Two busloads of Hoosiers left southeastern Indiana Jan. 21 to participate in the annual anti-abortion March for Life in Washington, D.C., and returned with an adventure they will probably remember each time it snows.
About 100 area faithful – 50 students and adults from St. Nicholas Parish, and students and adults from Oldenburg Academy and St. Anthony, St. Louis, St. Charles and St. John's, Bloomington, parishes – were stranded in whiteout conditions for 22 hours in what they call "The Blizzard of '16," reports Debbie Gregg, St. Nicholas School, Sunman, eighth-grade teacher, who had her students write about the journey.
Ruth Heile says, "Ninety-six pilgrims went on a trip, unaware of the storm the sky would let slip. In the capital, the group marched for life, and on the drive home were met with much strife."
The teacher says, "We left the march and boarded our bus at 3 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22. Roads were beginning to get snow covered, but plows were out and kept it under control." They stopped for dinner and motored on until about 60 miles from Pittsburgh, where the marchers came to a standstill on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Traffic was frozen for about six miles.
She explains, "The bus had enough fuel for two more days, so we had heat and a bathroom – a BLESSING. Some people from cars came to use the bathroom. We had snacks to last all day on Saturday, but they were being rationed since we didn’t know when we’d get out, and the volunteer fire department brought bottled water."
Matthew Riehle reports in his poem, "The bus ride home was very memorable; the fact that I didn’t die is absolutely incredible. Luckily I had my friends, who kept the fun going. All the while, outside it was snowing."
By Saturday afternoon 2 and a half feet of snow had fallen.
Cameron Begley remembers, "Some of us slept on the floors, and as we awoke, we went outdoors."
The Rev. Sean Whittington of St. Nicholas Parish flew to D.C. to march with his parishioners after assisting at a funeral Mass. According to Gregg, "When asked if kids could play in snow (adults were leery), Father sternly said, 'You can go out if you stay on the right side of the bus and you may go knowing that you will get wet, you will get cold and we may be stuck here for many, many hours. Lastly, if you go, you may not complain at all.' After that, all kids dashed off the bus without hesitation."
Tony Kline writes about "not being able to feel my hands after being so cold." He adds, "I am from St. Nicholas School, and I couldn’t be prouder."
Gabe Hudepohl's experiences ranged "from snowball fights on the interstate to breaking a circuit by charging too many cell phones."
The teacher points out, "If you add the 22 hours being stuck to the 13-hour bus ride home from D.C. to Sunman, we were actually on the bus for many more hours than 22! Maybe the most worried the kids got was when the power was not able to handle all the charging devices ..."
Student Molly Gregg, whose mom is her teacher this year, confides, "Even though everything didn’t always go our way, we didn’t worry, but continued to pray. Twenty-two hours in the same spot on the bus; God gave us the grace not to fuss!"
For the most part, students were upbeat. "We knew we would be fine," one told the teacher. Others reported, "We made the most of it"; "John Paul entertained us for hours with his stories that never ended"; "Matthew kept the music flowing and entertained us with his magic card tricks." Another summed the excursion up this way: "Best Trip Ever."
Gregg says, "Adults spent time watching a few movies and playing plenty of euchre. The group spent extra time in prayer along the way."
The priest kept in touch with other drivers near the Hoosiers and continued to try to get answers. Adults on the Indiana buses and surrounding ones began digging out using trash cans and cardboard boxes.
Around 7 p.m. Saturday, five men from the group (Mike Fledderman, Jeff Heile, Bryan Kline, Chris Kraus and Aaron Cornett) hiked 1.4 miles up the emergency lane to see if help was coming. A state trooper, state workers and some National Guard members said they didn’t really have plans to cope with the extreme weather event.
The Hoosiers, along with a few volunteer firefighters, borrowed several snow shovels from semi drivers and began digging out the stuck trucks and buses. The teacher reports, "After about an hour they phoned down and told us and the buses around us to attempt to make it up the hill – that it was clear and open ... We made it up the hill, but couldn’t stop to get our men; all traffic was being turned around and routed east due to the turnpike being shut down." As the buses made the turn, "our guys ran to the eastbound side and hopped aboard – they were the heroes to us."
Rachel Kraus says poetically, "When we started moving and heading home, we were filled with gratitude for our Father above. He taught us a lesson of patience and helping others, and he filled us with hope and love."
The Catholic caravan had to take county roads west for about two hours until getting on I-70.
According to the educator, "We arrived back to St. Nicholas on Sunday, Jan. 23, at 6:40 a.m. It was a trip to remember! We saw in action that life can present us with many challenges, but it’s how we respond to those challenges that really makes a difference."
Owen Hudepohl admits, "This trip was probably the most interesting trip that I have ever encountered ... (and also) one of the most exhausting ..." He adds, "I think that it was great that we got to ... spend time with our friends and get closer to them and just bond."
Gregg reflects about the journey: "The fact that we encountered trials made it even more worthwhile. It was for one of the most important causes – protecting unborn babies."
When students were asked, "Would you do it all over again – even getting stranded?" they answered yes. "There was not one no," notes their teacher.
Whittington told his flock, “If I ever have to be stuck again, I hope to do it with this group of people.”
One St. Nicholas School tradition is for seventh- and eighth-graders to take this annual trip.
Buses departed at 3:30 a.m. Jan. 21 with arrival planned in time for the evening Vigil Mass for Life at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Travelers originally were to stay until Saturday, Jan. 23, to take part in the Jan. 22 March for Life, then tour monuments and Monticello, President Thomas Jefferson's home, but plans were altered to try to leave before the major blizzard, with the city potentially shutting down.
On Jan. 22 the group attended an early Mass and departed at 8:15 a.m. to tour monuments and head to the march, which began at the Washington Monument. At 12:30 p.m. they lined up for the 1 p.m. procession. Snow began falling slowly and then picked up rapidly during the march, which went up Constitution Avenue and ended in front of the Supreme Court building. Matthew Riehle reports in his poem, "The march wasn’t bad; I had loads of fun. I wasn’t even cold, so I thank the Lord a ton."
Gregg recalls, "Thousands of people were still there despite the forecasted blizzard; this march seemed even more memorable due to the fact that the blizzard was approaching and many people were encouraged to stay home to avoid the weather. It took courage and trust to still make the journey. As the march began and the snow picked up, it made us stand strong in our determination to defend life and show our support for the unborn babies despite the weather."
These are students' writings about their journey:
"The Blizzard of '16"
By Tony Kline
I am from waking up at 2:30 in the morning,
to the lack of sleep over the next 2 days.
I am from being present at the Vigil Mass,
to exercising and eating pizza afterward at the hotel.
I am from walking down Constitution Avenue in the March for Life,
to not being able to feel my hands after being so cold.
I am from half pound burgers at Cracker Barrel,
to only eating snacks while being stuck on the Turnpike.
I am from snowball fights on the Pennsylvania Turnpike,
to being stuck on the bus for 22 hours.
I am from blaring music by our own D.J., Matt,
to being told to “turn it down” over and over again.
I am from getting unstuck,
to going straight to McDonald's.
I am from listening to some more music,
to finally falling asleep for 4 hours.
I am from getting woken up and told we were at St. Nick,
to going into Mass at 7 A.M. after our long journey.
I am from St. Nicholas School,
and I couldn’t be prouder.
"The D.C. Trip of '16"
By Matthew Riehle
The D.C trip of 2016 was one-of-a-kind;
we were stuck for so long, I went out of my mind.
The March wasn’t bad; I had loads of fun.
I wasn’t even cold, so I thank the Lord a ton.
The bus ride home was very memorable;
the fact that I didn’t die is absolutely incredible.
Luckily I had my friends who kept the fun going
all the while, outside it was snowing.
Touring the monuments was the best;
I am glad I wasn’t at school taking a test.
I kicked a rock in the parking lot, I thought it was just snow.
Not moving on the bus for 22 hours, I was just ready to go.
For entertainment we played in the snow,
John Paul gave us a long story…a show.
The Vigil Mass at the Basilica was cool.
However, I was tired and ran out of fuel.
Overall, I loved the trip.
Fighting for life was so hip!
"Blizzard of '16"
By Cameron Begley
To everyone the blizzard of '16 was memorable,
but to me it was also incredible.
As everyone went to the Vigil Mass,
I had a pounding headache, so I had to pass.
For 22 hours we were stuck on a bus,
for 22 hours we found things to discuss.
Some of us slept on the floors,
and as we awoke, we went outdoors.
Overall the trip was unforgettable;
and to the whole world, it was noticeable.
"Unexpected Journey on the Pennsylvania Turnpike"
By Rachel Kraus
Here’s a story about our St. Nicholas group
who left their home to stand up for their belief.
We went to Washington, D.C., to March for “Life”;
We thought the trip would go well and the drive home would be brief.
After marching, we headed home on our bus
because there was a terrible blizzard heading our way.
We took the Pennsylvania Turnpike on the way home,
but we didn’t know that was where we’d have to stay.
The storm got worse as we were stuck in traffic;
snow never stopped falling from the sky.
After waiting for about 2 hours,
we realized that there would be more time to pass by.
We watched movies, listened to music, and just hung out,
and the next morning we were allowed to play in the snow.
Since the snow was about 3 feet high,
we were stuck and there was nowhere to go.
We were trapped on the interstate for 22 hours,
and no one was digging us free.
So the men from our group were our heroes
and were using boxes and signs to shovel the snow so we could flee.
When we started moving and heading home,
we were filled with gratitude for our Father above.
He taught us a lesson of patience and helping others,
and he filled us with hope and love.
This was an adventurous and memorable time,
And we kids had so much fun.
God’s plan surprises us in many ways,
and the Lord is still not done.
"Blizzard of 2016"
By Owen Hudepohl
The reason that I was in Washington, D.C., was mostly for the Pro-Life March. The March wasn’t that bad but in the middle of it, snow came pouring down from the sky. This trip was probably the most interesting trip that I have ever encountered. It was also probably one of the most exhausting trips I’ve been on.
Before we went on the March we went and visited some of the most famous monuments in Washington, D.C. Some of the monuments that we saw were the World War II Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. What we did after we went to all some of the monuments was we went to the march. After the March we left to go home. We were there about two hours on the bus before getting stuck in the snow on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Our priest Father Whittington thought that it would only be a couple hours and we would be on our way back home, but it ended up being a total of 22 hours before we got unstuck and started to go back home. There was some good parts and some bad parts about being stuck in the snow for 22 hours. Some good things about it were we got to learn about the virtue of patience and we got to go play out in the snow with all our friends. Some of the bad parts about it was that we were low on food and the bathroom was getting full and it smelled terrible.
Overall I think that it was great that we got to learn the virtue of patience and spend time with our friends and get closer to them and just bond. I hope during high school I can go a couple times with some of my friends. I think whoever has not been there it would be a great experience for them to go and learn about how people shouldn’t have abortions and how many people stand up for it and would like for people to stop doing it.
By Ruth Heile
Ninety-six pilgrims went on a trip,
unaware of the storm the sky would let slip.
In the capital, the group marched for life,
and on the drive home were met with much strife.
For twenty-two hours they were buried in snow;
seven miles of traffic unable to flow.
Some passed time with a game of cards,
and others had snowball fights in the busses’ front yards.
After a while, they just wanted to leave,
so they grabbed cardboard boxes and started to heave.
Finally the charter was set into motion,
and the happy parishioners made quite a commotion!
They all arrived home at the end of the night,
and told all the story of their terrible plight.
It was a trip they will never forget,
but not one has regretted it as of yet.
"Blizzards and Babies: Pro-Life March"
By Molly Gregg
Standing up for unborn babies while marching through the snow,
definitely helped my patience to grow!
Even though everything didn’t always go our way,
we didn’t worry but continued to pray.
Twenty-two hours in the same spot on the bus;
God gave us the grace NOT to fuss!
From blaring the music and playing in the snow,
we were having fun, but we were ready to go.
It was important for us to realize that God’s always in control;
this trip helped us draw closer to our ultimate goal!
"D.C. Trip … Where I’m From"
By Gabe Hudepohl
I’m from eating fast food at 11
to watching movies upon movies.
I’m from snowball fights on the interstate
to breaking a circuit by charging too many cell phones.
I’m from shooting off treadmills at the hotel
to being dug out of the blizzard with cardboard boxes
I’m from jamming to music
to being told to be quiet too many times.
I’m from marching to save lives
to being cold in a blizzard
I’m from sitting on a bus until my sanity was questioned
to finally journeying home.
I’m from playing cards with friends
to coming home and eating 4 days worth of leftovers.
I’m from smelling like a corpse
to not remembering falling asleep.
I’m from being a voice for the hopeless
to exploring the Basillica.
I’m from 2 feet of snow
to waiting an hour for “fast” food.
I’m from making memories
to spending so many hours with friends.
Debbie Blank can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.