Elizabeth Ministry International began in the Diocese of Green Bay in 1991 but quickly spread and grew to today’s 700 chapters from the United States to Korea.
A year and a half ago, the time was ripe for founder Jeannie Hanneman to create a companion apostolate: the Life and Loss Institute.
While Elizabeth Ministry (ElizabethMinistry.com) focuses on women supporting, mentoring and spiritually nourishing women and families during pregnancy, and through medical and infant-loss situations, its Life & Loss Institute blooms as the educational branch.
Life & Loss offers consultations, workshops and seminars on a myriad of topics related to human sexuality and relationships — everything from chaste living to Natural Family Planning to reproductive technology, miscarriage, infant or child death and healing sexual sins.
Hanneman explains what led to the new apostolate. For years she saw the need for proper information on things like prenatal testing and reproductive technologies. So Elizabeth Ministry put out books with facts, figures and Church teachings. Recently, she wrote the “Infertility” segment for the U.S. bishops’ website to nurture marriage (foryourmarriage.org).
Second, Hanneman and her husband Bruce, a college instructor, teamed for “what we lovingly called the Mad Scientist and the Church Lady,” she says. “We both had a passion to study the bioethics of the sexuality, and we blended that with John Paul II’s theology of the body in creative presentations.” Bruce explained the scientific technology and she the relevant Church teachings.
The result: the launch of Life & Loss Institute in Elizabeth Ministry Life and Loss Institute Resource and Retreat Center, a former convent. People can walk in off the street or find on their website lots of links and printable handouts from sources like the U.S. bishops’ conference, the Paul VI Institute and the Holy See.
Homework Done? Check
Since in November the bishops came out with their “Catechetical Formation in Chaste Living” document, and the Institute was working on its new Intimate Issues Initiative, Hanneman finds the timing exciting. “God is the one who was putting this together,” she says.
One connection deals with pornography. In this area the Institute focuses on support for wives with addicted husbands. Says Hanneman, “There’s a high incidence of pornography addiction because of the Internet. So many women are overwhelmed and in desperation.”
That’s not all. This summer the Institute will complete both a CD and DVD series covering every aspect of the bishops’ document on chastity.
A spiritual adviser over the years, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Morneau of the Diocese of Green Bay believes Hanneman is making a major contribution helping build informed consciences.
“Our culture in terms of sexuality is quite distorted and there’s so much misinformation of there,” he says. “The more clarity we can have on that the better.”
“She makes a complicated matter clear, and what people can do or not do in those areas of conception,” he adds. “She’s done her homework.”
By late summer the Institute will be podcasting 24-hour help and information. Hanneman gives one scenario: Someone learns her baby has Down syndrome and at 2 a.m. wants to talk. The office is closed? No problem.
“They can go to the website and listen to a podcast of a mother whose child has Down. Our whole goal is to hone in on the context of the Visitation. We’re following in the footsteps of Elizabeth when she offered Mary encouragement, wisdom and insight.”
Dignity and Worth
That outlook reflects the compassion, passion for life and servant-leadership qualities Bishop Morneau sees in Hanneman. She brings out the best in volunteers like Amber Yost, a 20-something who left a successful job to serve fulltime with the apostolate.
Yost runs events for young adults on theology of the body, and speaks and teaches about NFP in diocesan parishes. At the Institute she’s bringing together families who support NFP for discussion and socializing.
“Sometimes couples using NFP feel alone in that decision,” Yost says. “It’s important to bring them together so they feel they’re part of a community.”
Hanneman illustrates how the Institute gives practical, everyday applications to Church teachings.
“We have to respect the babies from the moment of conception,” she says, “so we created burial vessels for miscarried babies. The corporal works of mercy say to bury the dead. My challenge is if we believe at the moment of conception there is a human life, they have the dignity and worth of being buried properly.”
Once Jill McNamara, family service adviser for the Gary, Ind., diocesan cemeteries, learned of the vessels, she obtained them immediately. She finds the vessels and funeral-burial service helps to heal grieving mothers who miscarried.
“Sacred burial vessels weren’t something we thought of years ago,” she says, “but this is a Church teaching, and we must respect the dignity of the human person at every stage and put this into practice.”
Back at the Institute, the chapel becomes a place of blessings for healing and for fertility. Its whole design is based on the theology of the body. The statue of the Holy Family shows how we turn to God’s plan. That’s what Life and Loss Institute helps people do every day.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
Life& Loss Institute
120 West 8th St.
Kaukauna, WI 54130