New monument shows ‘all life is precious’

For almost 50 years, Aggie and Jerry Smitten have dedicated their time, talent and treasure to their church and community, many of their hours spent marching for pro-life causes, getting involved with Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life and volunteering at Birthline, Inc.

The couple, who have been married 48 years, found out early in their marriage that they weren’t able to bear children of their own.

“It was hard to accept for awhile that we couldn’t have children,” Aggie said. “We learned to accept that God had a different mission in life, a different purpose for us.”

The couple formed meaningful relationships throughout the community, including sharing their lives with a “little brother” through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, caring for an elderly friend, mentoring married couples and working with other Catholic and civic organizations.

“We just felt so blessed,” Aggie said, “and we wanted to give back to our church community.”

Jerry and Aggie Smitten talk with friends after the blessing of a pro-life monument they commissioned at St. Peter Church in St. Cloud July 21. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)
Jerry and Aggie Smitten talk with friends after the blessing of a pro-life monument they commissioned at St. Peter Church in St. Cloud July 21.
(Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

For years, the Smittens toyed with the idea of constructing a pro-life monument for their parish, St. Peter in St. Cloud. But in 2014, when Aggie was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer, she felt the Holy Spirit was speaking directly to her.

“I know you are weak and tired; however, it’s time to proceed with the monument project,” she felt she heard the Spirit say to her during her five months of treatment.

She and Jerry looked at other pro-life monuments, many dedicated to the unborn. About the same time, Aggie’s sister-in-law gifted her with a copy of Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” which focuses on caring for both the earth and the people in it.

Aggie grew up on a dairy farm near Buckman, where she said she was taught to respect all life, including the land and all of Creation. Both she and Jerry decided they wanted the monument to reflect that aspect of life as well.

After two years and many different conversations with the parish council, the memorial company and much prayer, the Smittens settled on a design that included using both sides of the stone.

The jet black stone was ordered from India — a strong stone that can withstand the cold Minnesota winters — and was cut into the shape of a teardrop that stands 36 inches tall on a six-inch granite base.

When parishioners enter the east door of St. Peter’s, the stone sits to the right of the door across from the bell tower. At the top of the stone is a cross and praying hands with the words, “Cherish Life.” Below it is a quote from Bishop Donald Kettler that the Smittens fell in love with after reading it in his Aug. 15, 2015, column in The Visitor.

“Each person is a gift from God and needs to be loved, respected and protected, even in challenging circumstances,” it reads.

Below the quote is an image of six people of varying ages and abilities, including a young child, a senior and a person in a wheelchair.

“We wanted to incorporate all facets of life, not just from conception to birth but through old age and death,” Father LeRoy Scheierl, pastor of St. Peter, said at the blessing of the monument July 21. “You can see what we’ve got here is an image of the young, the old, the handicapped. It really embraces life from beginning to end.”

The back of the monument, which can be seen as people exit the east door, is an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Sacred Heart of Mary overlooking an image of the earth and etched with the Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

“We pray that it will serve as a constant witness to [God’s] love for humanity from our youngest brothers and sisters to those who are weak and elderly among us,” said Bishop Kettler at the blessing. “We pray this stone will serve as a testimony that we, too, are responsible for them. We pray that this memorial will also provide comfort for those who have lost a child, those who are struggling with a handicap or those who are experiencing old age or illness.”

Helen Bauer, a member of St. Peter Parish who attended the blessing, was especially touched by the monument. Bauer worked with handicapped children for over 30 years in the St. Cloud school district.

“All life is important,” Bauer said. “It really captures that.”

Chris Codden, director of the diocesan Office of Marriage and Family, said monuments like this have an important impact as people walk by them, stop to read them or use them as a reminder to pray for all life.

“It makes a difference to people who are pro-life to persevere in their pro-life efforts. It makes a difference to our young people to see that life is important. It makes a difference to our older people, that they are respected and honored,” she said.

This was the hope the Smittens had when they developed the idea for the monument.

“All life is precious,” Aggie said. “We all need to examine our lifestyles and the way we impact the environment in a real sacramental way to our own relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

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