Elizabeth Londen bought a lot of paint.
She was preparing to create a mural at Our Lady’s Inn maternity home in Defiance, but she didn’t know what the painting would depict. She wasn’t even sure which colors she’d need.
Londen calls these projects “mystery murals,” where she relies on God to show her what He wants her to paint as she goes.
“I came with open hands and a very open heart saying, ‘Lead me, God. Help me to glorify You. And please help me to paint something that will speak to these women and children,’” she said.
Londen is a volunteer muralist, going into places like inner city schools, shelters for victims of sex trafficking and others that “really need more beauty but just can’t afford to hire a muralist or spend thousands of dollars,” she explained.
She was thrilled to have the chance to use her talents at Our Lady’s Inn, which provides housing and support to pregnant mothers and their dependent children. Our Lady’s Inn has two locations, one in Defiance and one in south St. Louis.
“I have a huge love for women who choose life, and I don’t think they’re celebrated enough in our culture,” Londen said. “These women deserve to be celebrated and loved and to know that what they’re doing — it matters.”
The mural took shape over the course of about six days: a woman and her baby, laughing together against a background of swirling colors and stars. Butterflies, a motif that Londen has used in other murals, fly upward from the child.
“[The butterflies symbolize] the whole transformation, the becoming something new, the hope that is after — that you’re not stuck in this position,” Londen said. “And more importantly, it’s the fact that it’s all part of God’s creation, and God created that freedom and that transformation and that purpose within you.”
The mural is not just a beautiful painting — it also contain dozens of prayers underneath. Londen used social media to gather prayers for Our Lady’s Inn from people all over the world, as well as from Our Lady’s Inn staff. Then, before painting, she and volunteers from The Crossing church wrote these prayers on the bare wall.
“So, the place is permanently covered in prayer,” Londen said.
Darnella Thomas was one of the volunteers who wrote the collected prayers on the wall. “It makes you feel like, OK, now I’m connected to this — it becomes almost your own prayer. And you are now a part of praying for this facility and these people,” she said.
Peggy Forrest, CEO of Our Lady’s Inn, had seen some of Londen’s previous work and was moved by how she incorporated prayers into her murals.
“It was the idea of all the prayers being written on the wall and remaining there under this beautiful piece of art — that’s really what captured my attention, that for her, it was an expression of her love for God and the work we do,” Forrest said. “All the prayers that were submitted and written on the wall are just a constant reminder that our mission only exists because of God’s love and God’s direction.”
The mural takes up an entire wall in the dining room, a place the mothers and children at the home spend time in every day.
“I hope it will make them realize how much people actually care about them. Often, when a woman comes to us, she’s there because there’s nobody else in her life that really cares what’s going on with her,” Forrest said. “I think the story of the mural, and all the people that helped produce it, is kind of a visual image of what everybody who’s involved with Our Lady’s Inn feels: love for these women, wanting to support them in their choice for life.”
Right now, seven moms and their children are living in the Defiance home, which opened in 2006 and has room for up to 12 mothers. They each have a private room and bathroom, and the house also has a children’s playroom, a boutique with maternity and children’s clothing and supplies, and spaces for visiting and in-home workshops on topics like parenting, budgeting and building healthy relationships.
Mothers in the St. Charles region face some different challenges than those in south St. Louis, such as lack of public transportation in a more spread-out area, Forrest said. To meet this need, the Defiance staff provides transportation to mothers and children to and from work, school and appointments as needed.
“The other real challenge is there is a lot less access to affordable housing in St. Charles County right now,” said Forrest. “So the families tend to stay with us a little longer while they’re waiting for something to become available for them.”
There are perks to the home’s location in Defiance, too, like a much larger outdoor area that contains garden beds and plentiful space for kids to run around. “It’s very peaceful out there,” Forrest said.
While living at Our Lady’s Inn, women work with a case manager as well as a nurse, counselor, child advocate and other staff to address their individual goals as they work toward self-sufficiency. They can live at Our Lady’s Inn for up to about a year and receive support through the aftercare program for two more years as they transition into other housing.
“Once they leave, it’s not like they’re starting from ground zero — they’re connected to the community, and they can continue the work they began here,” said Denise Fondren, program director at the Defiance location.
Often, mothers who have moved on from Our Lady’s Inn will come back to volunteer or visit with the staff.
“They’ll come and say, ‘I’m getting married,’ ‘I opened a business,’ ‘I purchased a house,’” Fondren said. “It’s rewarding and fulfilling. It’s good to see lives changed and babies saved.”
>> Support Our Lady’s Inn
Our Lady’s Inn is a maternity home and aftercare support program for pregnant women and their dependent children who are homeless. With locations in St. Louis City and St. Charles County, Our Lady’s Inn offers shelter in a private room setting while providing for their immediate and basic needs. Case management with individualized services to address personal health, educational and psychosocial needs is also offered.
Learn how to donate, volunteer and support the programs of Our Lady’s Inn at www.ourladysinn.org.
Call (314) 351-4590 for services in St. Louis or (636) 398-5375 for services in St. Charles County.