Lynn Kenn, the force behind Parish Baby Showers for nearly 40 years
With almost 40 years of being a vigorous advocate for the pro-life movement under her belt, Lynn Kenn, the founder of the Parish Baby Shower program in the Archdiocese of Boston, says that she found encouragement in the words proclaimed in the Gospel of Matthew: "I needed clothes, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me" (Mt 25:36).
As one of eight children, Kenn learned about the value of life from a young age as she grew up surrounded by a large Catholic family in East Bridgewater. A parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Church there during her childhood, the St. Patrick High School, Brockton, alumna recalled during a phone interview with The Pilot on Jan. 9 that while her parish did organize programs and activities to support the pro-life cause, such work was still "very limited."
Little did she know then that her time to make an impact and contribute to the Culture of Life was bound to come.
The year was early 1985, and Kenn -- unable to attend the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., because she was nursing her six-month-old son John Paul (the youngest of nine) -- organized a lunch at her place with her mother and sisters, asking them to each bring a gift for a newborn. Wanting to do her bit to support mothers and their unborn children around the archdiocese, the idea behind the small gathering was to collect baby items that she could later bring to the Pregnancy Help Center.
The Pregnancy Help program, run by the Pro-Life Office of the Archdiocese of Boston, had been inaugurated a decade prior, in 1973, to provide emotional, financial, and spiritual support to women facing crisis pregnancies and relied on volunteers like Kenn to carry out its ministry.
But as Kenn's meetings began to attract more and more people, it seemed no longer feasible to host them at her home.
"They got so big that I had to move (the meetings) to the church," Kenn said, referring to Holy Ghost Parish in Whitman, of which she has been a member since the early 1980s.
With Holy Ghost now acting as the venue for the Baby Showers, the hall began to be filled with a broad assortment of any kind of baby items -- including clothes, diaper bags, baby bottles, and other essentials -- though "we didn't deal with furniture because that was just too difficult," Kenn said.
Instead, people donated money to buy nursery furniture like cribs, which she would take to stores and exchange for vouchers; later on, when people came looking for cribs, she assisted them with those vouchers.
Soon, other parishes around the archdiocese began hosting their own Baby Showers for women facing crisis pregnancies, though not without the guidance of Kenn, who, continuing her close collaboration with the Pro-Life Office, contacted a friend at Pregnancy Help.
"She was more than willing to help me set things up in different parishes," Kenn said, before adding, "That was a wonderful help and she still, to this day, is a wonderful friend."
Members of local groups like the Knights of Columbus and the World Apostolate of Fatima, were of tremendous value in helping expand the program throughout the archdiocese as they began hosting Baby Showers in their own parishes.
In 1992, for instance, an annual shower at St. Theresa of Avila Parish in West Roxbury was started by Chris Kennedy. Through the unwavering work of the Knights of Columbus Council 3049 there -- who would collect gifts and monetary support for mothers and their unborn children after all the weekend Masses closest to the January anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision -- St. Theresa of Avila Parish's Baby Shower became one of the largest in the archdiocese by the mid-2000s.
In 2007, The Pilot reported that 96 parishes and organizations had adopted the program, expanding the efforts to bring more resources to expectant mothers, with the previous year attaining over $100,000 worth of items and donations, according to the Pro-Life Office's director, Marianne Luthin.
While most donated items came into the office during January, the Baby Showers were not confined to only that month as they had become a year-round activity, taking place around Mother's Day, during Respect Life Month in October, and at Christmastime.
Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley honored Kenn's work in April 2010, presenting her with a hand-painted plate depicting Lynn, her husband Russell, their nine children, and the cardinal, all together under the Blessed Virgin Mary and angels.
As the program continued spreading its reach beyond the South Shore and the Metro Boston area in the 2010s, reaching parishes in towns such as Wellesley, Stoneham, and Andover, Kenn's pivotal role in invigorating the pro-life ministry of the archdiocese remained as firm as ever.
"Some of the parishes have Baby Showers, but they don't have a way to transport the items, so that's my job. My husband and I go, and we pick up the items from the various parishes that can't deliver," Kenn said, adding that her pro-life work has rubbed off on her children, too.
"I have nine children, and they all are involved in some way, and a lot of the time, it's because we have so many parishes to pick up (from) that the children will go and pick up the items and then bring them back here. So, they've just been a tremendous help," Kenn said.
Not even the COVID-19 pandemic could dimmish her resolve, as she organized a no-contact system at Holy Ghost Parish, directing people to bring the items for the shower and leave them in the lower church. Afterward, "I would go and collect them and bring them to my home because my job is to sort. I have to open all the bags and all the boxes and then put all the items that are alike together, and then I put them in clear bags -- so we can see right through the bag and know what you have -- and then, once that's done, I'm able to go to the Pregnancy Help office," she said.
While the historic Supreme Court's overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision last summer was a great victory for the pro-life movement, Kenn does not expect the community to sit still as she believes this is just the beginning.
"I think it gave all the pro-life workers hope. That was a ray of hope for us, so we keep working and praying that it will continue to develop," Kenn said.
To learn more about sponsoring a Parish Baby Shower, visit www.bostoncatholic.org/pro-life-office/planning-parish-baby-shower.