Nineteen-year-old Cassie Farrell has spent the summer interning at The Interim. “It’s been Pro-Life 101,” she says. “I have learned how the pro-life movement functions overall and it’s given me new ideas for when I go back to school.”
Yet, Cassie was no stranger to the pro-life movement prior to her internship. She is the second of five children born to Montreal pro-life activist Michael Farrell and former Interim writer Regina MacDonald. In fact, Cassie’s parents met and married through the pro-life movement, having been introduced to each other by pro-life lawyer David MacDonald, who also happens to be Cassie’s uncle.
Both of Cassie’s parents were active with Birthright while Cassie was growing up. They were also active Catholics. “Practising our Catholic faith as a family and being from a large family gave me a strong pro-life foundation,” she says. “I could not imagine life without all my siblings – with five of us, there was more love to go around while growing up.”
Despite the family’s active involvement in the movement, including annual trips to Ottawa for the March for Life, it was not until Cassie was nine that her father first explained to her the horrors of abortion.
Shocked that children in the womb could be legally murdered in Canada, Cassie began to pay closer attention to her family’s pro-life activities. As a teenager, she would defend the right to life among her peers at school.
However, her college experience would transform her from a pro-life sympathizer to a pro-life activist. In 2006, she began studies at Dawson College in Montreal; the semester started with the murder of her calculus teacher. “The response of the administration was cold,” Cassie said. “They just replaced him.”
Cassie had barely gotten over the shock of her teacher’s death when, on Sept. 13, Kimveer Gill stormed the college in a widely-reported school shooting. Gill killed one, wounded 19 and shot himself in the head to end the rampage with a suicide. “I was stressed out, traumatized,” Cassie recalls. The school provided grief counsellors to help students deal with the trauma and Cassie went to see one. “She tried her best,” Cassie said, “but her responses seemed hollow; everything had to be politically correct.”
Yet, the views expressed by the killer were not all that different than those of the school faculty, Cassie would discover. “I hate God, I hate the deceivers, I hate betrayers, I hate religious zealots,” Gill had blogged shortly before the rampage.
Cassie would soon discover that many faculty and students despised the Catholic faith and the pro-life philosophy. Some professors openly referred to Christians as “stupid,” Cassie said, while others mocked the virgin birth of Christ and Catholic teaching on the Eucharist.
“Different professors made different comments about being pro-life and how the ‘little blob’ deserves the same rights as a full-grown person is absurd,” Cassie said. “Every time I tried to speak up they would shut me down.” She laments, “I just didn’t have the knowledge base” to counter their arguments.
Thus, Cassie applied to attend Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy the following year.
The private Catholic college is based in the small town of Barry’s Bay, just south of Algonquin Park in Ontario, and it represented a huge change for Cassie, who grew up in Montreal, the country’s second largest city.
The first thing Cassie discovered at the academy is that all her professors and fellow students were pro-life. “Everyone there is pro-life, because everyone is staunchly Catholic,” she said. “The academy teaches according to a classic philosophy – abortion is often mentioned in logic and philosophy to show how unsound the pro-abort position is.”
The academy boasted an active pro-life group that began with students gathering to pray Rosaries for life before branching out to invite pro-life speakers to the campus. Cassie signed up and volunteered to help visit the elderly and the sick. The school year would end with Cassie as vice-president of the pro-life club.
The first change to the executive happened on a joyful note – the club’s president resigned to explore a vocation as a nun with the Carmelites. Janine Lieu became the new president, Paul Sanders the new vice-president and both asked Cassie to fill in some of the gaps created by the departure. She became particularly close to Paul and the two would often discuss pro-life activism as well as ideas for changing the popular culture to make abortion unthinkable. “Paul Sanders had such an influence over me in the pro-life movement,” Cassie said. “I was always pro-life, but Paul inspired to become an activist.”
But tragedy struck. Cassie was deeply affected when a car accident at the beginning of the second semester left Paul and Janine dead. “They both really influenced my life so much,” Cassie said. “I wanted to be like them, because they were loving and passionate.”
Once she was done with the grieving process, the club turned to Cassie and her friend Kelly Sanders to continue Paul and Janine’s work. Kelly assumed the role of club president, while Cassie filled in as vice-president. “When they died, I realized there is no time to be neutral,” Cassie said. “Their death taught me there’s no time like the present. If I’m going to be actively pro-life, it should be now.”
Thus, Cassie immersed herself in pro-life work at the academy.
She also applied for a summer internship with The Interim. “I know there is tremendous opposition to abortion,” she said. “But I also know that pro-lifers are often reluctant to stand up and do something. I wanted to do something.”
As an intern, she writes news briefs, types articles and has researched a few articles dealing with issues concerning the elderly. She has also participated in workshops on pro-life issues and witnessed sidewalk counselling first hand. Cassie describes her internship as “Pro-Life 101.”
“I have learned how the pro-life movement functions overall and how to grow and expand our pro-life club when I go back to school,” she said. “It’s inspiring being around people who have worked with the pro-life movement for so long and sacrificed so much. It makes me want to stand up with my generation and pick up the reins.”