March 3, 2022: it is the second day of the spring 40 Days for Life campaign in Ventura. The calendar is mostly empty, not surprising as the campaign gathers momentum. But Thursdays are already full. Students from nearby Thomas Aquinas College have signed up to take practically every hour of the Lenten vigil. At 7:00 am, they’re already standing on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood, a bit tired but smiling, rosaries in hand.
The prayerful transformation
It wasn’t always this way. Twenty five years ago, students at the liberal arts college had little involvement with pro-life activism. Understandably so. Immersed in a challenging Great Books curriculum, they spent their days in class and their evenings reading Plato, Aristotle, and St. Augustine. In between, many students sandwiched work study hours. Finding time to pray in front of an abortion clinic was difficult. In addition, there was an acknowledgement that to spend four years at the tiny Catholic college was to take a break from the world to contemplate the truth. The campus’s remote location, nestled in the mountains outside of Santa Paula, California, reinforces this sense.
That all began to change in the fall of 1997, when a dark haired, green eyed sophomore named Angela Baird spoke to a group of friends about praying at Family Planning Associates, an abortion clinic on a tree-lined street in midtown Ventura.
Angela was no stranger to pro-life activism. Since ninth grade she had been a sidewalk counselor in her hometown of Spokane, Washington. During her first year of college, that activism had taken a back seat to some very typical freshman concerns: balancing classes and work-study, finding her place in the campus community. She loved parties, country music, hanging out with friends, and was outspokenly opinionated in class.
At the beginning of her sophomore year, however, friends and faculty noticed a change. Angela became serious about her prayer life and would frequently sneak away to the small college chapel. “It was a very noticeable thing,” says Marie (Sale) Daly, who was in her classes that year. “She had always been loving and kind—that was not something new to her—but she just seemed very peaceful.”
“Last year she was a typical restless teenager,” college chaplain Father Bart de la Torre told National Catholic Register later, “and this year she had become a calm, prayerful, peaceful woman.”
Not surprising, then, that Angela’s new seriousness led her to unite a deeper prayer life with her longtime zeal for the unborn. That fall of 1997, she and a few friends began going to the abortion clinic each Thursday—the day when Family Planning Associates scheduled surgical abortions. On the sidewalk, they prayed the rosary, handed out literature, and counseled women who were going into the clinic. It was a half hour drive to and from campus, and a thankless job: there were honks of support but also raised middle fingers and ugly expressions of rage.
The first Wednesday of November, Thomas Aquinas students were enjoying a mid-semester break. The weather was balmy and a group of students, including Angela, planned an evening hike and overnight camping trip in the mountains. They would hike down the next day in time for the weekly trip to Family Planning Associates. Around 6:30 pm, they set off up the trail, carrying backpacks, coats and flashlights. The trail was familiar, even at night: they were headed to the “Punchbowls,” natural pools that were a popular hiking spot.
Jon Daly, a junior at the time, was at the back of the group with Angela. Ironically, Jon was an expert rock climber and had taken Angela and some other students rock climbing earlier that day. Jon noted later how carefully she followed the climbing safety rules her dad, a safety instructor, had taught her.
But neither was aware that part of the trail they were hiking had washed away. As they climbed the last hill before the Punch Bowls, Angela turned to say something to Jon, took a step back, slipped, and disappeared into the darkness before he could stop her.
The pause before Jon heard the impact told him Angela had fallen a great distance. He quickly found a short cut and ran down to the base of the cliff. “This was a fall of 70 feet, straight down onto rock,” he said in a 2017 interview. “There was nothing along the way to break her fall.” He found Angela laying next to the cliff, conscious but struggling to speak.
Two students ran for help. Others stayed with Angela, trying to keep her warm and awake until paramedics arrived. Daly used a shirt to cover a large gash on her head.
During that time, said Daly, “She never complained. She never cried out in pain.”
“For aborted babies.”
When the students realized that Angela might be dying, Jon asked her what she wanted to pray for.
Angela responded “for aborted babies,” Daly wrote later to her parents, Michael and Peggy Baird. “I will never forget that reply; her love for the unborn and the aborted is one of the most beautiful things about Angela’s life….”
The above comes from an April 27 story by Monica Seeley in Catholic World Report.