National Catholic Register


Pro-Life ‘Franchise’ Helps Moms

New Maternity Centers Follow Father Groeschel’s N.Y. Model

BY Joseph Pronechen

Register Staff Writer

June 28-July 11, 2009 Issue | Posted 6/19/09 at 9:06 AM


NORWICH, Conn. — When Darlene Wagner and the board she chairs decided to open a crisis-pregnancy maternity home in Norwich, Conn., they wanted to pattern themselves after a proven winner.

So did Chris Ricketts, executive director of a group home in Winchester, Va.

Both found the ideal in Good Counsel Homes.

Today’s hope is to see homes modeled after Good Counsel across the nation.

“When you’re searching for the ideal maternity home, you want to have the best model,” said Wagner. “We selected Good Counsel because they’ve demonstrated for people of the Catholic faith they have the most complete program.”

Good Counsel’s executive director, Christopher Bell, was always hopeful people everywhere would copy this model. Expand it did, first internally — and now by taking on a number of national affiliates.

Bell founded Good Counsel with Father Benedict Groeschel in Hoboken, N.J., in March 1985. He is married to Joan Andrews Bell, who has served prison time for peaceful protests against abortion. The couple have seven children, all but one of whom have been adopted. Five of the adopted children have special needs.

Good Counsel now operates four homes in New York state, plus Outreach and Exodus follow-up programs.

Since the beginning, Good Counsel has freely given advice to people or groups trying to operate a crisis-maternity home. Consequently, eight other homes, from Florida to Massachusetts, have opened directly because of Good Counsel’s advice and direction, and they closely follow its model.

This experience, followed by a positive editorial in The Wall Street Journal in July 2008, led Good Counsel to seek out additional people and organizations wanting to help pregnant mothers and babies by opening a Good Counsel home.

Wall Street Journal editorialist William McGurn suggested that for every Planned Parenthood facility in America there should be a place like Good Counsel, “where a scared young pregnant woman could carry her baby to term, complete her education, train for a new job, and be treated with the love and respect that a mother needs and deserves.”

Said Bell, “Now our Good Counsel vision is to help anyone across the country to start a home, either to become an affiliate and remain connected or use us as a model if they’re willing to follow the basic Catholic moral tenets from conception to natural death.” Soon he received calls from groups who wanted to be Good Counsel affiliates.

According to Bell, they will officially be independent, but will follow Good Counsel’s leadership and direction. They will work closely together to replicate and maintain the best Catholic practices Good Counsel has developed.

Leave With Job Skills

The Winchester affiliate is in the works. Hired as executive director to establish a maternity home in the Winchester-Front Royal, Va., area, Ricketts and his wife, Laura, previously worked with a Maryland maternity home. Ricketts contacted Bell and visited the homes.

“After observing them and seeing what they do, that’s the best approach,” explained Ricketts, considering his own past experience. “It’s so successful. We are going to be affiliated with Good Counsel very closely and base practically all on the Good Counsel model.”

What makes Good Counsel the ideal model? “It is so deeply rooted in Christ and the living of Christianity,” said Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life. “It is a place where the Lord of life, the Divine Physician, the source of our strength, is recognized.”

Since the first home opened, about 5,200 mothers and babies have spent more than half a million days and nights in the four homes in the New York area. More than 25,000 people have called its national 24/7 helpline. 

One Good Counsel home is specifically for women who are mentally ill or have addictions. Help goes to women pregnant by any means, including rape and incest.

Many either have been turned away or run away from families and pressures to abort. They stay a year with Good Counsel learning critical life skills. Later, several continue with Good Counsel’s follow-up Exodus and Outreach programs that offer counseling, material support and spiritual assistance.

These women, many homeless, arrive with next to nothing, but they leave with their child and schooling, job skills or a job, and are moving with three carloads of donated goods and baby items to their own apartments.

Presence of Christ

One more mark distinguishes the original four houses. Said Bell, “We are blessed to have the Blessed Sacrament in each Good Counsel home.”

Joseph Williams, president and one of the co-founders of Visitation House in Worcester, Mass., agrees that is a major benefit.

Visitation House models itself closely on Good Counsel. Williams credits Bell’s advice, guidance and moral support as being instrumental in helping Visitation House open in 2005. According to Williams, it’s the only Catholic home of this kind in the state.

“Chris was very helpful and always available to speak (to us) and for me to call,” said Williams, who continually turns to Bell for guidance.

Albert Hodges, president of Room at the Inn of the Carolinas, also knows the successes of the Good Counsel model. He worked two years with Bell in the Hoboken Good Counsel with the goal of opening crisis-maternity homes in the South. With support from Bell and Father Groeschel, who is chairman of the board, he opened the first one in 2001 in Greensboro, N.C., and the second in 2007 in Bluffton, S.C. So far, close to 500 mothers and children have been residents.

“We couldn’t have done it without Chris,” said Hodges. “He’s always been there for us whenever we needed help or assistance of any nature.” No wonder Hodges calls Room at the Inn of the Carolinas “an affiliate of the heart.”

Now the homes in Virginia and Connecticut will be official Good Counsel affiliates.

As chairwoman for Ave Maria home in Norwich, Wagner appreciates the prayer life and goals of Good Counsel, along with the tutoring and mentoring from Bell. “Why reinvent the wheel?” she asked. Affiliates have their own board of directors and do their own fundraising.

Mother Agnes believes spreading this model is going to allow a woman who finds herself in a crisis pregnancy “to follow the deepest desires of her heart. She is filled with fears, but often what is deepest within her is the desire to give life to her child.”

For mother and child, spreading the Good Counsel model is going to mean a woman does not have to fear pregnancy or think that her dreams for her life are over or the life of her child is over. “Rather, having an option like a Good Counsel home,” said Mother Agnes, “allows her to honor both her own life and future and the life of her child.”

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is

based in Trumbull, Connecticut.

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