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Mary's Shelters: Helping Women
By Carol Ann Morrow
Jan Lindsay didn’t set out to begin homes for homeless pregnant women. But, since 1982, her pro-life mission has grown from coast to coast.

Q U I C K S C A N

‘Lord, Show Me What to Do’
California, Here We Come
Third Time’s a Charm
North, West, East—Now South
Better Than Most Reality TV
Four Shelters—and “One to Grow On”

 

© Big Cheese Photo LLC/ALAMY

“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 prayed.

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 money.”

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 sales representative—procured the logo now used by all five Mary’s Shelters.

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 week.”

“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 project?

“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.

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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 first administrator.

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 we assist.”

Other shelters, as the sidebar below shows, 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 Shelter.

“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 there.”

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 in enrollment.

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 you 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 on scholarship.

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 capital campaign.

“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 their grandchildren.

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 support.

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 times over.

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 children.
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, 651-456-9110, www.dakotawoodlands.org
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
Opened: 1994
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
Opened: 1995
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 older)
Capacity: five women
Significant Numbers: In five years, 17 women have completed their stay. Of these, nine have followed through with adoption.
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 unplanned pregnancy.
Residence: single-story, 6,000-square-foot structure
Capacity: 12
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.


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