May 13, 2011

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Pro-life Miss America shows wisdom at age 18

Being Miss America is a lot of pressure for 18-year-old Teresa Scanlan.

But then, when her mom was 18, she faced a lot of pressure, too. She was pregnant and unwed.

Teresa learned this last September when the Nebraska native was preparing for the 2011 Miss America pageant. Her half-brother, Jerod, had called unexpectedly. It was his 31st birthday, his wife was expecting their first child, and it seemed like a good time to reach out.

Teresa was working in her basement office when her mom, Janie, came down to tell her the news. Janie later married and had six children, whom she had never told about Jerod, assuming she would never hear from him and that it would be easier on them that way.

Teresa was stunned.

“It was strange for me to even imagine that,” she told me. “I thought, ‘There’s no way.’ This has to be some kind of joke, some kind of misunderstanding. All you know of your family for 17 years has suddenly changed.”

The news offered Teresa insight on her mother. It hadn’t been easy for Janie being Catholic, pregnant and 18 in Wichita, Kan., and the pregnancy was kept a secret, even to relatives. With her parents’ blessing, Janie decided to place her baby for adoption with the Catholic Adoption Agency. She wanted him to have a stable, loving family, and every opportunity for success.

When Jerod was born, Janie held his tiny hand, wrote him a letter and said goodbye.

“It was so, so hard for her,” Teresa said. “I have all the more respect and love for her understanding that now.”

Shortly after Jerod’s phone call, he and Janie decided to meet at an Olive Garden restaurant in Lincoln, Neb. “When you’re here,” says the chain’s slogan, “you’re family.” Janie brought three of her daughters and, when they spotted Jerod, they engulfed him in hugs.

Over breadsticks and pasta, they talked for hours, sharing tidbits from three decades, and studying each other’s faces and lives.

“When he smiles, there are my mom’s dimples,” Teresa said.

Soon the big-hearted teenager was viewing the situation for what it is—evidence of God’s Providence that Jerod would be raised by such devoted Catholic parents, and that he would be reunited with his birth mom and her vibrant, faith-filled family.

“I’m just excited to be a part of his family and for him to be a part of ours,” Teresa said. “I always wanted a bigger family. I didn’t think six was enough.”

In January, Teresa was chosen Nebraska’s first Miss America, the youngest woman in decades to claim the title.

“I finally realized that it is those times when we’re least prepared, when we’re least ready, when we have those doubts and fears—that’s when God uses us,” she said. “He takes our feeble little attempts and turns them into amazing things.”

One week after being crowned Miss America, Teresa became an aunt. Jerod’s wife delivered a healthy baby girl named Marilyn, who has an incredible tiara-toting role model. Teresa hopes to one day become a Supreme Court justice.

Meeting Jerod changed her. She is a young woman raised in a pro-life family who has now lived it.

Being pro-life is an intimate experience, one that rewires families, homes and hearts—a shuffling of bedrooms and priorities, a clutching of faith. And it is founded on a beautiful thing—hope for the future.

When you think of Teresa and her newborn niece, how can you feel anything but?

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She can be reached at

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