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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Emily Zender

Updated: May 27, 2018

By Gordon Nary

Gordon: Congratulation on your upcoming wedding to on Steve Troscinski at St. Mary of the Angels   on September 24, 2016. When did you join St. Mary of the Angels and what are some of aspects of the parish that you find most helpful?

Emily: I began attending SMA in the spring of 2011. What attracted me to SMA was the deep reverence and respect the parishioners and priests have for the Eucharist and during the mass. I always thought if we truly believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, then why don’t we act like it? The reverence encouraged at the SMA helps me to deepen my devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and explain to others that the Eucharist is truly Christ our Lord

Gordon: What were some of the specific challenges that interested you in serving as executive director of Illinois Right to Life?

Emily: While I believe nearly all pro-life missions and organizations are essential to stopping abortion, the greatest human rights violation of my life, I have always believed that education is the key to success. We don’t need abortion to be illegal to be unthinkable. We need every person to understand the horrors of abortion, the empowerment of choosing life instead, and the resources available to mothers in need. My heart breaks every time a woman who had an abortion shares with me her hurt and pain as a result and tells me “if only I had known what abortion actually was.” Women and men deserve the truth. As my old boss and mentor, Tom Brejcha, use to always say, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”  

Finally, Illinois is considered the last remaining “crown jewel” of the abortion industry in the Midwest. When I first became director of Illinois Right to Life, I felt more like a counselor than an educator because pro-life people in Illinois were discouraged, depressed, and hopeless. It became my mission to inject hope, courage, and fortitude into the pro-life movement in Illinois, and that’s exactly what Illinois Right to Life has been able to do.   

Gordon: Illinois Right to Life addresses the full spectrum of prolife challenges including end of life challenges. We have seen a growing movement on advancing assisted suicide legislation in some states. Has this been a concern in Illinois?

Emily: I expect assisted suicide legislation to be presented in Illinois within the next few legislation cycles. Assisted suicide is a radical, extreme and inhumane concept and practice.  We need better awareness of pain management doctors that can make those comfortable in the ends of their life and also focus on treating the ill and elderly with depression counseling and love – not death. 

Gordon: This video of your interview with Dan Proft is inspiring,

Your emphasis on adoption is an issue that is often not a priority of some prolife advocates, although Illinois Right to Life provides important information on addressing this challenge.

Do you have any suggestions for our city, state and national leaders to strengthen current adoption procedures?

Emily: We need to seriously reconsider the way we talk about adoption. There is still a negative connotation associated with adoption for the woman and man who lovingly place their child in an adoptive home. While the adoptive parents are viewed as heroes, the adoptive child is viewed as normal, the birth mother and father are often met with challenges and judgment by peers such as “how could you give up your baby like that? How could you abandon your child?” 

We need to stop this judgmental and incredibly out of line language. We need to instead recognize that every child does best in a loving home with a stable mother and a father. Any couple that feels they cannot provide that for their child is a super hero for placing the needs of the child above the needs and emotions of the parents. Single parents are also super heroes – we as a community must support both forms of parenting.

When you talk about adoption it is not “give your baby up for adoption” … it is “placing your baby in a loving adoptive home.” Let’s represent adoption for what it really is.

Finally, every family, especially every Christian pro-life family, needs to seriously consider adoption and foster care to add to their family. Gone are the days that adoption and foster care is only for infertile couples. There are children in need of foster homes and adoptive homes all around the world. If you’ve been blessed with a loving marriage, children and family, why would you withhold that from someone who has none? Open your loving family up to a foster care or adoptive child and let the love grow!

Gordon: You have a strong background in and earned a degree in communications at Lake Forest College. What social media tools do you find most helpful at Illinois Right to Life?       

Emily: All of them. Facebook is big with my current generation; Instagram and SnapChat are the largest social media platforms especially when trying to reach the next generation. Being good at social media isn’t about doing one really well; it’s about using several different ones because they reach completely different markets.

Gordon: There are some parishes hesitant in using social media as a communication resource. What, in your opinion, should be the initial social media tool that inexperienced parishes may want to consider using and why?

Emily: I’d start with Facebook and Instagram. (To start with, you can overlap posts on these making it easier to run them both.) If you consider all the different ways we interact with Christ, I believe Catholics often forget about one of the most important ones: the beautiful. Everything beautiful in this world was hand painted by God. In our busy fast-paced (social media obsessed) world, we often forget to stop and admire the simple, the beautiful. I’d encourage churches to spend time capturing that beautiful and start posting those beautiful images on Instagram and Facebook to inspire young people to further encounter Christ in a beautiful and loving way.

It also goes into the branding problem the Catholic Church has. The Catholic Church is looked at as the “no man,” the man that is no fun and always says no, you can’t.  What the Church actually represents is the realm in which heaven dips into earth and earth breaks into heaven. The Church is the staircase to heaven, the hospital for the sick, the suffering, the hopeless. Churches could help themselves out a little by posting images of this representation of the Church to fix the areas of negativity directed at the church.

Gordon: As a postscript to your studies at Lake Forest College, you were also a leading handball athlete. What disciplines in handball have you found helpful to advance your career in advocacy?

Emily: As an athlete, I learned how to set goals and to be disciplined enough to reach them. I learned how to push myself to refine the talents God gave me. I learned how to be a good sport, to be humble in your winnings and patient in your losses. But really, I learned not to take yourself too seriously and to have fun.

Gordon: We are challenged by the increasing loss of young people in Catholicism.  As a youth leader, do you have any suggestions on why parishes can do to increase their outreach to the young?


St. John Paul II was really onto something with his call for the New Evangelization. It’s vital that parish priests understand there’s a new way of learning and interaction for these generations. Attention spans are shorter. Time is minimum and young adults have so many temptations and distractions in their life (social media is a huge one). But if the devil is going to use social media to degrade our relationships with each other and with God, then we should be there to counter that. That’s why all churches should have an active social media accounts as I discussed above.

I think three really easy things that would be helpful in my circle of Catholic and non-Catholic Christian friends are the following. These are just my experiences, I can’t speak for all communities and young adults.

1. Priest homilies: priests mean well when they give their sermon but they need to realize that young adults literally switch churches or stop attending churches because of bad or boring preaching. I’m not talking about the priest speaking on the difficult social topics like abortion is making the homily bad, I’m talking about the homilies are boring, lack flow, and lack entertainment. I hate that I have to use that word, but it is true. Today we have very short attention spans and our brains are trained to pay attention to only things that are interesting. Young adults become bored easily by dry monotone homilies that don’t seem to relate to our lives. Priests shouldn’t shy away from the difficult topics. Young adults are encountering situations with abortion, suicide, contraception, politics, sex and more every day. They want to hear homilies relevant to them presented in an entertaining way. Our Evangelical brothers and sisters have figured this out and as a result have modeled their preaching around it. It’s time the Catholic Church figures it out too.

2. Understanding of the Mass: Young adults (and our parents) do not understand the beauty, history, or meaning of the Mass. Churches should regularly, once a month, have a mass where various aspects of the mass are explained as the mass is celebrated. This should be done in a quick and respectful manner but inserting notes about why we do what we do into the mass will help Catholics understand the beauty, history and importance of the mass. Or our parish missals

Anything Churches can do to make themselves more of a community is really important. Nobody wants to go to Mass like it’s a drive through. Welcoming people, personal invites to participate in the Mass or in community events go a long way.

Gordon: Thank you for a great interview, you pro-life leadership, and your valuable insights into our faith.


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