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Occupy the Good Life
A farewell gift to a culture looking for something better


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Kathryn Jean Lopez

This past week, I went to the wake of a woman who was born in 1925. As her son, Ed Mechmann, a New York lawyer who is active in the pro-life movement, wrote to friends, “Her family was with her at the end. It was a peaceful, holy death, of a good Christian woman.” On such occasions, at the passing of someone who lived a good and long life, you wish you could have present during her last days to ask questions — to download the wisdom of 86 years. But she leaves us her legacy in the dedication of her family, who cared for her in her final years, and who work tirelessly for church and community. 

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As I stood waiting for the train back to Manhattan, I got word that Jon Scharfenberger, coordinator of Pregnant on Campus and campus-support coordinator for Students for Life of America, had died from injuries suffered in a car accident. He was born in 1989. 

I still can hear Kristan Hawkins, executive director at Students for Life: “You’ve got to meet Jon, K-Lo. He’s awesome.” And when Kristan says “awesome,” she actually means the word seriously: self-sacrificial, a leader, tenacious in the cause of saving lives and helping others lead good ones. 

I never did manage to meet Jon, although I had connected a person or two to him during his short tenure at Students for Life. 

Jon’s job was to be a conduit for support and healing, and he was part of a generation of builders. As one missionary (that’s the official title) with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students at New York University put it to me recently, “We’re like the Early Church.” Shining a light, being beacons. Building. Educating. Not only walking the walk, but walking with their brothers and sisters — walking with people who may be lost without solid examples of successful marriages that make them feel capable of the same. 

Shunned and feeling totally alone when an unexpected pregnancy brings with it only the lie of the rhetoric of choice, young women — abandoned by boyfriend or husband, abandoned by family and friends — often see only one option. For these women, in pain and confusion, Jon and so many like him in this life-filled generation are offering good news, support, and their own witness. 

“One of the first nights after we had moved in,” Charles Atkinson tells me, “we stayed up late into the night discussing what the nature of the good life is.” Charles was Jon’s roommate last year at Ave Maria University in Florida. “This was the first of many conversations I had with Jon about finding happiness, what real success consists of, and following the will of God. Jon was dogged when it came to finding the right path and following it. He had a healthy discontent with the state of things both in his own life and in the culture around him, which led him to always search for more.” 

Explaining the position Jon would take with Students for Life of America — a non-lucrative and exhausting one, requiring hours of travel most weeks — Charles tells me that Jon wanted to “change the culture.” His job was dedicated to achieving a world without abortion, one campus at a time. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 46 percent of abortions are performed on women in college. During his short tenure at SFLA, Jon helped establish a pro-life group at Florida International University that had already kept one mother and child from joining that statistic. 

In addition to the Pregnant on Campus Initiative Jon was spearheading, SFLA and Feminists for Life have been working together to create a Pregnancy Resource Guide that will cover campuses nationwide. The aim is that no young woman will ever find herself alone on campus with no alternative but abortion. Child care, money — you name the obstacle, these groups seek to help in one way or another. 

Jon’s death came as the result of injuries sustained when his car was hit by another during a working weekend earlier this month. His colleague Kortney Blythe Gordon and her unborn child, Sophy, died that night. 



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