November 14, 2008


Ministry to Unwed Mothers
Their Most Difficult Decision
But What Happens in Heaven?

Friar Jack’s Inbox:

Readers reflect on Friar Jack’s musings

Catechism Quiz—
An Important Word to Those Who Placed Their Infants for Adoption

by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.

Ministry to Unwed Mothers

In my nearly 50 years of priestly ministry, 15 of the most important and satisfying were when I served as chaplain for a maternity home for unwed mothers, north of Detroit, Michigan. Between 1965 and 1980, I had the opportunity to work with nearly 2,000 girls who became residents during their pregnancy. They ranged in age from early teens to their late 20s. It was a residence where they could have privacy from the public as well as continue their schooling. They were lovingly cared for by the Daughters of Charity.

Up to and including the 1960s, becoming pregnant and unwed was considered about the worst thing a girl could do. The same harsh judgment never seemed to be leveled against the father. Very few girls could stay at home because of social pressure. It meant they had to hide from the public and often from their grandparents. But as the sexual mores of the late ‘70s and ‘80s took place, being a single mother became more and more accepted. Today, of course, hardly anyone blinks an eye.

The girls I was pastor to made the laudable decision to carry their babies to full-term. It was a difficult but courageous decision. I reminded them often that there was never a moment when God stopped loving them. In 1968, I wrote an article for St. Anthony Messenger magazine entitled, “To the Parents of an Unwed Mother,” emphasizing that their daughters were not bad persons, that this was not the worst thing they could have done and that it was important that they love and support their daughter in this very difficult time.

We had quarterly meetings at the home for the parents so they could meet other parents, share their fears and concerns, listen to each other, support their daughters and begin healing the hurts that might have occurred.

Their Most Difficult Decision

In the 1960s, almost all of the girls made the difficult decision to place their infants for adoption. By the time the 1980s came, the majority of girls were keeping their babies. Social workers spent long hours helping the girls make decisions that were best for them as well as their baby and the family. When the girls delivered their babies, it was important for the girls to see their infants. It was completely their choice, and most did. On the one hand, seeing their baby could make the separation even more difficult. But there were good reasons for seeing their infant. First, they needed to see the beautiful new life they had brought into the world, and to be assured that their infant was whole and healthy. Secondly, they needed to feel proud of having made the decision they did to bring the baby to full-term and realize they were giving another family the best gift they could possibly bestow.

One of the most important programs the maternity home staff provided was when, four times a year, we invited four or five former residents back for a question-and-answer session. Two or three of the girls had given their infants up for adoption; several had kept them. It was a chance for the new moms to talk to the pregnant girls who still had to make that most difficult decision. Each group could recount the ups and downs resulting from the choices they made. There was never an easy answer, and no matter how much information a girl would have, the decision was always difficult.

But What Happens in Heaven?

There was always a common question that would arise with the girls considering adoption for their baby. It was truly an understandable one: “Father, when I get to heaven, will my baby know me? What will it be like there? Will my baby have to make a choice between me and the adopting mother?” The answer I gave was a true one, and it eased their fears, at least to some degree. I told them that, in heaven, there is perfect unity and total love because every person is in perfect union with God. The baby, now grown, will choose both mothers: knowing and loving the birth mother for the gift of life and for the sacrifice she made; and loving the adoptive mother for raising and loving the baby all through life. In the same way, the two mothers will love each other completely and totally. The mother who adopted the infant will love the birth mother for giving her the chance to raise her child and be a mother; the birth mother will love the adoptive mother for taking such good care of her child. In heaven, there is no fear, no jealousy, no envy—only perfect love and understanding of the miracle of life and the love each gave to the other and to the precious infant.

In my years in this pastoral work with these wonderful girls, I was so often deeply inspired by them because of their love and determination to carry their pregnancy to term. In many cases, it was a demonstration of great love and great awareness of what human life truly meant. For me it was a blessing to be with them and to walk with them during the time when they made the most difficult decision of their young lives. It’s my prayer that they are all now at peace with themselves, realizing how much God loves them for all the good they did.

Friar Jack’s Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jack’s musings on “The Anima Christi: A Prayer for All Centuries.”

Dear Friar Jack: For years I have included the Anima Christi in my morning prayers because the first time I read it, it struck such a personal chord within my very soul. And on Sundays at Mass, I say it after receiving the Eucharist. Thanks for your inspiring interpretation. It says it all for me. Barbara

Dear Friar Jack: Your article on my favorite prayer could not have been better. Since memorizing the words myself, I also find that changing the words from “I” to “us” is truly a profound way of communicating with our Lord and savior. James

Dear Barbara and James: Thanks for your kind responses to my reflections on the ancient prayer, the Anima Christi. A large number of e-mails came in this month and most were positive. Although I regretfully cannot respond to them all in person, be assured that I keep all readers of Friar Jack’s E-spirations in my prayers, especially those who have asked prayers for their special needs and those of loved ones. Peace and good health to all! Friar Jack

Dear Friar Jack: Regarding the personal reciting of the Anima Christi, I see no need to change from the personal to the all-inclusive. Give me a break. A short reference prior to saying the prayer would suffice. Like God does not know our intentions? I have said this prayer since my youth. I am now 78. Have we gotten so politically correct we have gone mad and need to say the prayer twice? This is absolute nonsense! A

Dear A: I was simply sharing with readers my own thoughts and experiences with this popular prayer. My intention was not to force a particular way of saying it upon anyone else. Forgive me if my words came across that way. I commend you for saying the prayer in a way that works best for you. Thanks for your honest feedback. May God give you peace! Friar Jack

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