National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Parishes Provide Welcome Mats for Moms

BY Tim Drake

March 26-April 01, 2000 Issue | Posted 3/26/00 at 1:00 AM


ST. PAUL, Minn. — For Trisha Paradis of Marysville, Wash., staying in a Share a Life home made all the difference.

Alone and away from her family, Paradis had no place to stay during her final months of pregnancy. That's when she was placed in a Share a Life home.

Just a month before her due date, her adoption agency was having difficulty trying to place her mixed-race child. Her host family knew of a mixed-race couple unable to have children of their own and set up a meeting. The contact made a successful adoption possible.

Paradis is one of more than 300 young women who have been helped by Share a Life, a Minnesota pro-life program that began 15 years ago.

Maurna Donovan of St. Paul's Nativity of Our Lord Parish started the program with her husband Gerald.

“We had participated in an organization opposed to Planned Parenthood's decision to place an abortion clinic in our neighborhood,” Maurna Donovan recalled. “It was frustrating to think that even if we were able to convince someone not to go through with an abortion, that we had little to offer.

“While visiting my sister-in-law in Texas, we saw a sign outside a Catholic church which stated that anyone coming to the church with a troubled pregnancy would be offered help.”

An idea was born. Maurna Donovan returned to Minnesota determined to find homes that could help women in crisis pregnancies.

She received approval from her pastor and then consulted with Seton Services, Catholic Charities’ maternal care program. Donovan also spoke with county social services and the Children's Home Society to see if such a program would be useful. “The response was positive from all sources,” she said.

Under Donovan and Judy Regnier, the program received encouragement from then Archbishop John Roach of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the diocesan Respect Life Office.

Room, Board and Love

The program started slowly, with only a half-dozen homes, and gradually expanded. The program's mission is to offer free room and board and emotional support to pregnant women in need.

“Host families can participate at their convenience,” explained Maurna Donovan. “Some families have college students or elderly parents staying with them at times that make it inconvenient.”

Eight years into the program, after the death of their son, the Donovans relinquished control of the program to Paul and Paula Bernabei, who had been involved almost since the program's beginning. Paul Bernabei now coordinates the referrals from social service agencies such as Catholic Charities, Birthright, Lutheran Social Service, and Total Life Care Centers.

Three years ago, Share a Life became a component in Archbishop Harry Flynn's Community Caring for Life, a program promising that Catholic parishes would respond to any woman in need. In order to realize this promise, Paul Bernabei collaborated with local parishes to expand the Share a Life program to other communities.

“Maurna's idea,” said Bernabei, “was to surround Planned Parenthood with these kind of homes.” Last year it grew by more than 50 homes and now has more than 100 host families. Volunteer regional coordinators oversee placements throughout the Twin Cities.

“The primary reason for abortion is that women feel alone and are in a situation where they feel hopeless,” Bernabei added. “We are there to offer hope and let her know that she is not alone.”

One Woman's Story

Six years ago, at age 21, Jennifer Kurth discovered her pregnancy in her fifth month. No longer able to remain in her apartment, she spoke to her counselor at a crisis pregnancy center and was connected with Michael and Sharon Bowen. Two weeks after moving in, Kurth was placed on bed rest because the baby was resting on her sciatic nerve. She remained with the Bowens up until the birth of her son, Taylor.

Kurth admitted that she was skeptical of the program at first.

“But the family made me feel like I was part of the family,” she recalled. “I grew up Catholic, but I would not have continued going to Church while I was pregnant if I had not been living with the Bowens.”

Taylor was eventually baptized at the Bowens’ church with Michael and Sharon as his godparents.

“I still talk with the Bowens often,” said Kurth. “They take Taylor for the weekend a couple of times each year. I don't know what I would have done without them.” Kurth married four years ago and now works in the health care industry.

Happy Endings

“I've seen many miracles over the years,” Paul Bernabei commented. “I met one young woman on the street in downtown St. Paul. I carried everything she owned in a box to the Bowens’ home.

“This was a situation that looked and felt hopeless to me. After staying with the Bowens, this woman was able to see what true love is between a couple. She ended up placing her baby for adoption in a good home and is just now finishing up her second year of college.”

Bernabei and Maurna Donovan said they believe that any community can carry out the program. For 15 years it has relied exclusively on volunteer help and host families.

Explained Bernabei, “Government programs that used to respond are no longer responding the same. As a result, between 20-30% of the referrals we now receive are for pregnant women with one or two children. These women have become harder to place in traditional Share a Life homes.”

Added former client Katy Brundy, “I've seen too many pregnant women who have lived on the street because they felt they had no other place to go. I would definitely recommend the Share a Life program.”

Said host Sharon Bower, “Even with 100 homes we do not have as many homes as we have women needing them.” She encouraged others to try the program. “Whenever you serve the Lord, you always learn more than you teach. You always receive more than you give.”

Tim Drake can be reached at