By Christopher Lushis
WARSAW — Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish on Sept. 18, offering praise and gratitude to those who have protected, healed and assisted pregnant women and their families throughout the country over the last three decades.
“Thirty years ago the Women’s Care Center was founded,” Bishop Rhoades said. “For 30 years, you have served the Gospel of Life and saved thousands of unborn children. You have done this by living the Gospel of love. It is one Gospel, the Gospel of life and the Gospel of love.”
Originally founded in 1984 by University of Notre Dame professor Dr. Janet E. Smith, Women’s Care Center is now the largest pregnancy resource organization in the United States. Originally beginning in a small blue house in South Bend, it served about 300 women during the first year. It now assists over 25,000 women annually in 23 care centers throughout seven states.
Bishop Rhoades, a proud member of the Women’s Care Center governing board, continued, “Through your love for the women who have come to you, often in very difficult circumstances, you have helped them to see their dignity as beloved daughters of God and also to see the dignity of the babies in their wombs. You have also helped the fathers to recognize this dignity and their responsibility to respect life.”
Bishop Rhoades further commended their efforts to bring healing and peace through an abundance of mercy and love.
“You don’t judge the women who come to you. You do not condemn them,” Bishop Rhoades said. “You accept, love, uplift and encourage. “
“Throughout the Gospels, we see how Jesus by His words and actions brings the transforming life of God,” he added. “That is what we are called to do as His disciples, as His Church. We all need God’s grace and forgiveness in our lives. And having experienced His love, we are called to bring this to others. That’s our mission as disciples of Jesus. That’s your mission at Women’s Care Center in your service of pregnant women.”
Bishop Rhoades concluded his homily by asking for the intercession of the Marian patron of pregnant women to continue to guide the work of the Women’s Care Center.
“Here in this church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, let us turn to Mary, the Mother of Life,” he said. “May she help us bear constant witness to the Gospel of Life. Let us entrust ourselves to her, that she may sustain us in our commitment to be disciples of her Son and of His merciful love — apostles of life in a culture of death.”
Following Mass, a reception was held as the Stonehenge Golf Club to honor and celebrate those who have personally sacrificed and labored to make the success of the Women’s Care Center a reality.
Bobby Williams, the foundation director of Women’s Care Center, expressed his gratitude for the tremendous examples of compassion and outreach shown to countless women since the opening of their original facility in 1984.
“Today we celebrate 30 years of meeting women where they are at with no judgment, with our only agenda being love,” Williams said. “Thirty years of unconditional service, greeting families with warm and sincere smiles, ultimately helping women to find the best path for themselves and their babies. Thirty years of teaching moms and dads to be the best parents they can be, of giving away thousands of car seats and millions upon millions of diapers. Thirty years of helping courageous women place their babies in the arms of others who could not have their own, of attending baby showers in hospital rooms, and of holding newborns for clients when they come back to say thank you. Thirty years of love and care, and with your support and God’s grace the best is yet to come.”
Ann Manion, who has served as volunteer president for the last 29 years, emphasized how integral those who work directly with pregnant women truly are to the success of the organization.
“Hundreds of thousands of women have been served and tens of thousands of babies have been saved,” she said. “It really is thanks to the counselors — it is the counselors who serve one-on-one with the women and who help them choose life. If it wasn’t for loving ladies, we wouldn’t have served 203,084 women.”
Jenny Hunsberger, the director of Women’s Care Center for St. Joseph and Marshall counties, further detailed how the organization has sought to benefit those who have entered their doors. She explained, “The mission of Women’s Care Center is to provide women with the opportunity to choose life for their babies by helping them to recognize their own dignity and their own worth. We do that by loving unconditionally.”
She said that the most rewarding part of their ministry for her is “seeing the courage of young women who are facing incredibly difficult situations and witnessing their strength and ability to make hard choices, rooted in deep love, even when the world is standing against them.”
She also praised the efforts of Bishop John M. D’Arcy and Bishop Rhoades who showed constant support and leadership for the work of the Women’s Care Center.
“Both bishops have sat on our governing board of directors and offered tremendous spiritual guidance and direction,” Hunsberger said. “And we truly need their guidance and blessing if this will continue to be a holy work.”
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