Pope John Students Overcome “Turnpike Trauma” To Return Home From March For Life

Snow and ice. Twenty-three pilgrims from Pope John XXIII Central Catholic High School were greeted with more snow and ice when they returned home Monday from an odyssey which would have made Homer proud.
They, and their adult sponsors, joined pro-life supporters from across the country last week to participate in the annual March for Life held in Washington, D.C.
On Tuesday, January 19, 23 students and four sponsors from Pope John XXIII Central Catholic High School in Elgin loaded a charter bus in Norfolk to join others in the Archdiocese of Omaha on the March for Life.
The March took place on Friday, Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade verdict. In 28-degree weather and a winter storm bearing down on the East Coast, they marched down Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court building, joining Catholics, Protestants and other faiths who are pro-life.
The mission of the March for Life is to provide all Americans with a place to testify to the beauty of life and the dignity of each human person. In January, each year the March brings together pro-life leaders and groups to organize, unite and strategize around a common message, and to communicate this message to the government, the media and the nation in a way that is powerful and life affirming.
For Pope John senior Terri Seier, this marked the second year she has participated in the march.
“The previous year there were a lot more people because a lot of people had to turn back because of the snow. It was still just as powerful … My favorite part of the march was, towards the front of the Omaha Archdiocese line, they were saying the Rosary and there were tons of people, even people who weren’t part of the archdiocese, saying the Rosary. It was very powerful.”
Pope John students have been doing this for a number of years, being excused from school for several days, then returning home. This year was different, very, very different.
Wary of the snowstorm which would ultimately dump more than two-feet of snow in places like Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York as well as the District of Columbia, they boarded an Arrow bus and headed west. Three hours west of Washington, D.C., along the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the bus stopped Friday evening and stayed there well into Saturday.
Steve Kerkman, one of the adult sponsors on the trip, himself making his third pilgrimage, said he heard semi-trailer trucks couldn’t make it up a hill on the turnpike and that started a chain-reaction.
Pope John’s pilgrims were stranded with no place to go until help arrived, not just for them but for hundreds of vehicles in the same situation. So began an event, not of their own choosing, but one which they embraced and made the best of the moment. To bide the time in the bus, students played card games, went outside the bus and made snow angels, did just about anything they could to make the time pass until help arrived.
“They were upbeat, warm and safe with plenty of water and snacks,” Kerkman told The Elgin Review Saturday morning, having been in the stopped bus for over 13 hours.
This was an event where social media exploded, not just for Pope John students but others on the turnpike as well. Students took to their phones to alert their parents, family and friends of their ordeal.
Near noon on Saturday, over 500 pilgrims participated in an outdoor Mass. One bus group built an altar out of snow. As word spread around, one priest had 300 hosts and offered to celebrate Mass. Soon there were six priests and 500 people at the Mass, Catholics and Protestants praying together.
Around 4 p.m. Saturday, the bus was moving again. It was turned around and went looking for another route. They ended up at a truck stop near Bedford, PA., and a motel was found.
Just after 11 a.m. on Sunday, parents learned that the bus was headed west again and would arrive in Norfolk sometime late Monday morning.
A group of parents were present when the bus arrived to take their children home.
As the students exited the Arrow bus, they looked tired, but happy to be home. If one could sum up their expression, they all looked like they just wanted to go home.
Summing up the feelings of all just moments after stepping off the bus in Norfolk Monday morning, Seier said, “I’m really glad to be home.”
Pope John students participating were Nicole Beckman, Karissa Dicke, Scott Moser, Terri Seier, Whitney Walker-Moore, Erin Beckman, Brody Hupp, Shantel Priester, Miles Schrage, Emily Seier, Heather Bauer, Taralyn Baum, Maddie Dilly, Grace Henn, Sydney Kerkman, Marie Meis, Paige Meis, Lizzy Mlnarik, Cameron Nielson, Nicki Payne, Wenting Yu, Maddie Schrage and Lauren Seier. Trip sponsors were Terry Reicks, Steve Kerkman, Gini Seier and Tami Schrage.