Cartoonist Bil Keane once honored Our Lady’s Inn with a panel of his long-running comic strip, “The Family Circus.” He pictured little Dolly motioning toward the name on the sign by the building, and saying, “A lot of babies are thankful she wasn’t OUT!”
And so are their mothers. More than 3,000 have stayed at the St. Louis-based facility over the last quarter-century.
That’s quite a record for a crisis pregnancy center that started so humbly. It formed when students from St. Louis University started offering their apartments as shelters to pregnant women entering abortion businesses. It didn’t take long for the Archdiocese of St. Louis to extend support, inviting them to use an old convent.
“Right away our phone started ringing off the wall,” says today’s executive director, Gloria Lee, from her office in another former convent — the one Our Lady’s Inn has called home since 1997. Neatly renovated, it serves up to 18 families.
In 2006, Our Lady’s Inn (online at OurLadysInn.org) opened a second home 45 miles away in rural St. Charles County that houses up to 16 families.
“We get calls from all over the state, and from the Illinois side too,” says Lee. “We’re one of the few facilities that take the mother’s other children. At Our Lady’s Inn, we can have anyone from a first-time, single, pregnant mom, to a mom with four children.”
Last year alone, Our Lady’s Inn-St. Louis housed 64 moms and 80 children, and saw 22 babies born; St. Charles County’s Our Lady’s Inn-Defiance/New Melle served 34 moms and 37 children, and witnessed 13 births.
Sheer numbers alone don’t tell the story of why expectant mothers in crisis call Our Lady’s Inn. Since Lee’s husband Sam was one of the students who co-founded the home, and since she’s been everything from a volunteer to case manager to executive director from November 1981, she has stacks of success stories. Like the one from the day a plumber she called subcontracted the work to a drain-services company.
Through the door came a woman in tears asking Lee, “Remember me?” Lee sure did. Years earlier the woman had stayed at Our Lady’s Inn. Things had changed. Now she and her husband own the drain-services company.
Recently a regional magazine assigned a reporter to do a story on the new St. Charles facility. Her first reaction? According to Lee, “She already knew about Our Lady’s Inn because a friend of hers was a graduate of our program, was now married with three children, and earned a master's degree.”
All Things Considered
Our Lady’s Inn’s mission — to change the distressed into happy, hopeful, whole and self-sustaining families — isn’t just a paper dream. And it’s no free ride.
The mothers get plenty of help to work toward three main goals: having a healthy baby, obtaining employment and securing permanent housing.
Nurses on staff make sure women go to their doctor visits and follow pre-natal care. They get healthy meals. The shelter tests for drugs and, if there is a problem, there are treatment programs at the ready.
There are also referrals for employment. Those without high-school diplomas must attend GED classes. They get tutoring.
Special classes help moms learn parenting, well-baby care and domestic skills. They are also counseled in relationships and boundaries, and taught abstinence-based sexuality by nurses. There’s also a voluntary Bible study.
Debra, a 35-year-old resident, describes the “Doing It Right” relationship class with obvious enthusiasm.
“You wonder why the cycle comes and why you’re in the situation you’re in,” she says before summarizing how the sessions have helped her understand male-female relationships from a Christian perspective.
She has also gotten much out of the “Life Puzzles” class.
“It’s not only talking about parenting skills and sexual integrity,” says Debra. “The instructor also teaches finances and how to make sure you’re putting your money where it’s supposed to be. It helps you for the long run because you don’t want to go back being in the same predicament.”
Rallies and Referrals
Franciscan Father Ed Mundwiller of the Order of Friars Minor at St. Anthony of Padua Church, headquarters of the order’s Midwest province of the Sacred Heart, occasionally celebrates Mass here and tutors the young mothers in art. He’s sometimes struck by the range of women present at the same time, like a young black woman who left St. Louis only once in her life — to cross the river to St. Charles County — to a woman from Somalia who came to raise her child away from her country’s violence.
“You go from local people whose experiences are so narrow and then meet someone from the other side of the world too,” says the friar.
Once women leave the shelter after giving birth they can voluntarily join the formal aftercare program in which Our Lady’s Inn follows families for two years with counseling and service.
“We have a one-time policy,” explains Lee. “This is not a revolving door.”
What does constantly return for this independent, non-profit shelter is much help and donations from parish pro-life groups. These are encouraged to rally around the shelter by the St. Louis Archdiocese’s Respect Life Apostolate, which also provides a portion of funding for the shelters from the office’s Lifeline Coalition collection.
Respect Life coordinator Maureen Kane says that, when women call the archdiocesan office for help, it’s a blessing to refer them to places like Our Lady’s Inn.
“They give concrete and emotional support,” she adds. “With it they’re saying, ‘We care for you. This baby counts and you count. Don’t throw in the towel.’ Women get personal information along with the diapers.”
And grace abounds.
“For 25 years, God has never failed us,” recounts Lee. “There are times we need things — including staff. God has brought them. Times we need something that same day or the next and somebody is at the door with it. You look up and say, ‘Thank you.’”
Babies and their moms aren’t the only ones grateful that Our Lady is always in at the Inn.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.