Four new awardees were named this year as recipients of People of Life Awards, chosen by the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities for lifetime contributions to the pro-life cause.
Honored at a July dinner for diocesan pro-life leaders and their guests, Mary Huber, Barbara Lyons, Greg Schleppenbach, and the late Laura Jean Ebert joined 37 other recipients since the secretariat established the award in 2007.
The award recognizes Catholics who have answered the call outlined by St. John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical "The Gospel of Life" by dedicating themselves to pro-life activities and promoting respect for the dignity of the human person. It is bestowed in honor of their significant and longtime contributions to the culture of life.
Huber spent her 24-year career in pro-life ministry at the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, beginning as a part-time bookkeeper and ultimately becoming the director of Respect Life and Pastoral Care for the diocese's Department of Life, Dignity and Justice.
Huber worked closely with the California Catholic Conference of Bishops advocating for life-saving protections for unborn children, women, and teen girls at risk for abortion and the elderly at risk for assisted suicide.
She launched the first diocesan Project Rachel program, coordinating training for priests and volunteers and providing bilingual phone counseling as well as abortion healing retreats in English and Spanish.
Huber also facilitated mental health programming in parish ministries, particularly for those wounded by abortion, or struggling with end-of-life care. She ultimately developed comprehensive programs to provide educational resources for accompanying the dying during their final journey.
Lyons began pro-life work in 1974 as volunteer president of the Milwaukee County chapter of Wisconsin Right to Life. She joined the staff of Wisconsin Right to Life in 1977 where she served as legislative director for 10 years, becoming executive director in 1987.
She also led educational outreach through the Veritas Society media campaign and teen and college training programs.
She "retired" from Wisconsin Right to Life in 2014 after 40 years of work in the pro-life movement, yet in her 70s, she was asked to serve as coalitions director for the Patient's Rights Action Fund. She has worked tirelessly into her 80s to prevent vulnerable persons from being targeted by assisted suicide.
Schleppenbach has dedicated his career to pro-life advocacy. He directed the pro-life office at the Nebraska Catholic Conference from 1991 to 2014 and served as Nebraska Catholic Conference's executive director for two years.
From 2016 to 2022, Schleppenbach was associate director for the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. He is currently the executive director for the Culture Project, a missionary organization providing education and mentorship for teens on the issues of human dignity and sexual integrity.
Ebert, who passed away in 2021, spent her life in dedicated service to the Catholic Church and the pro-life movement. She helped establish pro-life pregnancy centers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Canada. She also served as a housemother at a maternity home in Arkansas.
She was also passionate about Catholic education and worked for many years as a teacher in Illinois. She continued her leadership in compassionate service to women and children at pregnancy care centers near her home of Menominee, Michigan, until her death at age 73.