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September 27, 2019

Dierkes ’20 Is a Leader with Newman Center 

By Lou Baldwin


The following article originally appeared at www.CatholicPhilly.com. Reprinted with permission.

University of Pennsylvania student Theresa Dierkes, center, received the John and Harriet Stanton Award at the annual dinner hosted by the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia.

There are almost 22,000 students at the University of Pennsylvania, of which more than 10,000 are undergrads. The university’s pro-life group, Quakers for Life, formerly Penn for Life, has maybe 15-20 core active members, according to a group leader, Theresa Dierkes, a senior majoring in nursing.


If that can be somewhat like John the Baptist, a voice crying out in the wilderness, Dierkes could take comfort in being one of three honorees at the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia’s annual Stand Up For Life Dinner last winter.

There were more than 1,200 committed pro-lifers in attendance. Her award was the John and Harriet Stanton Award, named for the Pro-Life Union pioneers.


Dierkes’ own pro-life passions could be genetic. Years ago, her dad was arrested while witnessing for life at an abortion clinic. She is number five of the eight children of Meg and Bill Dierkes and was home-schooled during her elementary grades, something she would consider doing for her own children in the future. From there she went on to Merion Mercy Academy and while the teaching at the school was definitely pro-life, Dierkes was surprised to learn that many of the students were not, and simply would not even discuss it, which was frustrating.

“It is hard to understand where it was coming from. It just seemed illogical in a Catholic school that there would be people who are not pro-life,” she said. “I would understand it in a non-Catholic school, but it was hard to grasp in a Catholic school.”

Her own personal commitment to the cause really solidified around her sophomore year in high school through a retreat at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. “During Adoration, I really felt a calling to do something more for the pro-life movement,” she said.

That calling didn’t gel until she got to Penn and joined the Newman Catholic Center, of which she is now an executive board member.

Although music has always been part of her life, both as a singer and instrumentalist, she dropped out of Penn Singers to focus more on the life issues. With that said, music and song are still an important part of her praise and worship.

Over the years, she has made the annual March for Life in Washington many times. In January, she was part of a busload going to the march, combining students from Penn, Drexel University, and the University of the Sciences.

Meanwhile, as a very hectic schedule permits, she witnesses before abortion facilities as part of Forty Days for Life, which can be distressing when women enter the clinic, but exhilarating when some change their minds.

“When you are praying outside, you may think you are not doing enough, but your prayers can make a difference,” she said. “It’s slow work and sometimes you think you aren’t making a difference, but you are.”

But you don’t have to go to a clinic to pray. At the university, she has also organized a small prayer group that prays for women and the unborn at nearby St. Agatha–St. James Church. 

As for the future, pro-life activity will continue. After college, “I want to go into labor and delivery nursing, or go into school nursing,” she said.

“You can do a lot in a school by approaching pro-life as a biological issue.”

If anything, she will be even more active. “In college, you have so little time,” she said.

However she approaches it, prayer will definitely be part of the picture.