National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

They Opened Wide the Doors to Life

BY JOHN MOOREHOUSE

September 24-30, 2006 Issue | Posted 9/25/06 at 10:00 AM

 

Massachusetts is one of the most densely Catholic states in the country — pun unintended — and one of the most welcoming to anti-family forces.

But the battle isn’t over yet and signs of hope abound. Case in point: Visitation House in Worcester, the state’s second-largest city.

Visitation House is a home for pregnant women in need of housing. Years in the making, it recently celebrated its first year on the job.

“Grounded in the Gospel and in the culture of life of the Catholic Church, Visitation House is a home that welcomes women with crisis pregnancies in the spirit of Elizabeth, who welcomed her cousin the Virgin Mary with awe-filled joy and true hospitality of heart. In this spirit, Visitation House provides material, emotional and spiritual assistance to these women, as well as the peace of living in a Christian home.”

Thus reads the mission statement of this project, which, by all accounts, is truly doing “something beautiful for God.” (Thank you for that turn of phrase, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.)

The home began as a brainstorm of Ruth Pakaluk, a tireless pro-life worker in the Bay State. The mother of seven recognized the urgent need to establish a home for women with crisis pregnancies in Worcester County, one that would surround them with a culture of life and, in turn, free them to choose life for their babies and for themselves. Pakaluk died at the age of 41 in 1998, after a seven-year struggle with breast cancer. She did not get to see her vision come to life

But, not long after her death, things began to happen that would lead to the eventual realization of her vision. Out of a larger assembly of people, many of whom were Pakaluk’s friends, a committee formed and a broad plan was drawn up.

According to Tom Hardy, a veteran in the pro-life community and board member of Visitation House, this “direct service” model is a vital part of the pro-life effort and “kind of where the action is now.” Noting that the struggle to change laws and educate the public at large will likely go on for years to come, he says that help must be pro-actively offered to women and babies — now.

“If you can’t provide them with a safe haven,” says Hardy, “they’ll abort.”

God’s providence could be discerned throughout the process of establishing Visitation House, says Hardy. One sign of divine support was the way the group acquired a building.

“Originally we were going to build a place, and we received a very nice donation from the diocese,” he recalls. “We went back and forth trying to decide if we should raise the remaining money or find the site first.”

Hardy says the group spent two years looking at different sites on which to build. Then something amazing and unexpected turned up.

“A convent in Worcester just fell into our hands,” says Hardy, “and the amount of money the diocese had given us was just what we needed to fix it up.” Well, that and many hours from many dedicated volunteers. 

In the inaugural year just completed, Visitation House provided a refuge for 12 moms. A young Catholic couple, Joseph John (J.J.) and Jessica Mammi, serve as house parents. According to J.J., the couple tries “to manifest a Christian family atmosphere as much as possible.” They are now assisted by their baby boy, who was born during Visitation House’s first year.

The family-run atmosphere is somewhat unique in the world of maternity homes.

Meanwhile, the house has an off-site chaplain, Father Michael Roy of the Diocese of Worcester, and the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a house chapel. Nightly prayer takes place at 9 p.m. Residents are not required to attend, but often do.

Because the founding of the home was accomplished primarily by religiously motivated people and is directly inspired by the teachings of the Church, the organizers have prayerfully discerned their mission.

“Our goal is not necessarily to get them to spiritually awaken,” says Father Roy, “but simply to expose them to what family life is like and what Catholic spiritual life calls one to be.”

Given that the women who come to them are at very different places, he says that to do otherwise would “not be welcoming the person Christ is bringing to our door, but trying to welcome the person we want to come.”

During their stay at Visitation House, mothers must set educational and housing goals and practice keeping a budget. And they must devote 30 hours per week toward accomplishing their goals. They are exempt from these requirements for six weeks when the baby is born.

Jessica Mammi notes the special bond that having her own child has fostered between her and some of the moms. She has been present at the births of some of the children and describes the “real intimacy” that such an experience can promote.

The average length of stay at Visitation House is about seven months, but its impact can, and hopefully will, last much longer. According to Jessica, there is comfort in knowing that unchurched women are seeing firsthand a joyful and peaceful model of Christian home life.

“Even if they resist that order at times, it is very reassuring that they express how safe and secure they feel,” she says. “And when they leave, if they call or come back, it’s that sense of family that they say they miss. It is reassuring to know that they finally have experienced love.”

John Moorehouse is

publisher and editor of Catholic Men’s Quarterly.

Information

Visitation House

P.O. Box 60115

Worcester, MA 01606

(508)798-0762