Father Ryan Kaup

Father Ryan Kaup is the parochial vicar at Cristo Rey Church, where he says the anti-abortion message encompasses the immigrants who are part of his congregation.

GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star

The Rev. Ryan Kaup of Lincoln celebrated a milestone in November — his 30th birthday.

But, really, the Catholic priest celebrates a milestone every November, knowing he might have never celebrated a single birthday.

In 1987, Kaup's mother was a single, pregnant college student. She didn't know what to do or where to go. She planned to get an abortion.

“She had her whole life ahead of her,” Kaup said from behind his desk at Cristo Rey Catholic Church, 4221 J St.

But she had a change of heart and canceled the procedure.

“There was something in her that couldn’t do it,” he said.

Once she gave birth, his mother put him up for adoption. Randall and Sherry Kaup of Lincoln adopted her son — only three days old.

“There was a real possibility that I would never have existed outside the womb,” Rev. Kaup said.

A what-if moment turns the polarizing issue of abortion into a real, personal issue for Kaup, who’s been parochial vicar at the Spanish-speaking church since his ordination in 2015.

Before Saturday’s anti-abortion Walk for Life rally at the state Capitol, Kaup will lead the homily across the street at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. His homily will center around his mother’s "pro-life" story.

“It (the story) took it out of theory and principle and the philosophical level for me,” said Kaup. “It went from the head to the heart.”

The anti-abortion march, which Kaup plans to attend, draws thousands to Lincoln each year near the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion on Jan. 22, 1973.

Nebraska Catholic Conference approached Kaup about delivering the homily.

A homily that he hasn’t prepared for any differently.

“I’ve been praying about it,” he said. “This one turns out to be a little more personal, but the heart of the matter is still the same and at the heart of every homily I hope to give.”

For Kaup, being “pro-life” as anti-abortion activists call themselves, starts with talking about abortion itself.

But the “pro-life” message also envelops other issues, including the death penalty and poverty, he said.

Immigration, too, is at the center of the message for Kaup, whose congregation is comprised of many Spanish-speaking immigrants. Kaup learned Spanish while studying in Chile.

“We have people from all walks of life — documented, undocumented, young, old, Dreamers, everyone in between,” Kaup of his congregation. “And we’re here and recognizing the gift and the dignity that they have.”

In addition to his role at Cristo Rey, Kaup teaches theology at Pius X High School, from which he graduated in 2006.

In 2008, Kaup felt drawn to become a priest while a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He attended St. Gregory’s Seminary in Seward and finished his studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia in 2015.

Growing up in Lincoln, Kaup always knew the story of his mother’s decision to forgo an abortion and choose adoption.

It wasn’t until 2016 that Kaup met her in a chance encounter outside a Lincoln restaurant. They had exchanged emails and Facebook messages, but had never met face-to-face. Kaup recognized her right away.

“It was like a Hallmark movie,” he said. "I can’t even describe it — that’s how we met.”

Kaup said Saturday’s march will be reassuring, as he watches a younger generation continue the anti-abortion battle.

“One of the hardest questions is what can I do,” he said. “You go out there and love mothers and give them support in that moment ... stand up for what is true and what is beautiful.”

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Assistant city editor

Shelly Kulhanek is assistant city editor.

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