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Sue Cooke, right, held Lillian Potter while helping mom Lauren at Mary Queen of Angels pregnancy resource center in O’Fallon March 2. Mary Queen of Angels serves about 500 moms, with a team of about 20 volunteers.
Sue Cooke, right, held Lillian Potter while helping mom Lauren at Mary Queen of Angels pregnancy resource center in O’Fallon March 2. Mary Queen of Angels serves about 500 moms, with a team of about 20 volunteers.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Local pro-life organization is living the mission of the Walking with Moms in Need initiative

Mary Queen of Angels serves about 500 moms with tangible needs for their babies

Lauren Potter had reached out for some extra help when her daughter was little.

Lauren Potter and her daughters London and Lilianna visited Mary Queen of Angels pregnancy resource center in O’Fallon. Potter, who was pressured to have an abortion when she was pregnant, said that the resource center was able to point her in the right direction and be a listening ear.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Potter’s husband was between jobs, and Mary Queen of Angels provided the family with necessities such as diapers and formula for London, now 3. In the midst of focusing on her daughter’s needs, Potter discovered she was pregnant again. At this point, she was stressed out and needed to talk to someone.

Turning to Mary Queen of Angels again, Potter talked to the organization’s founder Sue Cooke.

“We were getting pressure to not keep the baby,” Potter recalled. “We questioned a lot, and prayed a lot, and fought hard with decisions. Sue was able to point me in the right direction.”

“I told her everything happens for a reason,” Cooke said, recalling how Potter sent her a private message on Mother’s Day with ultrasound pictures of Lilianna, who was born in December. “Everything is a gift from God.”

Cooke founded Mary Queen of Angels 15 years ago. Praying on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood, Cooke was confronted by women visiting the facility for an abortion. They’d say, “Sure, you’re out here wanting me to keep the baby, but where will you be when I keep the baby and can’t provide for the baby?” Cooke recalled.

The nonprofit organization, which recently moved to a new location in O’Fallon, serves about 500 moms, with a team of about 20 volunteers. Moms come once a month for clothing, wipes, diapers, formula and baby gear, up until the child is 2. If there are older siblings, volunteers will find a way to help them, too.

The organization doesn’t receive outside funding, relying on the generosity of donors and volunteers; it also partners with other pro-life organizations to refer clients to additional resources. A thrift store named Simply Blessed recently was opened at the new location to help support the mission. Cooke also manages to balance all of this while working full-time as a human resources professional.

Walking with Moms in Need

Last fall, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., announced an initiative to draw attention to resources available to pregnant mothers in need. The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities said “Walking With Moms in Need: A Year of Service” will help parishes to communicate the support services available to women who are thinking about whether to carry their child to term. The year of service begins March 25, 2020, the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”).

At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall general assembly Nov. 11, Archbishop Naumann said parishes could offer a variety of support services to women who may be thinking about whether to carry their child to term. More information on the

Sue Cooke held 5-month-old Mia as she visited with Lisbeth Rivera.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
national initiative is available online at www.walkingwithmoms.com.

“Women facing challenging pregnancies should see the Church as a place where they can find help, especially with our myriad of social services and organizations dedicated to meeting the needs of people in crisis,” he said. “The challenges can be immense for women in difficult pregnancies, especially women in poverty.”

Archbishop Naumann cited statistics from abortion providers in 2014 that showed that 75% of women who chose abortion were poor, 60% were in their 20s and 86% were unmarried.

“The 25th anniversary year of ‘Evangelium Vitae’ gives us a wonderful opportunity to assess, expand and communicate resources to pregnant moms and families in need,” Archbishop Naumann told the assembly.

In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, a local task force was formed in June of 2019 to identify the wealth of resources available for children from conception through childhood and those who care for them. Its next phase is to create a multimedia campaign to more effectively connect people with those resources. The archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate is communicating with parish pro-life coordinators; more information on local efforts will be forthcoming.

More on Mary Queen

Cooke sees the work of Mary Queen of Angels as a way of “walking the walk,” providing tangible and emotional support to pregnant women who find themselves in vulnerable situations. She feels strongly about helping what she calls the “working poor.”

“They’re the ones who don’t qualify for (government) assistance,” she said. “The bar is set so low for people in need. These are people who are trying really hard to make it.”

Lisbeth Rivera is a mom of six children — 19, 16, 8-year-old twins, 18 months and 5 months. She initially sought out Cooke when she was pregnant with the twins. At the time she was a single mom to four children, and she knew she was going to need some extra support. Three years ago, she met her husband, Joe, and their family expanded from four to six children.

Rivera said the organization lives up to its name — “an angel,” she said. She teared up thinking about the support she received in her time of need. “I was a single mom,” she said. “I had no one. I didn’t have a job. I had twins, four kids. And I had you guys. That was the only thing.”

She said abortion was never a consideration, even in the stress of previously being a single mom. “You wonder, how am I going to do this, but to get to the point of terminating (a child) for me, that has never gone through my mind.”

“You’ve done such a good job,” Cooke told her. “You’re such a good mommy.”

The Rivera family donates items to Mary Queen of Angels, and asks friends to donate, as a way of giving back for the help they’ve received.

“I try to do as much as I can,” Lisbeth Rivera said.

Sue Cooke visited with Lisbeth Rivera, a mother of 6, at the Rivera home in Lake St. Louis March 9. Rivera hugged Cook and cried tears of thankfulness for the help Cooke’s organization, Mary Queen of Angels, has given to her over the years. “I was a single mom,” Rivera said. “I had no one. I didn’t have a job. I had twins, four kids. And I had you guys. That was the only thing.”
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

St. Louis has a wealth of resources to support pregnant mothers in need

BY JENNIFER BRINKER | [email protected] | twitter: @jenniferbrinker

For women facing an unplanned pregnancies in the St. Louis area, the number of resources is virtually endless. Here are some ways in which Catholic and other pro-life organizations are helping mothers choose life for their babies:

Catholic Charities

Catholic Charities of St. Louis is a federation of eight agencies that impact the lives of more than 103,500 people annually in 11 counties in the St. Louis metropolitan area. To learn more visit www.ccstl.org.

Good Shepherd Children and Family Services provides a host of services, including foster care and treatment foster care, adoption, expectant parent counseling, maternity shelter, pregnancy services and advocacy.

• Queen of Peace Center offers family-centered behavioral health care for women who are overcoming substance use disorders, and their children.

• St. Martha’s Hall provides a confidential, safe place for women who have been impacted by domestic violence, and their children.

• Marygrove provides treatment and support to young people struggling with emotional and behavioral issues, resulting from abuse, neglect and other traumatic experience.

• Saint Louis Counseling provides professional counseling to families and individuals, including offices throughout the St. Louis area, schools and places of employment.

• St. Francis Community Services focuses on legal aid, youth programs, bilingual mental health counseling, case management and more.

• St. Patrick Center helps people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The agency works with individuals and families to build permanent, positive change in their lives.

• Cardinal Ritter Senior Services provides residential, health care and supportive social services for senior adults, including foster grandparent program and support for seniors who are parenting grandchildren.

St. Vincent de Paul Society

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of St. Louis is an international Catholic lay organization that provides direct services, via home visits, to people in need, including pregnant women who are choosing life for their babies. Many of the society’s services are recognizable through the Corporal Works of Mercy, such as clothing, shelter, transportation and healing. To learn more about the society in St. Louis, visit svdpstlouis.org.

Deacon Diaper Drive

The permanent deacons of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, in conjunction with the Respect Life Apostolate, organize an annual archdiocesan-wide drive each spring to collect baby diapers for those in need. Diapers are collected at weekend Masses and are distributed by participating parishes to organizations including St. Vincent de Paul Society conferences, women’s shelters and crisis nurseries, for example. This year, diaper donations will be collected at parishes during the weekend Masses of March 21-22, through Palm Sunday, April 5.

Respect Life Apostolate

The archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate offers several programs that provide pastoral and spiritual care for those who have experienced an abortion. Additionally, the apostolate publishes an options brochure with a guide to local resources for pregnant women, including resource centers and maternity homes, many of which provide food, clothing, financial assistance, counseling, shelter and job training. For more information on any of the apostolate’s resources and ministries, visit www.STLrespectlife.org or call (314) 792-7555.

The LifeLine Coalition is a group of Catholic social service agencies and pro-life caregivers committed to helping women experiencing crisis pregnancies through increasing awareness and availability of pregnancy assistance services, generating new revenue for caregivers and by expanding services to pregnant women. Contribute to the Lifeline Coalition online at www.bit.ly/2Q6HeFM. Checks should be made payable to LifeLine Coalition, Respect Life Apostolate, Mail Stop 34001, P.O. Box 953745, St. Louis, MO 63195-3745

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson established the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Fund in 2009. The fund relieves the burdens of expectant parents and parents who have recently given birth under challenging circumstances. Contribute to the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Fund at www.bit.ly/2Q5thI4. Checks should be made payable to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Fund, Respect Life Apostolate, Mail Stop 340012, P.O. Box 953745, St. Louis, MO 63195-3745.

Project Rachel and Project Joseph are ministries of the Respect Life Apostolate that offer healing and hope to women and men wounded by abortion. The ministries offer free, confidential professional counseling, spiritual support groups, retreats and spiritual direction and reconciliation. For more information on either group, call (314) 792-7565; or email [email protected] for Project Rachel or [email protected] for Project Joseph.

The Order for the Naming and Commendation of an Infant Who Died Before Birth is a special rite that memorializes children who have died before birth, including miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion or accident. The rite, often carried out in the context of Mass, gives families the chance to name their child and commend the child to the loving care of God. For more information, contact Mary Varni at [email protected].

Knights of Columbus Meet Life campaign

The Meet Life campaign started in Missouri in 2011 with the goal of decreasing the number of abortions in the state through donated ultrasound machines to pregnancy resource centers.

The Knights in Missouri also contribute $100,000 annually to Vitae Foundation to conduct a digital marketing campaign, to help connect women with pregnancy centers in the state. Additional funding is given to diocesan respect life offices, including the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate, to support pro-life programs, as well as an annual grant to Birthright for operation expenses.

Even though the Meet Life campaign was initially promoted as a five-year effort, councils across the state continue to raise funds, Tesmer said. The program is now turning in a new direction, to continue support for pregnancy centers and maintaining the machines, which cost on average about $30,000-35,000 and have a lifespan of about seven to nine years. An endowment currently is in the works, intending to bring in approximately $200,000 a year. The Knights already have received a significant initial donation toward the endowment.

Birthright

Birthright is a nonprofit organization that provides support to women facing unplanned pregnancies. Many of the organization’s locations (the four in St. Louis and St. Charles) provide free professional counseling to women from the time of their pregnancy test for as long as they need after their baby is born. Other services include classes and workshops, fathers’ counseling, postpartum counseling, scholarships and financial assistance, help with transportation, and medical care assistance, and counseling for mothers expecting or who have delivered a child with special needs.

Birthright provides one-on-one accompaniment, often filling a gap when the woman doesn’t have a strong support network at home. The organization also works closely with other social service organizations and alternatives-to-abortion agencies to meet the mothers’ needs. Birthright does not receive government funding and relies on the help of the community.

Birthright St. Louis locations (birthrightstl.org): Brentwood (314) 962-5300; Central West End (314) 361-0124; Bridgeton (314) 298-0945; South County (314) 962-3653

Other area Birthright locations (birthright.org): Eureka (636) 938-4221; Hillsboro (636) 789-3518; Wentzville (birthrightofwentzville.com) (636) 327-8170; St. Charles (birthrightstcharles.org) (636) 724-1200.

Room at the Inn

Sponsored by the Sisters of Divine Providence, the Room at the Inn provides 24-hour emergency shelter to women and families who are homeless. The organization serves up to 20 people daily, nearly 200 people each year, half of whom are children. In addition to food and shelter, Room at the Inn helps clients identify the underlying causes of their homelessness, regain self-sufficiency and avoid future episodes of homelessness. Clients stay at the organization’s central location in Bridgeton during the day. In the evening, they stay at one of numerous night sites at congregations throughout St. Louis County and St. Charles County. Room at the Inn also collaborates with more than 50 other human services agencies to provide services to help clients get back on their feet. For more information, visit www.roomstl.org.

Our Lady’s Inn

Founded in 1982, Our Lady’s Inn has provided services to pregnant women and their children who are homeless. The nonprofit organization has provided shelter and support with securing education, stable housing and employment to more than 6,000 women who have chosen life for their unborn babies. The organization has locations in south St. Louis and St. Charles. Also, the Twice Blessed Resale Shop serves as a social enterprise, providing job experience and training for residents, and as a funding source for Our Lady’s Inn. For more information, visit www.ourladysinn.org.

WISH Center

The WISH (Women and Infant Substance Help) Center at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in St. Louis provides comprehensive, high-risk maternity care for women who are dependent on opioids and other drugs. It is the only facility of its kind in the St. Louis region. It extends care for new moms after the baby is born when the risk of relapse is the greatest. The WISH Center works with outside organizations, many of them Catholic agencies, to help with job skills, housing, life skills and parenting to help moms maintain sobriety. For more information, visit www.ssmhealth.com/locations/location-details/wish-center.

Sweet Babies

Based at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond Heights, Sweet Babies provides clothing and other necessities to families with newborns who are leaving the hospital. The organization was founded in 2010 by longtime hospital volunteer Alice Provaznik, who saw a need after she learned that nurses were buying gently used baby clothing to give to new mothers as they left the hospital with their babies. To learn more, visit www.sweetbabies.org.

Thrive St. Louis

With three locations and a mobile medical fleet, Thrive St. Louis offers a variety of services for women including pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, parenting and life-skills classes, as well as referrals for housing, medical care, counseling, utility assistance, food and more. See thrivestlouis.org.

Mary Queen of Angels

Founded by a local Catholic woman, Sue Cooke, Mary Queen of Angels provides support to pregnant mothers up to two years postpartum through providing for their babies basic necessities to support their decision to bring a new life into the world. The independent organization, which is based in O’Fallon, relies on donations to operate. For more information, call (636) 579-7083 or visit Mary Queen of Angels on Facebook.

Defenders of the Unborn

As part of its work to educate others about the evils of abortion, Defenders of the Unborn offers help to mothers in crisis pregnancies, including help with rent and utilities, transportation to medical providers, baby and maternity clothing, bedding, and other items, and financial support for adoptions, among other services. See stl-defenders.com.

Coalition for Life

The nonprofit organization recently launched Women’s Care Connect, which follows up with abortion-minded women to provide them with comprehensive services geared toward their needs. Trained staff provide life coaching and connect them to other agencies to provide the help they need. To learn more, see www.coalitionforlifestl.org.

Tax credit programs

The state of Missouri offers tax credit programs for individuals who donate to a participating pregnancy resource center or maternity home. There are 72 recognized pregnancy resource centers and 17 maternity homes statewide. To learn more about the tax credit program for pregnancy resource centers, see dss.mo.gov/dfas/taxcredit/pregnancy.htm; and for maternity homes, dss.mo.gov/dfas/taxcredit/maternity.htm

Alternatives to abortion funding

Midtown Community Services, an independent nonprofit organization on the campus of St. Cronan Parish, is among a long list of agencies that receives funding from the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program. The program helps women carry their unborn child to term instead of having an abortion. Missouri lawmakers recently allocated $6.46 million for the upcoming fiscal year. To learn more about the program and participating agencies, see dss.mo.gov/fsd/a2a/.

Others

Several Catholic parishes have partnerships with other faith-based food service agencies such as Circle of Concern, Feed My People and Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Center.



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