By: Susan Fox
Kevin Kukla met Milissa Ackron in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2007 for the first time when she agreed to train him in pro-life sidewalk counseling. Since then both of them — as single and then married people — have saved the lives of many babies.
These were children who lived and were not aborted after a trip to Planned Parenthood. Their mothers are called, “turn arounds” because they go to the clinic to end their pregnancy, meet a sidewalk counselor, change their mind and return home pregnant.
Since the legalization of abortion in 1973, 70 million babies in the United States have been killed through abortion. As a result, going home alive from Planned Parenthood is a cause for joy for any unborn person and his or her family. Now abortion is illegal or restricted in the majority of states.
Kevin Kukla remembers that meeting with Milissa in the summer of 2007. He explained, “she started praying aloud and I wanted to get to know her better. So I asked her out on a date after the counseling.”
“We went out that night,” Milissa Kukla added. “And we’ve been together ever since.” They are blessed with four children, but six more miscarried. Kevin and Milissa started the lay-run Sanctity of Life Action Committee (SOLAC) last year after moving to Tyler in 2015.
This was the hope for many priests in the Diocese of Tyler for many years — that the laity would take over the pro-life efforts in the diocese, according to Fr. Nolan Lowry, former head of the diocesan efforts. “I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “We wanted to get this lay participation from the faithful for many years.”
But the road of true love is never straight, and neither is the beginning of a lay-run pro-life effort that now has 30 to 40 lay volunteers attending the Sanctity of Life Action Committee meetings every 3rd Saturday at 1 p.m. in the St. Paul Meeting Room behind the diocesan chancery. Kevin Kukla will wink and add that everyone else in the diocese is welcome to join them.
While they were still dating, Milissa and Kevin attended a lecture by Michigan abortionist Alberto Hodari, who openly declared, “Sometimes you need to lie to a patient about things that they want to do or know.”
Because this statement implied that the abortion clinic was not follow the health regulations, Kevin and Milissa were sent dumpster diving outside Hodari’s abortion clinic. Working with Dr. Monica Miller, director of the Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, Kevin and Milissa explored the dumpster outside the Lathrup Village “Women Who Care” abortion clinic at night. The effort, lasting from Feb. 8 to March 2, 2008, eventually found by some accounts 25 aborted children, many of them clinging to the ultrasounds, sign-in sheets and complete medical records of their mothers.
It was a gruesome task, Milissa told the Catholic East Texas in an interview. “It’s hard to see so many mangled babies,” she said. But she couldn’t accept “human beings being discarded in a trash can.” It is one of the corporal works of mercy to bury the dead.
Held at last! The children now found a spiritual mother and father in Kevin and Milissa. “We were heartbroken to hold those dead babies in our hands. It’s something we will never forget,” Kevin added.
The Archdiocese of Detroit provided a funeral Mass on May 3, 2008 for the babies found in the dumpster behind the “Women Who Care” abortion clinic. They were buried immediately in the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Southfield, Michigan.
Disposal of human remains in a trash can is illegal, so the police were called. Hodari was only ordered to train his staff to dispose of the children by proper incineration. The whole country was shocked. The headlines at the time read, “Throw Babies in the Dumpster, Get a Slap on the Wrist” and “Pro-Lifers Give Dignity to Hodari Dumpster Babies.”
Kevin was not there for the burial because their efforts were interrupted by the loss of both their jobs. Milissa landed a job in communications at the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas (CPLC), located in Dallas, the largest and most respected pro-life agency in the United States. This was early 2008 and their wedding wasn’t scheduled until August! They had to get permission to do their Catholic wedding in just five days or Kevin would not be able to move to Dallas with Milissa. Their priest agreed to the change of date, and married them on leap day Feb. 29, 2008.
“We went on our honeymoon (in Dallas) and we never came back,” Milissa said. Milissa did fly in alone for the burial of the Hodari Babies in Michigan.
The move to Dallas was providential because they learned about and worked for the most successful pro-life effort in the nation, the CPLC. This is what they hope to duplicate in Tyler.
When they first arrived in Tyler in 2015, there was little pro-life action in the diocese that they could see, according to Kevin Kukla. There was only the annual Sanctity of Life Banquet.
Behind the scenes, however, there was other work going on. It was simply accomplished by the priests and in the parishes, according to Fr. Lowry. Everyone participated in the National Life Chain in October. He took a few of his own parishioners to the Texas legislature to lobby against abortion every year. Then when the Kuklas moved to the area, they helped him get 40 Days for Life organized in the diocese.
“It was the real game changer,” Fr. Lowry emphasized because it got other Christian denominations involved. They had a great and untapped desire to express their pro-life views.
When Kevin and Milissa approached Bishop Joseph Strickland over lunch about creating an organization to rival the CPLC in Dallas, he exclaimed that it was an “answer to prayer,” according to Kevin. They announced the start up of the new organization, the Sanctity of Life Action Committee, at the annual Sanctity of Life Dinner in 2021. It was to be a lay-run organization of the diocese with clergy support.
The first meeting of the action committee was in November 2021.
It was Vatican II realized. The 21st ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church (1962-65) strongly encouraged the laity to “sanctify the world.”
“The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in his saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ…The laity fulfills this mission of the Church in the world especially by conforming their lives to their faith so that they become the light of the world.” (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 2)
Some existing pro-life groups like Gabriel Project (which provides clothing and diapers for pregnant mothers and newborn babies) and Children of God for Life (which informs on the use of unborn babies in medical research) became involved in the Sanctity of Life Action Committee.
Collette Dockery, head of the Gabriel Project in East Texas, reported that representatives of the Gabriel Project are at every meeting of the Action Committee. Started in 1993, the Gabriel Project is “glad and happy to be part of the Sanctity of Life.”
Children of God for Life organized a summer pro-life youth camp this year with assistance from the Sanctity of Life Action Committee. They utilized SOLAC volunteers to work at the event and speakers from the brand new Speakers Bureau.
The Sanctity of Life Action Committee started other apostolates in the past year like Project Rachel which brings healing to women and men grieving their abortion. It has started a pro-life Speakers Bureau.
“We are trying to bring professional presentations to all events, parishes or youth groups, who request a talk,” Kevin Kukla said. The Speakers Bureau is intended to reach all of the 33 counties of the diocese and 23,443 square miles of Northeast Texas.
The Action Committee continues to support 40 Days for Life in Tyler, which allows the laity to witness silently in prayer or directly by sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics. One of their new programs is the training of new sidewalk counsel volunteers.
SOLAC has also begun a novel evangelization effort to the local In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) clinics in Tyler. “It’s an industry that profits off the destruction of human life,” Kevin Kukla points out. “Struggling with infertility remains a heavy cross to bear, but IVF is not a morally licit option.”
That is a surprise to many Catholics who think the industry is a way to make more babies. So how could a Catholic oppose that? Fr. Lowry reported that many people were shocked that the Church is against IVF.
“Babies born out of wedlock is an immoral way of conception, but we love them no matter what,” Fr. Lowry said. So it is with IVF. The fruit of that procedure is a beloved human person made in the image of God, but the ends do not justify the means. The Catholic Church teaches the unity of parentage: each child has a right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world, and brought up within a marriage. (Donum Vitae)
For those struggling with infertility, Kevin recommends looking into NaProTechnology, (Natural Procreative Technology), which was a fruit of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, in Omaha, Nebraska, founded by Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers. The Kuklas used NaProTechnology in their 14-year marriage. They miscarried five pregnancies including two twins. “We have it (NaProTechnology) to thank for allowing us to give birth to our two youngest children, who are already five and seven years old,” they said.
Losing so many children in his own marriage has caused Kevin Kukla to look back at his time holding the Hodari babies. “It’s always been a stark contrast to Milissa and me. Here we are open to life, willing to have as many children as God will give us, but we kept losing babies. But then so many others are literally throwing away their babies — rejecting God’s gifts.”
“People (suffering from infertility) should be looking at their hormonal balances,” Kevin said. “Dr. Hilgers has the ability to diagnose whatever is physically wrong causing infertility and miscarriage.” He and Milissa hand out flyers on NaProTechnology at the IVF clinics.
SOLAC has been involved in civic action as well. Recently they have organized protests at Tyler School Board meetings with respect to pornography in the children’s library. Two hundred books were removed from the shelves and put in reserve for the summer, but it’s unclear what happened to them after that. SOLAC also dedicated one of its recent monthly meetings to civic action by training people on how to contact their state congressmen to ask them to vote for pro-life legislation.
This year SOLAC started the first annual Life Matters Symposium, which was a stunning bioethics conference where over 100 people heard talks on organ donation, gender confusion, the immorality of IVF and how aborted babies are used in fetal research.
But the cherry on the sundae is that SOLAC legally applied for a 501(c)3 non-profit status, which now separates their lay-run organization financially from the Diocese of Tyler.
Efforts are being made to reach outside the Tyler area through the SOLAC spiritual director, Fr. Albert Jerome Motte. Milissa Kukla is scheduling him in pro-life liturgies and prayer opportunities in areas outside the Tyler area.
“The new committee allows for more fruitfulness,” Fr. Motte rejoiced, “If a particular issue weighs heavily on your heart, you can go to SOLAC and get involved. That’s what allows us to be effective. We are together.”
Anyone interested in joining the efforts of the Sanctity of Life Action Committee is encouraged to attend the monthly meetings. In order to stay up to date on the happenings of SOLAC, everyone is encouraged to sign up to the email list by texting ENDABORTION to 84576 or visiting www.sanctityoflifetyler.org.