Mother’s Day is cause for great celebration at a community of homes called Maggie’s Place.
On Mother’s Day 2000, Maggie’s Place opened its first home for women in crisis pregnancies in Phoenix. Since then, it has added two more houses in Arizona, plus another in Cleveland, hosted approximately 450 women guests, helped with scores of happy births, and turned around the lives of many new mothers.
“It’s obviously been blessed by the Holy Spirit,” muses Mike Phelan, director of the Marriage and Respect Life Office of the Phoenix Diocese. “One of the great beauties is that it’s an initiative growing out of the hearts of young laypeople who not only take the social teaching of the Church very seriously, but the call to their own holiness seriously. It’s a very concrete example of what Vatican II called us to as laity.”
Maggie’s Place co-founder and executive director Mary Peterson explains the unique way everything began. At the same time as a friend who directed a crisis-pregnancy center told her stories of women with no place to stay, Peterson was out of college and preparing for a career she realized wasn’t answering her deepest goals.
“It was a real time of evaluation of what my life was going to be about,” she recalls. “This friend had encouraged me to go to adoration. I had never gone, and I believe Maggie’s Place was born out of that time of silence and stillness and being in the presence of Jesus.”
Peterson describes the convergence of the first home’s five co-founders as “not necessarily a natural group of friends, but we shared a passion for social justice and serving the poor. We merged it with the passion for the pro-life cause.”
Wishing to open a house of hospitality in the Dorothy Day tradition, they were directed to an abandoned 1926 bungalow in downtown Phoenix. It needed to be gutted and totally rebuilt. After nine months of construction, Maggie’s Place was “born.” An opening Mass on that first Mother’s Day started the celebration.
The name for the house came easily. Looking for a patron saint, the founders felt a connection to Mary Magdalene.
“She stood at the cross, suffering and not understanding how it was going to work out,” Peterson says. “Our job is to stand here and love, not knowing how it is going to turn out. We take a lot of comfort in that and in the dear friendship Mary Magdalene had with Christ and [her] being the first disciple of the disciples. Some people think of Mary Magdalene as the woman who had to turn her life around. And there’s great beauty in that, too.”
So Maggie’s Place began with Magdalene House, then expanded with Elizabeth House in Tempe and Michael House in Glendale. In 2009, Zechariah House opened in Cleveland. Up to 35 women at a time live in the homes in a family atmosphere. Focus is on well-being, from nutrition and counseling to medical care, parenting skills and rebuilding their lives.
The women are over 18, with no other children in their custody, free from recent drug and alcohol abuse, and committed to living in this community and working on self-improvement. Many come from difficult situations, but they find open arms and help at Maggie’s Place.
Paige Daniels did in January, when she arrived at Zachariah House. She was in a bad situation and wanted a safe place for her daughter to be born (she is due before the end of May).
“It’s a very good place to have a baby and raise a baby and get on your feet,” says 21-year-old Daniels. “They lift you up and give you that confidence and push to let you know everything is going to be okay. With so much confidence I will be able to take care of my daughter by myself and be able to function when I leave here.”
She can stay at the home for a year after her baby is born. This is a new experiment at Zachariah House, since the other houses currently have mothers and their babies stay just six months.
The all-women staff (four to six) live with the women (usually six to nine mothers per house).
The staff are all volunteers, who usually make commitments of a year or more. Although volunteers, they receive room and board, medical insurance and a monthly stipend. Plus something extra, Peterson explains: “We’re trying to live with Catholic faith with arms wide open and to welcome and encourage people. It is a sacrificial life and a life of solidarity with the moms.”
At Maggie’s Place, spiritually is a focal point. The Phoenix Diocese has given permission to have the Eucharist in the homes’ chapels.
“What a gift that is,” Peterson says, extolling Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted and Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon for their great support and generosity. (The Cleveland home is owned by that diocese.)
The staff gathers three times a day for prayer together. “It’s what feeds us and gives us strength,” Peterson explains. “Prayer helps the environment make sense and keeps us going.”
For example, “Every day the staff prays the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for our work and our world. It’s part of the rhythm of our community to take a moment to remember God’s mercy.”
Priests from the diocese celebrate Mass at the homes. Five years ago, Bishop Olmstead appointed Father Don Kline, pastor of St. Joan of Arc in Phoenix, to serve as spiritual director for Maggie’s Place. He does spiritual reflections for the staff and is also spiritual director for many staff members. He brings the sacraments to and prays with the moms, and he has even baptized some of the babies.
Father Kline says that Maggie’s Place promotes the culture of life in the way of “John Paul II the Great.”
“This is an amazing place for life,” he explains. “Obviously, we live in a culture of death, and this is an option and answer to people who say they have nowhere to go, can’t afford to keep the baby, can’t make it.” The answer is: “You have no excuse. We’re here to help you bring this new life into the world any way we can. We will take you in and live with you and find a place for your child if you can’t keep the baby.”
Many of the mothers aren’t Catholic, but they are invited to Mass. Some attend.
Daniels, who is a Christian, went to church on Sundays. Here, she says, her faith has grown.
“They don’t push it, but talk about God so much you can’t help but call on God when you need him,” she says. “It’s good because God is in this house and talked about a lot. They’re walking in God’s truth and practice it so much.”
Catholic moms have returned to the faith. Other mothers and some non-Catholic staff have entered the Church. In those cases, they’re assisted in connecting to a parish.
“We’re very gentle around our evangelization,” Peterson says. “It naturally flows out of what we do and say and who we are.”
About two-thirds of all the women who have lived at Maggie’s Place keep in touch. Peterson says, “It speaks to the unique relationship we have with the moms.” That’s why Maggie’s Place has recently committed to focus on alumni moms, to determine “how to walk with them and support and encourage them.”
With all its successes, it’s little wonder Maggie’s Place gets calls from more women than it has room to hold, and it is currently involved in conversations to open Maggie’s Place in Boston and Dallas — and expand to whatever city has interest.
In every way, Maggie’s Place is proving to be a Mother’s Day gift that keeps on giving.
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.