Project Rachel’s campus program gets underway with training session

CHARLESTON — Training for Project Rachel’s launch on college campuses got off to a very promising start with nearly 40 priests, religious sisters and laity from across the state in attendance  March 15.

The daylong session at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was taught by Vicki Thorn, the founder of Project Rachel. She provided campus personnel with the necessary tools to counsel and help women and men dealing with the emotional and physical stress associated with abortion.

Thorn, a Milwaukee, Wis., native and mother of six, recently developed the training session for campus ministry after she was contacted by Tina Jost, who will act as the head of Project Rachel for the College of Charleston.

“I had been working on a program geared toward younger women for quite a while,” Thorn said. “After Tina contacted me it was just a matter of putting together the pieces of information I had collected.”

Thorn’s first contact with the emotional stress associated with abortion came when she witnessed the struggles of a high school friend. In 1984 she was able to take that memory, coupled with her years of medical training, and turn it into the ministry as it stands today.

Thorn’s credentials include a degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota and a trauma certificate from the University of Wisconsin. She also has training as a bereavement facilitator, a prenatal loss facilitator and a spiritual director. She is a member of the Association of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health.

It is Thorn’s strong medical background that has equipped her to provide men and women with more than just a shoulder on which to cry.

Thorn is able to medically assess psychological as well as physiological motivation for certain actions.

In her session she pointed out that the breakdown of the traditional family has been a major factor in creating men and women who are incapacitated in making proper choices.

“Families are much more mobile, and children don’t have the chance to have roots anymore,” she said. “Boys and girls don’t even know how the family system works.”

She explained that divorce and professional day care are also major stressors in the lives of children who eventually become the adults making the decisions in unwanted pregnancies.

“Children begin their lives with a high level of stress and never really learn how to cope with life,” she said. “Once they reach college and are faced with an unexpected pregnancy, they don’t have the tools to make logical decisions. It is our job to begin to set them free of all of these hurts and stresses.

“These kids need to know that there is help available,” Thorn said. “Abortion is an isolating event. The media tells kids that there is no consequence to (premarital) sex. There is no model that they can see showing that some women suffer after an abortion.”

She said that the emotional impact doesn’t affect everyone the same way.

“I have been contacted by women from World War II era who are just now feeling the emotional impact,” she said. “At any point in a woman’s life this could become an issue. This is a loss of a child in a traumatic, unnatural way, and there are going to be repercussions.”

And with an estimated 1.5 million abortions performed in the United States each year, the need for counsel and aid is a reality.

Sister Rita Schroeder, a Sister of Notre Dame and the campus minister at the College of Charleston, believes that Project Rachel will be a huge benefit to the students.

“I met with two girls struggling after an abortion … and we haven’t even launched Project Rachel,” she said. “I think that there is a big need here.”

The College of Charleston is not alone in that need. Campus ministers from the University of South Carolina and Clemson were also present for the training.

“We are making plans now for Vicki to return to the Upstate in the next year or so to get the program for these other campuses up and running,” Sister Schroeder said.

The overall training that the campus ministers received included an intensive study of the foundational issues that contribute to the faulty decision-making that leads to abortion.

Thorn, whose audience consisted primarily of individuals involved in various aspects of counseling and ministry, then gave a series of counseling techniques to deal with women and men from all walks of life.

“If a woman is coming to us, it is our responsibility to find the basis for the value that she has offended in her heart, regardless of her faith,” Thorn said. “We must find out what background she came from, whether she is Lutheran, Baptist, or even atheist. This is not a time to evangelize her into another faith.”

Thorn said that the initial contact with a woman is crucial because of the increased chances for suicide.

“At this stage these women haven’t completed the loss experience, and the chances for suicide are three times greater,” she said. “We must figure out how to eliminate the suicide option.”

She also pointed out that although it is primarily women who seek help, there are many men who contact Project Rachel as well.

“I have a feeling that with a campus ministry we may see more men than we anticipate,” she said. “Usually the men who seek help are fathers who were cut out of the circle when the decision to have an abortion was made. Many of these men were willing to raise the baby, but didn’t have that choice.”

With plans being made to launch the campus program in the 2004-2005 school year, Father Jeffrey Kendall, the director of campus ministry for the Diocese of Charleston, Sister Schroeder, and Jost are excited to take what they learned during the training and get things started.

“I will act as a first responder for all of the students,” said Jost. “We will have an 800 number that they can call, and there will be a network of people available to help.”

“This training has been so helpful,” she said. “Vicki is so knowledgeable about so many things. I am really excited to see where God is leading in this whole thing.”

Thorn also conducted Project Rachel training  for the public on March 16 at the Cathedral.

The National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing (NOPARH) sponsors a nationwide referral service for those seeking help after abortion. For a referral contact NOPARH at (800) 5WE-CARE, or go online to

In addition, Rachel’s Vineyard is a retreat program that helps those suffering after abortion. These retreats are held in a group setting, usually over a weekend, and often are sponsored by local Project Rachel offices as well as counseling centers and retreat houses.

For information or retreat schedules contact or call (877) HOPE-4-ME.

For more information about Project Rachel, go online to