The two babies Kelly Moore lost through miscarriage will never leave her memory or her heart.
More than 11 years after the losses, Moore and her family attended a prayer service Oct. 23 at Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie that included the order of Naming and Commendation of an Infant Who Died Before Birth. Their babies, Gabrielle Elizabeth and Ryan James, were commended to the loving arms of God.
The rite, for parents whose children died before birth because of miscarriage, stillbirth, accident or abortion, was one of the first events hosted by the Reproductive and Child Loss Ministry at Immaculate Conception, a new parish-based ministry that offers one-on-one support for anyone who has experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, life-limiting prenatal diagnosis, infertility, loss of a young child or abortion.
The ministry came about in August after conversations among several people involved with the parish’s strategic planning committee, who saw a need to provide specific outreach to fellow parishioners who have experienced the loss of a child.
After asking friends and parishioners for feedback, ministry co-leader Pam Sharkey said it was evident a priority should be placed on individualized support, rather than just sharing a list of external resources. About a dozen parishioners, many of whom have previously experienced the loss of a child, have volunteered to offer one-on-one support to those who reach out to the ministry.
“The number one thing we do is listen to them, and get a feel for what they’re looking for,” Sharkey said. The support is available to both women and men, and it doesn’t matter if the loss was recent or happened long ago.
“They’re willing to walk alongside them as they go through the grieving and healing process,” Sharkey said. Other resources with the ministry include a parishioner who is a nurse practitioner and priests at Immaculate Conception.
Organizers also tapped into the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, which developed Behold Your Child, an archdiocesan-wide ministry for parents and families who have experienced a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis, miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. The diocese offers basic training for parish ministers.
When Moore experienced her miscarriages — three months apart from each other in 2011 — she had a difficult time finding resources to address some of the questions she had from a Catholic understanding. Why did God allow this to happen? What happens to the souls of these babies if they were unable to be baptized? Are they in heaven? How does the Church recognize them as unique human beings created by God?
“Some things are profound mysteries, but we have a confidence in a loving and merciful God, and we have to entrust our children to Him,” Moore said. “There’s a hope in God revealing to us why this happened, but for now we honor and recognize these children and pray that they may be at peace with God forever.”
The Church teaches that the sacrament of baptism is necessary for salvation; however God’s grace is not limited only to the sacraments, said Immaculate Conception associate pastor Father Michael Lampe, who led the Oct. 23 prayer service and Naming and Commendation rite.
“He can give that grace in other ways, so we entrust the children, as it says in the Catechism, to the mercy of God,” he said. “While we may not have the same certainty as if they were baptized, we do have certainty that we have a merciful Lord and savior.”
The ministry fills a need for anyone who is grieving and desires support in a faith-based context. “It gives them an opportunity to open up and share with people who understand,” Father Lampe said. “They can share what’s in their hearts so they can grieve properly and be able to go deeper in their relationship with the Lord … and through this ministry, allow the Lord to love them, even in these painful moments of loss.”
Debbie Hilke, who helped organize the Oct. 23 Naming and Commendation prayer service, experienced a miscarriage nearly 25 years ago. She and several other moms who had miscarriages established an Angel of Life statue in the parish prayer garden as a quiet place for anyone who has lost a child. A prayer service is held each year around Mother’s Day.
The hopes and dreams for that baby begin from the moment a family learns they’re expecting, Hilke said. “Even if it’s only for two weeks, you still lose those hopes and dreams,” said Hilke. “It helps to support other people who have gone through it, and it gives my own loss a purpose.”
Sharkey said the parish wants families to know that the Church values their child’s life. “We are a large parish, but we have a sense of community, and this is another way to show them that the Church is here for them and to reinforce that we do believe in the sanctity of life,” she said.
Reproductive and Child Loss Ministry at Immaculate Conception: stlreview.com/3TD5QHk
Naming and Commendation rite: stlreview.com/3gHiuq8
Behold Your Child ministry from the Archdiocese of Dubuque: dbqarch.org/beholdyourchild