When Deacon Jean and Kathy Plourde of Omaha, Neb., started dreaming about their eventual retirement in nearby Council Bluffs, Iowa, they had no idea God’s plan would include opening a crisis pregnancy center directly across the street from Planned Parenthood.

Yet, since the dedication of Gabriel’s Corner this past March 25 (the feast of the Annunciation), the couple has been grateful to provide more than 100 women with an attractive alternative to abortion — and a generous measure of hope.

It all began in 2000, when Jean started preparing for ordination to the permanent diaconate in the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Jean stressed the importance of “connecting the Church to the marketplace” as a “deacon of charity,” in addition to serving at Mass. So he and Kathy volunteered at nursing homes, homeless shelters and the like, praying that God would lead them to a means of service as a couple.

After hearing the testimony of Father Norman Weslin, missionary priest and founder of the pro-life group Lambs of Christ, the Plourdes began to pray regularly outside the Abortion and Contraception Clinic of Nebraska run by Dr. LeRoy Carhart. Carhart made national headlines in 2000 for his Supreme Court victory challenging Nebraska’s ban on partial-birth abortion.

Meanwhile, Christine Wilson — now executive director of Gabriel’s Corner — spent many of her Saturdays both outside Carhart’s abortion business in Omaha and outside the Planned Parenthood facility in her hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa.

“How long, O Lord, will you allow Planned Parenthood to remain a respected part of this community offering sports physicals and flu shots but killing between 15 and 20 babies a week?” Wilson regularly prayed. “When you will expose the evil there?”

The answer to her request was on its way.

In 2003, while visiting their son near Council Bluffs, the Plourdes unexpectedly bought a “fixer-upper” to be closer to their family someday. Upon hearing that the local Planned Parenthood performed abortions, they stopped by to say the Rosary.

One Saturday they couldn’t help but notice the “for sale” sign across the street. “We didn’t even have to say anything,” Jean said. “Kathy just said, ‘I’ll check on that tomorrow.’”

From her experience working for a credit union, Kathy knew it would likely take four to eight weeks to purchase the commercial property. “My prayer to Our Lady was, ‘Mother Mary, remove all obstacles,’” she said. “If this is God’s will for us, make it happen.”

Within a week, the land was theirs; two years later, Gabriel’s Corner stands on the site as a witness to the dignity of human life.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Earlier this year, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Omaha closed, thus increasing the Iowa site’s business and Gabriel’s Corner’s sphere of influence.

According to Christine Wilson, the crisis pregnancy center’s biggest draw is perhaps the free pregnancy test, compared with the $14 charge across the street.

Of the 100-plus tests given so far, Kathy said many have come back negative — much to the women’s relief. Still, Gabriel’s Corner counselors use the opportunity to promote abstinence and educate women on the dark side of contraception.

“The women just want us to sit down and talk to them, pray with them,” Kathy says. “It’s a wonderful atmosphere in which to tell them the truth.”

For those who are pregnant, the counselors, many of whom have experienced the tragedy of abortion themselves, are privileged to provide hope. They refer women to financial and adoption assistance through Catholic Charities and other social services as well as give them their first “baby shower.”

Thanks to local benefactors, Wilson says, expectant mothers are given their choice of outfits from a box of brand-new infant clothes.

“Planned Parenthood fills them with all this fear and doubt and then tells them that no one will ever know,” Wilson says. When women leave Gabriel’s Corner, however, it isn’t unusual for goodbyes to include smiles, hugs and thank-yous.

“They’re excited,” she adds. “It’s no longer ‘I’m pregnant’ or ‘It’s a blob of tissue.’ They get in this baby mindset.”

In the midst of much success, the Plourdes’ journey has not been without difficulty: from shouldering a large financial burden to meeting one specific city code after another. Nevertheless, volunteers say the couple’s response has been an example to all involved.

“The Plourdes have witnessed to me of that unyielding faith with the odds stacked up against them,” says Jim Koch, treasurer of Gabriel’s Corner. “They heard the call and realized the only way this could succeed was through God’s will.”

The Plourdes give all the credit to prayer, particularly the Blessed Mother’s intercessions.

Even when the center was nothing more than a barren plot of land, they joined supporters each Monday to attend Mass and to pray the Rosary for guidance. Not surprisingly, Koch says, the entire project made specific progress on Marian feast days.

For example, on Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the center received its tax-exempt status. In addition, workers broke ground Jan. 23, 2006 (the anniversary of Roe v. Wade) and were finished by the feast of the Annunciation on March 25.

“We kept praying to Our Lady to keep the weather nice,” Kathy recalls. “We were pouring concrete in February. It was unbelievable.”

Deacon Jean emphasizes that men and women of all faiths are invited to reserve times for prayer at Gabriel’s Corner. “I was really impressed that, in one of Pope Benedict’s first statements he called it a ‘compelling duty’ for us to bring the Christian churches together,” he says. “Pro-life ministry is a great opportunity to unify the Christian churches in this effort to promote the dignity of life.”

Kimberly Jansen writes from

Lincoln, Nebraska.