Friday, September 7, 2007

Virginia Catholics are putting their pro-life philosophy into practice with a new home for unwed mothers in Orange County. The Paul Stefan Home for Unwed Mothers, which welcomed its first mother in November, was founded from the combination of the vision of the Rev. Stefan Starzynski and the faithfulness and passion of a couple in his Fredericksburg-area parish.

“This is the next step in the pro-life movement,” said Father Starzynski. He is confident that the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which struck down most state laws regulating abortion, eventually will be overturned and said Christians will need to be ready to care for millions more unwed mothers as the state moves to protect the unborn.

“It’s not about politics. Ultimately, it’s because we love these women and these babies,” Father Starzynski. “I love this issue because it’s a uniting issue.”

He said both pro-life and pro-choice advocates could unite behind the idea of loving and supporting unwed mothers, because most pro-choice advocates say they want abortion to be rare.

Because 37 percent of births are to unwed mothers, Father Starzynski said, the church shares responsibility if a young woman feels that she has nowhere to turn but to an abortion clinic.

“For women who want to choose life, and we encourage them to choose life, we want to be able to care for them,” said Greg Mueller, a director of the Paul Stefan Foundation.

The home is named for Paul Stefan James, the son of Randy and Evie James, who lived one hour after being born without lungs. Mrs. James was told by her doctor that she should go to Kansas to obtain a late-term abortion. She and her husband refused, then turned to God for strength and guidance throughout the rest of the pregnancy.

On the same day that the couple received the news that the child would be born without lungs, Mrs. James’ “Chicken Soup for the Soul” daily calendar had a piece of encouragement for the expectant mother’s soul, which referenced a baby with “an amazing set of lungs.”

Father Starzynski suggested that Mrs. James read the encouraging words every day, although he suggested that the “amazing set of lungs” may not come in the form of the miracle she expected.

Meanwhile, the priest felt inspired to begin an unwed mothers home. The Jameses soon felt called to become active in the pro-life movement, though they weren’t sure what to expect. Paul Stefan was born Dec. 15, 2005, and was baptized before he died. He was named in honor of Father Starzynski and the Rev. Paul Scalia, son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Jameses accepted God’s call by partnering with Father Starzynski to begin a home for unwed mothers, something they all hope will be the beginning of a national movement. Mrs. James understood why Paul Stefan’s “set of lungs” was so amazing.

Outside groups are helping to support the home. Piedmont United Way is providing assistance to the home, and Williams Cos., a natural-gas business based in Tulsa, Okla., leased a large parcel to the Paul Stefan Foundation for only $1 per year.

The property has one large, comfortable, furnished home that is serving five women and five babies. Another site that will open eventually will allow the home to care for about 10 women.

“I think we’ve become like family,” said Barbara Staiger, a registered nurse who volunteers at the home. She said the home provides holistic care for women to meet their emotional, physical and spiritual needs. The home respects the faith of all of the women.

One mother at the home, Sienna, found only a few facilities like the one in Virginia during an Internet search.

“It was wonderful to just land here and not worry if I’m going to have a place to sleep,” she said.

Another mother, Erin, gave birth to the first baby to live at the home. Andrew was born one year to the day after Paul Stefan was born. Erin said her dream is “getting a job, getting my own place, then hopefully going to college.”

The manager of the home, Patricia Newman, said she hopes to bring in volunteers to teach vocational and life skills to the women. Mrs. Newman, who was an unwed mother herself, said it is nice to be able to say at times, “I understand,” because she knows some of the difficulties firsthand.

Being a single and pregnant is “a hard thing to do,” said Mrs. Newman, who is now married to the father of her 12- and 7-year old sons. “I remember just praying, ‘What should I do? What should I do?’ ”

Many people have asked about starting similar unwed mothers homes in other cities. Others have offered their property for the cause.

Father Starzynski and Mr. and Mrs. James say they hope the home will inspire Christians nationwide to live out the message of the Gospels through charity toward all human life, including unwed mothers, the unborn and infants. They want the Paul Stefan Home to be a model for homes for unwed mothers.

“The hope is to take it national,” said Mr. James, who is amazed at how quickly the Paul Stefan Home came together. “God had it all in His vision and all in His plan.”

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