Pro-Life Haven for New Mothers in Massachusetts Offers a Moment of Visitation
Visitation House in Worcester has been providing moms and children in need a safe place to get on their feet since 2005.
Visitation House in Worcester, Massachusetts, has welcomed more than 300 women and their children into its program, providing a home environment to new mothers in need since its founding in 2005.
The ministry focuses on supporting and empowering the women who have chosen life for their children, giving them a place that affirms their worth and dignity as a daughter of God.
“Until you start doing the work, it’s hard to understand — you need to meet the women where they are at,” said Grace Cheffer, executive director of Visitation House. “We’re essentially trying to get these women to see themselves differently, and how they fit into the world differently, and really try to empower them by understanding that they have a right to be treated a certain way.”
The heart of the mission of Visitation House lies in the empowerment of the new mothers and the affirmation both of their dignity as women and their capability to create a new family for themselves. Sadly, for most of these women, the increased access to abortion is itself used to further demean them and their decisions.
“Most of the women who come in the door are in survival mode because they oftentimes have been kicked out of their house because they’re pregnant. With abortion being legal, their boyfriends feel totally justified in saying, ‘Terminate or get out,’” Cheffers explained. “And they can’t find it in their hearts to terminate, so they wind up homeless — and then they call us.”
House and Home
Yet the Visitation House is much more than simply a place for women to stay during the initial stages of motherhood. Jen DeMora, director of programs at Visitation House, is quick to point out, “We’re not a shelter. I think that is kind of a misconception — that people come to us just because they need a place to stay, or that idea that, many years ago, somebody became pregnant and it was an embarrassment to the family; they would send them off to a pregnancy home. ... We are a program designed to help a woman change [her] course in life.”
DeMora continued, “We all make mistakes. ... We all do things we wish we wouldn’t do. But I think it’s important for people to understand too that sometimes we’re the product of our environment; and if you weren’t raised in a situation where you know what family is ... it’s important to find a place like Visitation House that can kind of change that cycle.”
This emphasis on the creation of a home and family for these women is the mission on which the program is centered.
“We try to create a familial atmosphere where everybody is accepted, everybody is safe — and no one is bullied — as in a family,” Cheffers explained. “You may not agree with everybody politically ... but you always make room for your family, and you want to make sure they are treated with respect and kindness.” Cheffers draws from her own experience, sharing, “I’m a mom with a bunch of kids, and I just remember feeling like trying to create an atmosphere in the home of openness to each other, and generosity and kindness, is something you have to fight for. ... I think sometimes people grow up and don’t really have an experience of that in their own personal homes.”
Room for Life
For many of these women, the fight for family begins with the courageous decision to continue with their pregnancies, and through their time at Visitation House they continue to learn the skills and means to foster their new family of mother and child.
“Within a family there [are] always opportunities for charity, grace, forgiveness,” DeMora said, “so in the day-to-day things that we do we try to teach them that. ... For example, we have communal meals. A part of that is the responsibility of the residents to cook, to serve the meal, to prepare, to clean up — and everyone has to be present, they have to be there on time, and in that you are showing respect to the person who bought the food, prepared the food, you are showing respect to the person who laid it out the table, and then showing respect to the people who are cleaning up after you.”
While everyone participates in the chores and duties of the house, the sense of routine only helps build the atmosphere of home and family among the residents.
Lyne, a former resident, said, “We help each other. ... We were a family.” Before reaching out to Visitation House, she openly admitted that “I was in need — not financially ... I still had my job ... but mentally, I needed help. ... I was on my own — no one to talk to; no one to help me.”
In joining the Visitation House program, she shared, “They helped me a lot to understand ... what having a baby in your life is. ... Now I have my baby with me: He just turned 10 months!”
For her, the facility was a place of rest, a home where everything was provided so that she could focus on building a strong future for her family. In reflecting on her journey, she said, “They helped me be a mother. ... I would say, ‘Oh, I’m not ready to be a mother. I don’t know what to do with my baby,’ ... and now look at me, by myself in my apartment with my baby!”
Providing a home and experience of family is not the only way Visitation House supports the pro-life movement. Located in the same city in central Massachusetts as the College of the Holy Cross, it draws student volunteers from the nearby campus as well.
Jesuit Father John Gavin, associate professor of religious studies at the college and longtime supporter of the pro-life movement, has introduced many students to the work of Visitation House over the years through generous invites to the gala dinner and volunteer opportunities within the program.
“What’s wonderful about the work there is it’s — well, it should be anyway — shared ground, no matter where one stands on the issue,” Father Gavin told the Register. “It’s helping mothers and the children and giving witness ... so it often becomes a good point of dialogue.”
He continued, “Some of our students … are coming in, perhaps, from a different direction, but I think they are certainly affected by what they see, and the witness — and just the fact that there’s a chapel in the house — indicates the dedication of Catholics in the Church to helping the mothers.”
Even for veterans of the pro-life movement Visitation House provides a beautiful reminder of the “why” of their work. Catherine Villa, a longtime pro-life advocate and graduate of Holy Cross, said, “Being able to attend their annual fundraising dinner once I was in college was truly eye-opening, as I was able to witness how many people from all around Worcester County and further were there to support the mission of Visitation House. It is one thing to hear about the work a shelter like this does, but it is another to see how people are affected by it in the best way possible.”
Each Soul — Always
Visitation House continues to fill a great need in the world: a need for strong mothers and strong families. The courage of the women who enter the program is humbling and a beautiful reminder in itself of the unrepeatable and unique gift that life always is.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Lord has brought somebody to our door,” DeMora said. “There’s a reason for it. Whether they continue in our program or they just need a moment of kindness or resources ... every person who calls or comes to our door or participates in our program is here because God has brought them here.”
Kathryn Wallice writes from Hartford, Connecticut.