By Callie Ewing, BA ’03 MH ’22
Gwendolyn Loop, BA ’21, recently received the Polking Family Fellowship for the newest Notre Dame Law School class. With this fellowship, the de Nicola Center of Ethics and Culture provides a top-up scholarship, career mentorship, internship opportunities, and deeper engagement with faculty and guest speakers. This summer, Loop attended Notre Dame’s Vita Institute with other pro-life activists and scholars.
“We need a fundamental shift in culture and law that empowers parents to choose life, especially in aspects like housing, childcare and transportation,” she said. This past year, Loop joined Houston Catholic Worker, living in solidarity with migrants arriving directly from the border or detention and witnessing “firsthand that for many families, choosing life is a horrifying struggle — when you can’t afford shoes or a sandwich, when insulin gets too expensive and you start to lose your sight, when the U.S. government confiscated your belongings in detention and you only have a handful of documents left. This is not a thought exercise, but rather a daily reality for many of our brothers and sisters. I am so grateful for the UD education that honed my skills to defend the dignity of all people, especially the most vulnerable.”
We reached out to Loop to ask her a little more about her efforts in this particular branch of the pro-life movement and what guided her to this path.
Even before coming to UD, I loved the Dallas-based secular nonprofit New Wave Feminists, which promotes “consistent nonviolence from the womb to the tomb.” This perspective incorporates a range of issues, and NWF especially focuses on justice and compassion for women and unborn children alike. I met NWF's founder at a UD pro-life event my freshman year, became a summer intern, and was promoted to outreach director my senior year.
NWF is particularly involved at the U.S.-Mexico border, trying to protect vulnerable migrants from violence, poverty and harmful government policies. We recently started work on a migrant shelter and a pregnancy resource clinic, which will serve families from both sides of the border.
Along with my NWF work, I also felt drawn to Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, even before my time at UD. In my freshman year at UD, the Porres Lecture featured a Catholic Worker from Casa Juan Diego in Houston, and a couple months after graduation I asked her if I could join!
This past January, I began living at this shelter in solidarity with migrant families, who came directly from the border or detention. We sought to live out voluntary poverty, personalism and nonviolence in adherence to the Works of Mercy. Our ragtag volunteer group ran two shelters, a medical clinic, food distribution and more. We tried to do our small part with radical love, “poco a poco,” little by little — building a kingdom of heaven on earth, creating a new society in the shell of the old, as Dorothy says.
Law school was absolutely NOT the plan! I remember during my Rome semester, Dr. Scott Crider asked me if I was planning on a career in law, and I just kind of laughed it off. However, during my senior year, I discovered how much lawyers can help vulnerable groups, and my double majors in English and politics seemed like the perfect fit. I love the combination of intellectual pursuits with boots-on-the-ground work to make a better world.
The summer after graduation, I interned for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Immigrant Justice Clinic, and it helped me understand how complicated and honestly unnavigable immigration is without legal representation. Even if I don’t end up specializing in immigration, I always want to serve the marginalized with my law degree.
I attended the Vita Institute in June as the upcoming 1L Polking Family Fellow of the Notre Dame de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture. This fellowship provides a generous scholarship, internships and mentorships for one law student in every class to help form the new leaders in a culture of life.
The week-long Vita Institute, often described as “pro-life bootcamp,” connects leaders in the movement and provides a rigorous intellectual foundation for life issues. Our conference was just one week before the Dobbs ruling, and it was encouraging to find some like-minded leaders right before such a historic moment.
The de Nicola Center recently launched the “Women and Children First” initiative on issues like “health care, housing, education, employment, poverty, racial justice, criminal justice reform, adoption and foster care, religious liberty, and international human rights.” During my internship for Catholic Charities Dallas, I learned that 75% of U.S. abortions involve financial concerns. In one of the richest countries on earth, this really reveals how hostile our society and economy is toward women and children’s wellbeing. Through the Center and my future legal career, I hope to help shift the national conversation to focus on the root causes.
An authentic culture of life will require a total reconstruction for genuine family support, both financially and socially. I’m still discovering my path, but long-term, I hope to help create a culture of life in which abortion is “unthinkable and unnecessary,” rather than simply illegal. We need real solutions for women in crisis — affordable health care and childcare, fair wages and flexible workplaces, housing and transportation. I pray that my work will create brighter futures for mothers and children alike.
I am so thankful for my friends, faculty, Catholic roots and liberal arts education at UD, and I know our community is capable of great things together. I am especially grateful to the English and Spanish departments, as well as the journalism program, for fostering my independence and creativity. My hope for UD is that it will be a safe haven for compassionate conversation, noble causes and authentic love of our neighbor. A revolution of the heart can start with us.