The first day of the fall semester is filled with excitement, anticipation, and probably a dose of fear for any student, but it was amplified for me because this wasn’t just the start to a new semester, it was my first class on the first day of my freshman year in college.
The class was English 151 and the professor was Dr. Mark Waters. I remember thinking about how excited I was for this class not only because I’m passionate about English, but also because this professor was so enthusiastic about teaching. However, I didn’t know that along with being an enthusiastic English professor at our local college, Dr. Waters was also incredibly pro-life, pro-woman, and pro-family and he used his everyday life to show it.
I was privileged to have the opportunity to interview Dr. Waters just the other day, after being in class with him for a semester and being intrigued by his outlook on human life. You see, after reading an article in his class, “Poor Baby,” by Heather King, I was intrigued as to how he taught at a public university and integrated such profoundly genuine pro-life literature to his course.
He agreed to talk with me and explain to me what this all meant. Dr. Waters said that he has probably always been pro-life, but he wasn’t very outspoken about it until much after grad school. He explains, “In graduate school, I was exposed to really a kind of rabid feminism. Not a healthy, wholesome, meaningful form of this ideology that actually embraces women and family and all the things that women can do, but this kind of academic form, this very political form that was very pro-abortion.”
This was disgusting, he explains, and from that point forward he wanted to do his part to help the pro-life movement. At first, he wasn’t sure how to go about this, but the opportunity came one Lent around ten years ago.
Waters reminisces, “It was 2010, and it was Lent. I felt like, you know, I’ve always wanted to go to an abortion clinic. People from my church were going to go, we were going to go pray out at the Northern Illinois Women’s Center in Rockford.” He decided to take this opportunity and learn what it was like to pray at an abortion clinic. He says that he wasn’t really sure what was expected of him. “Really one of my biggest bits of anxiety was like, what am I supposed to do there? I’m supposed to pray in public? Pray the Rosary?”
However, when Waters arrived, the scene was such that he felt comfortable and not scared or awkward. “When I got there, there were a ton of people there, it was 40 days for Life.” Honestly, he says, “If I had gone out there and there was nobody there, sidewalk counseling, holding up signs, I probably would have thought there was nothing to do there. But I went out and found all these people who did all these amazing things.”
After going to the clinic two times during that Lent, Dr. Waters felt like he had done his duty and was ready to go on with his life.
The next Friday something very strange happened, however. “All the sudden, I wake up, out of the blue, I look at the clock, and it was the exact time I had set the alarm for the previous week! I didn’t have any thoughts about it… I just started going every Friday.” He said that it most definitely wasn’t easy, or something he did for fun. “It’s one of the most uncomfortable things I have ever, ever had to do. I would rather do this than public speech, they say that is peoples’ greatest fear.”
Despite this, Waters continued to go and pray at the center almost every Friday. He has so many stories about these days, he explains, much more than he could tell me in a single interview or even in multiple interviews. “I’ve been attacked, I’ve had punches thrown at me,” he remembers, but he also claims that there have been much, much worse deeds done to those he prays with. “People think this stuff isn’t happening, this can’t be the case… I’ve seen it!”
The people he works with, Water realizes, are some of the best people he’s ever met, some of them devoting their whole lives to the cause. “These people are the most marvelous people I’ve ever met… they’re gifts from God! We’re all there for each other, to help each others’ faith.”
As Dr. Waters would go to the center every Friday, he realized that it really impacted the way he taught. “That [teaching] has always been a challenge… it’s definitely brought me to this place where I’m really about human dignity: people matter. That’s not just about the unborn, it’s about the elderly, the crack addict, the guys in jail, the worst human being imaginable, as well as the guy we lift up on a pedestal.”
This is one element about Dr. Waters’ English class that I noticed, first in a subconscious sort of way, and then it became clearer: Dr. Waters values each of his students as individuals. He tries harder than many professors would to learn our names and he is always there for us after class if we need help. This most certainly comes from his value of human life and helps him to be a better teacher and mentor to his students.
He talks about how being pro-life translates to the literature he gives his class to read, and the literature he receives from the students. “I’m amazed by how many writers are writing about, in my English class, you know, what does it mean to live a life, and to be awake, and aware, and meaningful… how am I going out in the world and being somebody?” And he explains that this always, “inevitably leads to these realities, like abortions, where we don’t value life…. Not in the least! We go out and destroy it… sometimes with our bombs and missiles and sometimes with our rhetorical bombs and missiles… calling them a clump of cells, a clot.”
The fact that rhetoric is so essential in pro-life debates is what makes it a great topic for an English teacher to speak to. Over the years, Dr. Waters has hosted a few pro-life talks at McHenry County College. He explains that many people don’t understand why an English teacher will stand in front of college students and talk to them about abortion. Water’s response is just what was mentioned above: rhetoric. Abortion and being an English teacher are both rhetoric-filled, so why not talk about both?
During his time at the clinic in Rockford, Waters did something special: he compiled memories, anecdotes, and lessons and wrote a book! He says, “I didn’t go out there to write a book, and after a while I was like, I don’t know how this is gonna end! And God gave me the ending.”
The book is called Signs from a Peculiar Institution, and he explains, “Its a personal narrative… lots of crazy stories, lots of irony. I think people will like it. It’s not just another book telling you how to argue the pro-life position.”
Waters’ book, Signs from a Peculiar Institution, will be available in October on Amazon. He plans to donate all proceeds to pro-life organizations.
It’s a beautiful thing to see such passion for doing the right thing from one of your professors. The pro-life movement is growing rapidly, and it’s often been said that we, as Gen-Z, are the “Pro-Life Generation.” In order for us to grow and flourish, however, we need strong leaders who are our superiors and will steer us in the right direction.
As he said in the interview, “If you’re gonna last long as a pro-lifer, you have to be humble, you have to be compassionate, you have to be forgiving. If you’re accusatory and angry, those people come out, but they don’t tend to last. It’s tough to be angry all the time! And it helps to understand that God is in charge.” This is a wonderful attitude to have while doing pro-life work, and Dr. Waters is a wonderful example for the youth of the pro-life generation and his passionate way of incorporating his zeal for life into his college classes is priceless!