IF YOU THINK GOD isn’t working miracles,
then you don’t know about
Mary’s Shelter!” Jan Lindsay, 24 years
into the miracles of these pro-life residences,
still sounds amazed when she
recounts their history.
A daily communicant together with her husband,
Noel, Jan is confident that God directs her
life. Interviewed several times by phone, she
wants no credit for what she recognizes as God’s
work and that of multitudes of volunteers and
staff. She agreed to these interviews only to
encourage and support the Mary’s Shelter mission:
providing residences that save babies by protecting
and supporting their homeless mothers.
Jan describes herself as “just an ordinary mom”
with four children. Back in 1982, she was a busy
wife and parent in Burnsville, Minnesota.
‘Lord, Show Me What to Do’
Jan Lindsay had become active in the Catholic
Charismatic Renewal in 1974. She wanted to be
in the prayer group’s healing ministry, but it
seemed her natural gift was fund-raising and
money management. How would that fit in? she
Jan’s prayer was answered by a misdirected
phone call. Therese Anderson, who was in the
same prayer group, shared aloud her vision of a
home for young pregnant women as an alternative
to abortion. Therese and Jean Gibson, another
prayer-group member, held that vision in prayer
for months, while they researched the need. Jan
thought she could—and would—assist the project
by simply writing a check.
One evening, Jan dialed Therese Anderson’s
number by mistake. “How’s that project coming?”
she asked politely, trying to cover her error.
Therese’s response took her by surprise. “Jean
and I were just sitting here praying the Rosary, asking
the Lord to send somebody to take care of the
O.K., Lord, you win, Jan thought, still seeing
the project as a part-time effort, with the capable
Jean to assist. Then Jean’s husband was transferred
out of state. Therese, who had articulated
the vision, had eight children and many health
problems, all of which kept her from active
involvement. She persevered as a vital prayer
partner, strengthening Jan in many trials.
Today, Jan describes the process as “the most
faith-building experience that I can possibly imagine.
With no money or expertise, it seemed impossible.”
Still she found a place, a vacant religious brothers’
residence. Mary’s Shelter got its three-month,
provisional state license in record time, a whole
houseful of furniture was
donated and another daily
communicant—a graphic arts
the logo now used by all five
The shelter opened in January
1983. Three weeks later, it
was filled to its capacity of 18.
But a permanent license required
more money in the
bank than its founders could
muster—and the provisional
license was up for renewal.
Prayers were answered when
the Minneapolis Tribune helped
with a glowing three-page
spread. Bonnie Miller Rubin
concluded her piece, “Their
license will run out Saturday. By that time they
must come up with another $21,000 to cover
operating costs for another three months. According
to Lindsay, there was $16,000 in the till last
“Within a week,” Jan says, “$5,000 came in,
truly an 11th-hour miracle.” While that was far
from the final hurdle, it became a pattern. Mary’s
Shelter would be in need. Faith would be tested, prayers would storm heaven, and Jan
would tell the Mary’s Shelter story to
just the right people.
Throughout 1983, the intrepid mom
told her story in Minnesota parishes,
building a base of support. Late in the
year, her husband was transferred to
the West Coast. Would that derail the
“I hated to leave, because the project
still seemed so shaky,” Jan remembers.
She and her daughter Karen made a
quick explanatory video for her auxiliary
network to use. She tapped new talent.
She left the project in the hands of
God and capable people.
California, Here We Come
Settled on the West Coast, Noel Lindsay
suggested that his wife rest a while.
This was February 1984. By 1985, a
Mary’s Shelter was incorporated in the
state of California!
It’s the same story of prayers answered.
At daily Mass, Jan met Fran
Monaghan, a pro-life activist with an
obviously pregnant companion. “Who’s
your friend?” Jan asked.
“Oh, this is Maria. She’s pregnant,
her parents kicked her out and she has
no place to go. We desperately need a
place for these young girls!”
Jan hesitantly mentioned the Minnesota
home and Fran quickly arranged
a meeting with Father Leo Celano, a
very active pro-life priest in Orange
County. Another shelter took root.
It’s a long leap from incorporation to
an open door. While the Minnesota
shelter was up and running in six
months, its California counterpart took
years. Some of that is traceable to the
scarcity of affordable real estate in the
area and to another unexpected transfer
for Noel Lindsay.
While her husband left for Pennsylvania,
Jan “stalled,” to use her own
words. “We had a sizable amount of
money, a great fund-raiser and many key people who wanted to help,” she
explains, but no site.
Jan packed up and moved, but she
kept coming back—for two years.
Finally, she prayed, “Lord, you find the
right person to take over for me out
here. We’re losing our momentum.”
That night, Jan called Joan Basile,
a grandmother settling into semi-retirement.
The next morning over a 6
a.m. breakfast, Joan became the shelter’s
Relying on past experience, Jan and
Joan searched for a vacant church building.
Fran, on the other hand, kept saying, “Let’s just get a little three-bedroom
house and then we’ll go from there.”
While Jan worried over size and cost-effectiveness,
Fran found a house on a
double lot for $350,000.
“The interesting thing about that”—and with Jan, one can count on an
interesting twist—“is this: Three years
later, HomeAid Orange County, the
charitable arm of the home construction
industry, adopted the project and
said, ‘We will build you a six-bedroom
facility on the vacant lot!’” A year later,
she adds, “They tore down the original
house and put up another six-bedroom
house.” Construction costs were
reduced by more than half through
donated labor and professional services.
Each home has evolved to meet the
needs of the area’s population. Jan
Lindsay is pleased with this responsiveness.
The Minnesota Mary’s Shelter,
for example, had to move from its initial
location, but found a place with a
greater capacity. Then the staff acknowledged,
she explains, “a huge need to
take in women who already had children
but were now homeless.”
And that’s how the first Mary’s Shelter
took on a name sounding more like
a suburban housing development:
Dakota Woodlands. Now in Eagan, Minnesota, Dakota Woodlands
assists homeless mothers.
Reyne Branchaud-Linsk, current
director, says, “The majority
of residents are still young
moms with young children
and our expertise with health
care, nutrition and parenting
services is very helpful for all of
the moms and children that
Other shelters, as the sidebar
also tailor their programs to
local needs and demographics.
The Catholic inspiration and
energy, however, are front and
center at all the shelters.
Third Time’s a Charm
Now living in Allentown,
Pennsylvania, Jan Lindsay took
stock. By 1990, she had the
basics down: incorporation
(with the help of an attorney),
a board of at least three members,
tax-exempt status, a treasurer
and the blessing of the
Church. When Jan contacts the local
Catholic bishop, she always makes it
clear, “We’re not looking for money. All
we want is your blessing.” Jan is also
convinced—and convinces others—of
a widespread need for places like Mary’s
“Women are still having abortions,”
she says. “One of the biggest reasons is
that many times the girl will say, ‘I
have nothing and no place to go, so I’m
going to have to have an abortion.’ If
she knows that there’s a Mary’s Shelter
somewhere, she knows that she can go
Many older Catholics can remember
Church-run homes for unwed
mothers, where women were often sent
in the past. It would appear that the
easy availability of abortions, combined
with greater societal acceptance of single
mothers, has caused the closure of
many such homes.
The multiplication of Mary’s Shelters,
on the other hand, points to a
growing lay Catholic concern for saving
the unborn beyond delivery,
through emphasis on counseling, education
and development of life skills.
Young women are also given a great
deal of information to help them make
an intelligent, well-informed decision
about adoption. And, in all this, they
experience God’s love through the able
assistance of staff and volunteers.
Bishop Thomas J. Welsh of the Diocese
of Allentown, Pennsylvania, now
retired, is one of the most staunchly
pro-life bishops in the country, Jan
says. When she visited his office, he
immediately supported the founding of
a Mary’s Shelter in his diocese. He even
pointed her toward a vacant convent in
nearby Reading, where the Rev. Leo
Stajkowski was pastor at St. Mary’s.
Father Leo was reluctant. With his
aging, inner-city parish, how could he
afford to do this? Jan responded confidently, “If you let us have that building,
I can guarantee the Lord will bless you
and your school will be full next year.’”
Sure enough, another school in the
area closed and all those children
enrolled at St. Mary’s! Father Leo got an
award that year for the biggest increase
Jan’s miracle stories multiply. “The
fire marshal ordered a $10,000 sprinkler
system. My husband and I prayed over
it. The phone rang. A man had read
about Mary’s Shelter in the newspaper
and wanted to help. I asked, ‘What do
“I design sprinkler systems,” he said.
The mission of the Berks County
shelter is greatly enhanced by the addition
of Mary’s Home, a transitional residence.
Chris Folk, says Jan, worked
with the Department of Housing and
Urban Development to build a debt-free
residence where mothers can stay for
two years if necessary. Mothers who
are ready for higher education are then
able to attend nearby Alvernia College
North, West, East—Now South
The Mary’s Shelter in Reading, Pennsylvania,
was dedicated on the feast of
Mary’s birth, September 8, 1995. Three
weeks later, Noel and Jan Lindsay
moved to Florida, where Noel settled
into a semi-retirement post, which
often took him to Orlando. While Jan
watched at home, EWTN aired a TV
program about a moving experience
held in front of one of Orlando’s two abortion clinics.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, national
director of Priests for Life, appeared on
the program with Caroline Routson.
Caroline described demonstrating outside
an abortion clinic with Father
Pavone. A young woman, moved by
the demonstrators, left the clinic,
approached Caroline and asked for a
priest to hear her confession. Caroline
led the woman to Father Pavone, and
continued to assist her throughout a
pregnancy she decided to see through.
Inspired by the story but distressed
by the clinics, Jan contacted Caroline. “I worked with Caroline, mostly by
phone, for about two years,” Jan says.
The small Mary’s Shelter is based in
two homes—one for younger women
and one for older. With new people
coming on board, Caroline is hoping
that this small start will expand as other
Mary’s Shelters have.
In 1998, Noel and Jan Lindsay retired
to a Florida home near the Alabama
border. They continued their practice of
daily Mass at St. Thomas-by-the Sea, in
Orange Beach, Alabama. Bob Barnett, a
retired engineer, and his wife, Terry,
also attended daily Mass there. In Bob’s
daily prayer for an end to abortion, Jan
recognized a kindred spirit.
She had been trying to garner support
for a Mary’s Shelter right in Pensacola,
where there are two abortion
clinics. She felt the Lord urging her to
“build a place, build a house,” but Jan
kept saying, “No, I know nothing about
building.” Someone else did.
Predictably, Jan sought out an
unused church building. Bob Barnett,
now enlisted, surveyed the nominated
vacancy with his expert contractor’s
eye and concluded, “For what it would
cost, we could build new,” says Jan.
Encouraged by Bob’s expertise, Jan
became convinced that building was
indeed the right direction. She recalls,
“The Lord helped us put together a
most remarkable, dedicated, hardworking
board—mostly retired professionals
who attend daily Mass.”
The donation of a three-acre parcel
of land and the addition of a new board
member moved the project toward a
happy resolution. Jack Gleeson, a
retired senior marketing executive, and
his wife also attended daily Mass at St.
Thomas-by-the Sea. Jack had extensive
experience in fund-raising and happily
consented to head up the publicity and
“With so many competent, dedicated
people on board and the key elements
in place,” says Jan, “I felt we
were finally free to move.” She and
Noel moved 600 miles south to be near
St. Anthony Messenger visited the new
Alabama shelter as it neared completion
last October. The property lies in the
midst of 80 acres of Alabama cropland.
Jo Godfrey, administrator with a background
in community development,
testifies to God’s hand in the project. “If
we ask a woman to keep her child, it is
incumbent on us to help,” she says
with quiet conviction.
The Alabama shelter has been in
development for four years and now
has strong endorsement from the Diocese
of Pensacola, Florida, as well as
the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.
This shelter, as has been true of others,
has been begun by Catholics but has
also attracted broad-based, ecumenical
Jo Godfrey consulted with Child
Haven, a facility owned and operated
by the Church of Christ, to learn from
their success. The newest Mary’s Shelter
has also been assisted by the Optimist
Club, the local Episcopal parish,
Methodist congregations and the Gulf
Shores [Alabama] Women’s Club. Jo’s
voice breaks a little when she describes
the tiny layettes sewn by the Lillian
Angels, a multi-denominational sewing
circle in Lillian, Alabama.
Before this newest shelter even
opened, its $650,000 construction costs
were paid in full through charitable
donations. Each bedroom boasted high-quality
new furniture, all donated.
Better Than Most Reality TV
In 1982, Therese Anderson had told
Jan Lindsay, “The Lord will use many
people, just as a cook uses many ingredients.
Even a half-teaspoon of salt can
make a big difference.” Jan Lindsay
remembers every teaspoonful of help.
So do those who benefit: mothers
and babies. Many of the mothers are
minors; all are in a time of challenge.
Their lives are in flux. “For every girl
who comes to Mary’s Shelter, there’s a
story. We don’t know them by numbers.
We call them by name,” says Chris
Folk, the Reading director.
Jan, who keeps in touch with all the
shelters, says, “For every girl who comes
to one of the shelters, there’s a tale to
be told, many so heart-wrenching they
bring tears, many very sweet and
poignant, many with a comic element,
but most with a happy ending. Many
stories would provide wonderful material
for a TV series,” she believes.
Jan Lindsay treasures each scenario,
marveling at the way God works
through willing people.
“Anybody who says yes to God can
do it,” she says, once again pointing to
the host of helpers who have turned the
vision of Mary’s Shelter into reality five
Four Shelters—and “One to Grow On”
Dakota Woodlands in Dakota County, Minnesota
Opened: 1983 in West St. Paul; 1995, moved to Eagan
Executive Director: Reyne Branchaud-Linsk
Mission: Originally a shelter for single, pregnant young
women; in 1995, began to serve homeless women with
Residence: two-story, renovated residential facility
Capacity: 21 families
Significant Numbers: In 2004, Dakota Woodlands sheltered
228 residents: 103 adults and 125 children.
Contact: 3430 Wescott Woodlands, Eagan, MN 55123,
Unique Feature: In 2000, a name change enabled residents
to have an address they could give without reluctance
to employers and schools.
Mary’s Shelter in Orange County, California
Executive Director: Barbara Nelson
Mission: Mary’s Shelter saves lives by empowering and
equipping homeless and at-risk pregnant teens, and
minors with babies, for lives of dignity, hope and self-sufficiency.
Residence: one-acre lot with two single-story homes
Capacity: 18 teen mothers, 12 babies
Significant Numbers: In Orange County, 10,000 girls
under 18 became pregnant last year. Only 5,000 delivered,
while the rest miscarried or aborted.
Contact: P.O. Box 10433, Santa Ana, CA 92711, 714-730-0930, www.teenshelter.org
Unique Feature: It focuses on serving minors (12-18).
Mary’s Shelter in Berks County, Pennsylvania
Executive Director: Christine Folk
Mission: To be a viable alternative to abortion by offering
residential care for pregnant teens and women who are in
need of a supportive environment because they lack suitable
housing or favorable family relationships.
Residence: former St. Mary’s Convent
Capacity: 12 mothers, 12 children
Significant Numbers: An average stay is three months,
with 30 mothers served in a typical year.
Contact: 325 S. 12th St., Reading, PA 19602-2021, 610-603-8010. www.marysshelter.org
Unique Feature: An additional facility—Mary’s Home, a
transitional home for six mothers and babies for up to
two years—is available to any mothers in need.
Mary’s Shelter in Seminole County, Florida
Opened: first home in 2000; second in 2003
Director: Caroline Routson
Mission: To serve the community by providing comprehensive,
residential care in a loving, supportive environment
for pregnant minors who are in a crisis situation
and who have committed to carry their babies to term.
Residence: two homes (one for younger women, one for
Capacity: five women
Significant Numbers: In five years, 17 women have completed
their stay. Of these, nine have followed through
Contact: Mary’s Shelter, Inc., P. O. Box 940254, Maitland,
FL 32794-0254, 407-339-7047, www.marysshelter.com
Unique Feature: This Mary’s Shelter focuses on assisting
women interested in adoption. It also emphasizes
renewed abstinence until marriage.
Mary’s Shelter in Baldwin County, Alabama
Opened: building complete in late 2005; open for residents
in early 2006
Administrator: Jo Godfrey
Mission: To provide housing, education, counseling and
supportive services for young women experiencing an
Residence: single-story, 6,000-square-foot structure
Significant Numbers: In Alabama, research indicates that
women in their early 20s have been most likely to seek
help through local crisis pregnancy centers.
Contact: P.O. Box 121, Orange Beach, AL 36561, 251-986-
6200, Web site under construction
Unique Feature: This is the first Mary’s Shelter to have a
new building at its opening
Carol Ann Morrow is an assistant editor of this magazine
and managing producer of audiobooks for
St. Anthony Messenger Press.