by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.
In my nearly 50 years of priestly ministry, 15
of the most important and satisfying were when I served as chaplain
for a maternity home for unwed mothers, north of Detroit, Michigan.
Between 1965 and 1980, I had the opportunity to work with nearly
2,000 girls who became residents during their pregnancy. They ranged
in age from early teens to their late 20s. It was a residence where
they could have privacy from the public as well as continue their
schooling. They were lovingly cared for by the Daughters of Charity.
Up to and including the 1960s, becoming pregnant
and unwed was considered about the worst thing a girl could do.
The same harsh judgment never seemed to be leveled against the
father. Very few girls could stay at home because of social pressure.
It meant they had to hide from the public and often from their
grandparents. But as the sexual mores of the late ‘70s and ‘80s
took place, being a single mother became more and more accepted.
Today, of course, hardly anyone blinks an eye.
The girls I was pastor to made the laudable decision
to carry their babies to full-term. It was a difficult but courageous
decision. I reminded them often that there was never a moment when
God stopped loving them. In 1968, I wrote an article for St.
Anthony Messenger magazine entitled, “To the Parents
of an Unwed Mother,” emphasizing that their daughters were
not bad persons, that this was not the worst thing they could have
done and that it was important that they love and support their
daughter in this very difficult time.
We had quarterly meetings at the home for the
parents so they could meet other parents, share their fears and
concerns, listen to each other, support their daughters and begin
healing the hurts that might have occurred.
In the 1960s, almost all of the girls made the
difficult decision to place their infants for adoption. By the
time the 1980s came, the majority of girls were keeping their babies.
Social workers spent long hours helping the girls make decisions
that were best for them as well as their baby and the family. When
the girls delivered their babies, it was important for the girls
to see their infants. It was completely their choice, and most
did. On the one hand, seeing their baby could make the separation
even more difficult. But there were good reasons for seeing their
infant. First, they needed to see the beautiful new life they had
brought into the world, and to be assured that their infant was
whole and healthy. Secondly, they needed to feel proud of having
made the decision they did to bring the baby to full-term and realize
they were giving another family the best gift they could possibly
One of the most important programs the maternity
home staff provided was when, four times a year, we invited four
or five former residents back for a question-and-answer session.
Two or three of the girls had given their infants up for adoption;
several had kept them. It was a chance for the new moms to talk
to the pregnant girls who still had to make that most difficult
decision. Each group could recount the ups and downs resulting
from the choices they made. There was never an easy answer, and
no matter how much information a girl would have, the decision
was always difficult.
There was always a common question that would
arise with the girls considering adoption for their baby. It was
truly an understandable one: “Father, when I get to heaven,
will my baby know me? What will it be like there? Will my baby
have to make a choice between me and the adopting mother?” The
answer I gave was a true one, and it eased their fears, at least
to some degree. I told them that, in heaven, there is perfect unity
and total love because every person is in perfect union with God.
The baby, now grown, will choose both mothers: knowing and loving
the birth mother for the gift of life and for the sacrifice she
made; and loving the adoptive mother for raising and loving the
baby all through life. In the same way, the two mothers will love
each other completely and totally. The mother who adopted the infant
will love the birth mother for giving her the chance to raise her
child and be a mother; the birth mother will love the adoptive
mother for taking such good care of her child. In heaven, there
is no fear, no jealousy, no envy—only perfect love and understanding
of the miracle of life and the love each gave to the other and
to the precious infant.
In my years in this pastoral work with these
wonderful girls, I was so often deeply inspired by them because
of their love and determination to carry their pregnancy to term.
In many cases, it was a demonstration of great love and great awareness
of what human life truly meant. For me it was a blessing to be
with them and to walk with them during the time when they made
the most difficult decision of their young lives. It’s my
prayer that they are all now at peace with themselves, realizing
how much God loves them for all the good they did.
respond to Friar Jacks musings on The
Anima Christi: A Prayer for All Centuries.
Dear Friar Jack: For years I have included
the Anima Christi in my morning prayers because the first time
I read it, it struck such a personal chord within my very soul.
And on Sundays at Mass, I say it after receiving the Eucharist.
Thanks for your inspiring interpretation. It says it all for me. Barbara
Dear Friar Jack: Your article on my favorite
prayer could not have been better. Since memorizing the words myself,
I also find that changing the words from “I” to “us” is
truly a profound way of communicating with our Lord and savior. James
Dear Barbara and James: Thanks for your
kind responses to my reflections on the ancient prayer, the Anima
Christi. A large number of e-mails came in this month and most
were positive. Although I regretfully cannot respond to them all
in person, be assured that I keep all readers of Friar Jack’s
E-spirations in my prayers, especially those who have asked
prayers for their special needs and those of loved ones. Peace
and good health to all! Friar Jack
Dear Friar Jack: Regarding the personal
reciting of the Anima Christi, I see no need to change from the
personal to the all-inclusive. Give me a break. A short reference
prior to saying the prayer would suffice. Like God does not know
our intentions? I have said this prayer since my youth. I am now
78. Have we gotten so politically correct we have gone mad and
need to say the prayer twice? This is absolute nonsense! A
Dear A: I was simply sharing with readers
my own thoughts and experiences with this popular prayer. My intention
was not to force a particular way of saying it upon anyone else.
Forgive me if my words came across that way. I commend you for
saying the prayer in a way that works best for you. Thanks for
your honest feedback. May God give you peace! Friar Jack
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