Then there is Paula Gentile, 70, chairwoman of the Respect Life committee at Our Lady of the Chesapeake in Lake Shore, where this month’s educational offerings include a virtual seminar, “Protecting Our Children From the Dangers of Sex Trafficking.”
“This has really been spearheaded by Paula,” said Father Steve Hook, pastor of the parish. “It is sort of her baby.”
The virtual presentation is not an isolated event, as Gentile has turned around the Carl Perkins’ classic, “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby.” For nearly her entire life, she has cared for vulnerable children.
Gentile spent more than 25 years as a special education teacher in Anne Arundel County Public Schools, a stretch that was interrupted for 12 years when she and her husband, Nino, birthed and raised three children: Marco, Bianca and Franco.
Special education was more of a calling than a profession. She was a sophomore at Archbishop Spalding High School when Holy Trinity, her parish in Glen Burnie, advertised for helpers in its SPREAD program, which provided religious education for young people with special needs.
Gentile showed up, expecting to assist an adult teacher. She was informed otherwise by the late Angela Clark, who organized the program.
“Angela told me, ‘Your student’s name is Mary,’ ” Gentile said. “I told her, ‘I know nothing about how to do this.’ Angela reassured me, told me I would do just fine. I relaxed, and just taught Mary what I knew about Jesus and love.”
Gentile would become the program’s principal, earn multiple degrees in education from what is now Loyola University Maryland, and influence others. It’s telling that her middle child is on the staff at Spalding, where she teaches religion and social justice.
Gentile retired from teaching in 2009. When John Donnelly, grand knight of the parish’s Knights of Columbus, looked for fresh blood to succeed him and run Respect Life at Our Lady of the Chesapeake, she did so.
What had been focused on the “Baby Bottle” campaign in support of expectant mothers expanded in scope after Gentile heard a talk on human trafficking from a Catholic Relief Services staffer.
“We’re giving dignity to life in every situation,” Gentile said. “Human trafficking is an area in which we need to honor the person.”
Father Hook made room in the parish bulletin for a five-week presentation on the subject. That produced a $2,354 donation, which CRS used to assist girls who had been trafficked. The parish’s second “Call to Action” was to be a similar presentation, arranged with help from the Holy Spirit.
Gentile’s research found resources from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Aglow International, which connected her to an authority in her backyard. Ed Thomas, a Pasadena resident, serves on multiple task forces that raise awareness of human trafficking, which he has done for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. COVID-19 postponed his talk last spring, but it will finally be held April 22, 7 to 8:30 p.m., in a most appropriate month.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month; April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The causes overlap in the archdiocese, where gun violence in the city endangers children and young people are among the contraband moved along the I-95 corridor and the junction of I-70 and I-81, near Hagerstown.
Gentile is just settling into the work necessary on those front lines.
“We must do all in our power to prevent our children from becoming victims,” she said, “so they never have to become a survivor.”
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