Alecia Neuroth and 7-month-old Elianna Neuroth attend the 10th-anniversary celebration for Rochester’s Focus Pregnancy Help Center June 27, 2015. (Courier file photo)
Jane Way was working in the garden outside St. John the Evangelist Church on Rochester’s Humboldt Street one day when a pregnant woman approached with a toddler in tow. The mother and child had walked quite a distance and were tired and hungry, Way recalled.
“I think she just needed someone to care about her at that point,” she remarked.
After buying a meal for the mother and her child, Way wracked her brain to think of a place that could provide more substantial assistance but came up empty.
“I never felt so inept and so frustrated. I thought, ‘I never want to be in that position again,’” Way recalled.
Now she is working to make sure none of her fellow parishioners at Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish find themselves in a similar bind. With several other parishioners, she is working to implement the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Walking with Moms in Need initiative at the parish, which counts St. John the Evangelist as one of its three worship sites.
Program is U.S. bishops’ response to Pope Francis’ call to bring hope, help to those in need
The program, which the USCCB launched in 2020, is intended to empower and prepare parish communities to better serve pregnant and parenting mothers who are facing challenges.
“The Church will seek to fill in the gaps in services and resources to mothers facing challenging pregnancies and those parenting young children in difficult circumstances,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, then chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, explained in a March 23, 2021 statement about the initiative.
With more than 17,000 Catholic parishes across the United States, the church is well-positioned to reach out to mothers in need on a local level and increase awareness of resources available to them, the USCCB noted.
Mothers in need throughout all 12 counties of the Diocese of Rochester need to know that they can turn to the Catholic Church for support and assistance, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano wrote in an Aug. 1 letter to diocesan priests and pastoral administrators.
“Walking with Moms in Need is a response to Pope Francis’ repeated challenge to go to the margins and bring hope and help to those in need. Every region is different, every community is unique, and every parish is one-of-a-kind; however, each of our parishes is positioned to identify the local pregnancy help resources that are currently available and to recognize potential gaps that may need to be addressed,” Bishop Matano wrote.
Parishioners work to identify local resources, bridge gaps to help pregnant women
Peace of Christ parishioners began the work of addressing those gaps last January, Way said. They first contacted Shannon Kilbridge, director of the diocesan Life Issues Office, who was able to direct them to the resources available on the office’s website, LifeROC.org. Among those resources is a 78-page Parish Action Guide, which is “like a blueprint,” noted Kathy Boyle, who serves with Way on the committee working to implement Walking with Moms in Need at Peace of Christ.
“It offers some nice guidelines, but it also offers the freedom for every parish to be able to tailor it to their own demographics and neighborhood makeup and financial situation. We really like that about the program,” Way said.
The group’s next step was to identify and familiarize themselves with resources already available in the community, she said. They visited five such resource centers in the Rochester area and were impressed by the abundance of information each offers and by their respectful and compassionate atmospheres.
“These centers provide links and referrals to outside agencies to help moms on so many fronts, such as food, shelter, employment training, medical help and parenting classes,” Way said. “We’re not starting from scratch trying to create this support ministry. We’re truly looking to see what is already out there and how can we connect with that and be a source of information or referral. If there are gaps, how can we bridge those gaps?”
Parishioners hope to support pregnant women through baby showers, diaper drives
Eventually, the group wants to cultivate a support network of parishioners who are willing to assist in such efforts as planning baby showers or diaper drives, knitting baby blankets and serving as mentors to pregnant women, Way said.
The group also plans to print the pregnancy resource centers’ information on wallet-sized cards to be distributed to parishioners or anyone who could use the information, and to establish a hotline monitored by people equipped with information pregnant women or mothers might be seeking, she added.
Way, Boyle and their fellow committee members have been keeping parishioners informed of their efforts, and said parish feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so far.
“The parish just seemed like they were waiting for something like this, so they could step forward and actually help to make a difference as well,” Way said.