community and regional leadership
she was a pro-life coordinator at St. Joseph’s parish in Pierce for 25 years
and served as a board member of Birthright in Norfolk for 10 years.
In their document "Living the Gospel of Life", the
U.S. Bishops said that "Scripture calls us to ‘be doers of the word and not
hearers only… [for] faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead’…Life in
Christ is a life of active witness. It demands moral leadership.
Each and every person baptized in the truth of the Catholic faith is a
member of the ‘people of life’ sent by God to evangelize the world."
These three extraordinary women are inspiring examples of this "active
witness" and "moral leadership" through their faithful and generous service
to our least brothers and sisters. God bless them for their service.