Agustin family of Sterling Heights — with children ages 2 to 15 — makes memorable first trek to Washington, D.C.
Video by Joe Pelletier and Andrew Kleczek
STERLING HEIGHTS — Screams, shouts and the sound of feet going up and down the stairs.
It’s still dark outside, but the Agustin home is full of light, as the family scrambles in their final preparations for their 10-hour drive from Sterling Heights to Washington, D.C.
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Annalisa and Eric Agustin, parents of eight children ranging from 2 to 15, are undoubtedly pro-life. But this would be the family's first trip to the March for Life.
When the couple married on Sept. 27, 2003, at St. Rene Goupil Parish in Sterling Heights, they knew they wanted a family. Eight children later — Isaiah, 15; Ethan, 13; Owen, 11; Xavier, 10; Anthony, 7; Monica, 5; Maria, 4; and Gianna, 2 — the Agustins now live the pro-life mentality 24/7, 365 days a year.
“When we were pregnant with No. 4, I think at that point we had a deeper conversion (into being pro-life),” Annalisa, who grew up in a family of three children, told Detroit Catholic. “God really can change your heart. (Having more children) might not be what we (originally) wanted, but it’s about what He wants.”
Annalisa was born and raised Catholic and had a deep understanding of the pro-life message. Eric, an only child, was raised Methodist but remembers going to World Youth Day in 2002 and seeing the “amazing” Catholic, pro-life witness, which encouraged him to explore the Church’s teachings.
“Being pro-life came with the knowledge and understanding of the truth with respect to the Church’s teachings on life,” Eric said. “Once you understand why the Church teaches what it teaches regarding contraception or abortion, you see there is a beauty that supersedes any other (teaching) you can find.”
Such convictions laid the groundwork for how the Agustin family, members of SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Sterling Heights, approaches life. Eric is an engineer for General Motors, and Annalisa teaches math at Regina Caeli Academy, a homeschooling resource center where the children go to school.
The two parents admit life with eight children brings an abundance of challenges others might not see as blessings. But with God's presence in the household, they do see the blessings every day of the year.
“One of my favorite parts of having a big family is the more children you have, the more self-giving you become,” Eric said. “I’m an only child; I’m inherently selfish. But with each child that came, it was God shedding some of that, to the point where your life is that of service. And I just love that.”
Balancing eight different homework schedules, eight different meal preferences — the family has a chalkboard in the kitchen laying out the meal schedule for the week — and eight different sets of likes and dislikes is a crash course in being open to life. When every day is a celebration of the life of another, explaining to the children why defending life matters becomes easy, Annalisa said.
“When watching the March for Life, they have a ticker on the bottom with the number of abortions (since 1973), and it’s so sad to see that number get so high, so quickly,” Annalisa said. “There is always a baby in our home, so we can say (to our children), 'Look at that baby; imagine if that baby wasn’t here.’”
For Isaiah, the eldest child and de facto leader of the Agustin children, having the chance to hold each of his seven brothers and sisters after they were born has shaped him.
“It’s our duty to protect the unborn when they can’t protect themselves,” Isaiah said. “I love my siblings with all my heart, even if I don’t show it all the time. But the gift they are, understanding the good and the bad — the screaming, the drama, but also the joy they bring — it completely overturns the bad. And I can’t imagine life without them.”
On the march with a platoon of 10
The Agustin family left in the wee hours the morning on Wednesday, Jan. 22, setting out from Sterling Heights to Washington accompanied by Annalisa’s sister, Kimberly Ambrosio.
On the way, the family stopped at St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburgh to draw spiritual strength from the thousands of relics present, before spending Thursday in the nation’s capital.
On Friday, getting eight kids up at 4 a.m. and ready to brave the cold lines to get into Capital One Arena for the pre-march Youth Rally for Life was no easy task, but the Agustins took the sacrifice in stride.
“I think the kids are doing pretty well,” Annalisa told Detroit Catholic as the small platoon of Agustins marched down Constitution Avenue. “We fed them, and we have lots of snacks to keep everyone happy.”
“It’s great when we’re moving and whenever there is music,” Annalisa added, motioning to a man on the street corner playing an electric guitar. “Isaiah is calling this the ‘pro-life shuffle’ — we are just walking and stopping, walking and stopping — but now that we are moving more, everyone is in a better mood.”
Like most first-time marchers, the sheer number of people attending the March for Life blew the Agustins away. Eric, a veteran of World Youth Day, said even that experience was nothing compared to half a million people marching down a single street.
“I heard it was an experience, but I didn’t understand how it was such a predominately Catholic experience,” Eric said, noting the sea of priests, religious and students from Catholic schools. “We went to the Rally for Life beforehand, and that was just a powerful thing to see, all these young people committed to the pro-life cause.”
Making their way to the National Mall for the Rally for Life, standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other pro-lifers, the family stopped as shouts filled the air when President Donald Trump — the first sitting president to do so — addressed the crowd.
“Seeing Donald Trump on stage will be something etched in my memory,” 13-year-old Ethan said. “We were really far away, but he had this speech about supporting the pro-lifers, which I thought was kind of cool, I never saw a president before. The passion everyone has for the unborn, the stories they told, it shows that they really believe this is the right thing to do and that we are not alone.”
Eric cautioned his children there would be counter-protesters at the march — and there were a few — but he emphasized that protesting is “the most American thing anyone can do,” and told them to keep their heads straight and remember why they were there.
Isaiah added there is “nothing you can do but pray” for those counter-protesting, and to draw strength from the overwhelming numbers at the March for Life.
“It’s cool to be part of a movement that is bigger than me,” Isaiah said. “Being here as a family, it says a lot about my parents that they promote being pro-life so much. They love us, I know that, but the fact they would bring us here says so much about what they want to teach us and what they want us to know is important.”
Eric described marching up Capitol Hill as a “mountaintop feeling” that opened his eyes to just how big the pro-life movement is.
“This is one of those big, highlight events of my life,” Eric said. “It’s my first time going, my kids’ first time going, and to see so many like-minded people is extremely encouraging; it definitely bolsters my faith. When I go back to the world after this, when our family goes back to the world, I'll know that this is something a lot of people believe in, and I’m one of them.”
A long day, but a continuing journey
Arriving atop Capitol Hill, standing before the Supreme Court, the Agustins marked the end of their physical march knowing their celebration of life will continue long after the memories have faded and the sore feet have healed.
Tired, cold, worn down and looking to get off their feet, the Agustins marched back to their hotel together, physically exhausted, but spiritually energized at what they had witnessed.
“We’re doing OK at the end of a long day, but we did it, bringing eight kids to the March for Life, and it was a blast,” Eric said. “The highlight, I think, was the youth rally beforehand, the Mass before the march, and just seeing my kids enthusiastic, taking it all in.”
Along the march, the Agustins met others from across the country with similar stories, some of whom came from as far as California to stand up for a common cause.
“During the Mass this morning, the priest said he came from a family of eight children — five brothers and three sisters — which I thought was cool because that’s our family,” Annalisa said. “We met so many people who have this amazing pro-life attitude, talking about the difficulties they face — people who have gone through trauma and death, but have found joy in life. Then I look at the joy my children bring and realize: this is why I’m marching.”
After a full day on his feet, praying and watching out for his brothers and sisters, Isaiah said he was mostly looking forward to diving into the hotel pool. Buzzing from the energy and excitement of the day, he said the march has only strengthened his pro-life convictions.
“I definitely feel this will change my perspective on the way pro-lifers just do life,” Isaiah said. “I remember coming across people who are pro-choice, who didn’t seem happy we were there. But even though we can’t see them change their mind, we can still pray for them, just like St. Monica with St. Augustine. Great things can happen; you just have to pray and let God intervene.”
With eight kids accounted for, and two tired parents who said they wouldn’t trade the experience for the world, the Agustins said their first March for Life validates the values they try to live every day.
“Our God is a God of hope,” Eric said. “He doesn’t demand results from us; He demands trust. That's what we are doing: we are living in hope. Today, my kids got to see suffering, an effect of sin, and they got to see hope that God will heal our country from this sin.
“For Annalisa and I, we have been through so much in our marriage — our own suffering, our own trials and tribulations. But that’s how you serve each other in marriage, in fatherhood, in motherhood. It’s been a joy to spend time with other folks who share that light, to walk with others who are willing to march for life.”
Detroit Catholic's Dan Meloy reports from Washington, D.C. To receive Detroit Catholic email updates in your inbox daily, weekly or monthly, subscribe to our e-newsletter.