There’s a new pro-life player on the field. Earlier this year, inspired by Hartford’s Archbishop Henry Mansell, St. Anne Church in Waterbury, Conn., became the Shrine of St. Anne for All Mothers. 

This shrine comes with its own unique charisms to add to the pro-life movement.

 It’s clearly a pro-life initiative, “but we’re not even referring to abortion or in vitro fertilization or embryonic stem-cell research,” explains pastor and shrine director Father Michael Hinkley. “What we’re talking about is the celebration of the culture of life and love by praying for and with mothers. The whole program is the celebration of the noble dignity of motherhood in our society as a vocation.”

That takes in all mothers in every way — mothers living and deceased, grandmothers, expectant mothers, single mothers, suffering mothers.

Father Hinkley notes there are already deep roots of that celebration and honor in St. Anne’s. The original founding French Canadian parishioners traditionally referred to their patron as Good St. Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin and patroness and intercessor of all mothers.

Now those roots will be blossoming in new ways as St. Anne intercedes for mothers and the sanctity of life. Archbishop Mansell sees this new shrine dedicated to St. Anne for All Mothers as a supernatural gift for hosting various pro-life programs.

“It stands out as a beacon of the sacred in the midst of our secular world,” he says. “It’s an architectural landmark and a historical landmark, but primarily it’s a spiritual landmark. Part of it lifts the spirit, as beautiful Gothic churches do. They lift our minds to heaven and to God, and this church in a special way does that literally for many of the thousands of people who pass by on I-84.”

(For a vicarious tour, see the Travel: History & Saints report in our July 25 - Aug. 5 issue.)

“In a sense every parish is a pro-life center,” adds Archbishop Mansell. “But specific programs will be developed at St. Anne’s.”

Father Hinkley, along with Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Sister John Mary Sullivan, the shrine’s associate coordinator, are building such programs by emphasizing the Mass, sacred music and a host of helpful services for mothers.

One of these services, a ministry called Teen Mothers in Need, will match volunteer mentors with young pregnant women.

“The ministry is to instill in the young girls that, from the moment of conception, they receive a great grace — and this grace is what they use to build the vocation of motherhood,” explains Father Hinkley. “The more we can help them understand the moment of conception as a blessing, the more we can help them to grow in their vocation as a mother and to find self-worth.”

A group of volunteer mentors already aboard for Teen Mothers in Need come with their own life experiences as mothers. They’ll be matched one-to-one with the teen mothers after an initial educational program.

Sister John Mary explains further: “First, we want to share with them the whole idea and mission of motherhood in light of what the Catholic Church teaches. This is to root them in the deep sense of motherhood in our Catholic tradition. Then we’ll look at our Catholic moral teachings [to address what] these young mothers are facing.”

Building on this strong spiritual and moral foundation, mentors will also help link the mother-to-be with various local social services, beginning with Catholic Charities and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. 

All other social services available will be checked to see they respect and promote the teachings of the Catholic Church, says Sister John Mary. “We have to be really careful of that,” she adds.

There’s growing interest in the fledgling program. After the nun presented it in one local parish, a doctor offered her his services for these girls in need.

We have to keep it very personal and realistic about whom we can serve and how we can make a difference, says Sister John Mary. “One-to-one contact is essential,” she points out, “if we are to make any difference.”

Parenting workshops, seminars, talks, Bible study and prayer groups are also in the works or already in progress. Each will support the culture of life.

“It’s a whole positive approach to the pro-life issues,” says Sister John Mary. That includes providing a place where mothers can come for prayerful reflection and healing.

Already Father Hinkley and Sister John Mary are putting together a day of recollection with Mass, adoration and presentations, such as one requested by a parish group making this day-long pilgrimage. The Sisters of Life have also brought two mothers here for Mass.

Maternal Munificence

The sacrifice of the Mass is first and foremost the foundation of any prayer life and the center of life, notes Sister John Mary. “Mothers live out that call of sacrifice daily,” she says. “If we can root them into the sacrifice of the Mass, it aids them in their daily sacrifice for their children.” They can also find in the Mass the most authentic form of healing and strength.

Meanwhile a series of sacred music concerts connect the community to the shrine’s pro-life’s apostolate — and have drawn upwards of 1,000 people each. The idea behind them and the church’s restoration ties into the pro-life mission.

“There’s a need for people to be on the front line at the pro-life rallies and working within the legal system, but there’s also a central need of prayer for that support,” says Sister John Mary.

“St. Anne’s is that place of prayer and pilgrimage that promotes the dignity of every mother and therefore supports the dignity of every child as well,” she concludes. “With prayerful support, there’s great hope they can live out their vocation as mothers.”

Joseph Pronechen writes from
Trumbull, Connecticut.


Shrine of St. Anne

for All Mothers

(203) 756-4439