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Jack Odgaard, left, receives the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s Gospel of Life Award from Tom Venzor, NCC’s executive director, Oct. 26 at the annual Bishops’ Pro-Life Banquet in Lincoln. Odgaard is a member of St. John Parish in Lincoln and a founding member of the pro-life organization Helpers of God’s Precious Infants.

Gospel of Life Award winner: Jack Odgaard

I first met Jack Odgaard in 2010, when I was a third-year law student at the University of Nebraska College of Law. I was with my friend, Jeff Kanger. In fact, it was Jeff’s idea to go and pray at the Planned Parenthood abortion mill that morning. We went to the facility at 38th and South streets in Lincoln.

The first person to greet us was Jack Odgaard. His greeting was accompanied by a smile and what seemed to be a game of Twenty Questions. Jack wanted to know all about us. Who were we? Where were we from? What did we do? Why were we in law school? Why did we come that morning? And so on.

What seemed like a case of a veteran overly excited at the prospect of some new young blood to join the Tuesday morning prayer vigils turned out to be my first encounter with a man whose heart has been undivided for the cause of human life.

Jack retired in 2007, having returned to Lincoln after living in Portland. Like so many other faithful Christians, Jack asked the Lord for guidance on how best to serve God and his neighbors during retirement. The Lord’s response was a deeper call for Jack to be more heavily involved in the pro-life movement. At that time, the Planned Parenthood in Lincoln was still located on South Street and performed abortions two days a week. Jack became a consistent presence outside the abortion mill.

In 2008 Jack was further inspired in his pro-life ministry. After attending a workshop by Msgr. Philip Reilly, who was visiting from New York, Jack helped form the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants in Lincoln. The Helpers, of which Jack is a part, have been a prayerful and hopeful presence outside abortion clinics in Lincoln ever since. Jack has been praying outside Planned Parenthood every single Tuesday when abortions are performed from 8 to 11 a.m. since at least 2012.

Jack’s God-given exceptional talents have given him the ability to calm angry and emotional staff and protesters. His welcoming, helpful, encouraging and Christian demeanor, especially toward those who are new to praying or counseling outside the abortion clinic, have helped many overcome their initial uneasiness of praying outside the abortion mill.

For Jack, love has been a consistent life theme. He has grown to love not only the babies and the women who go into the abortion clinic, but through his own conversion has learned to love the abortionists and the staff as well.

Jack Odgaard’s ministry to the unborn, to mothers in crisis pregnancy, to abortionists and staff, and to the many other sidewalk counselors and prayer warriors, is a ministry that is marked by one who has encountered the merciful gaze of Christ – and desires to transmit that same mercy into the hearts of every single person he encounters.

The witness of Jack Odgaard – aided by the grace of God, the love of a tremendous family and the companionship of true friends in Christ – is why the Nebraska Catholic Conference was privileged to honor Jack with our Gospel of Life Award at the annual Bishops’ Pro-Life Banquet and Conference in late October.

Never did I think in 2010, when I was walking up to a Planned Parenthood facility for only the second time in my life, that I was meeting a Christian gentleman who would become a mentor and friend, an inspiration for what it means to live the Gospel of Life with a true sense of joy, in the midst of the culture of death and vale of tears that abortion generates.

May God continue to richly bless the pro-life ministry of Jack Odgaard and may his witness continue to transform the hearts, minds and choices of all those he encounters.

Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at tvenzor@necatholic.org.

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