BRAINTREE — Twelve-year-old Joann’s middle name is Miraculous because if it weren’t for a miracle she would not have been born.
When Joann’s mother, an immigrant from Haiti, found herself pregnant, she had no place to live and no money to buy food or clothing. She turned to Friends of the Unborn for help and received everything she needed plus a lot of love, she told over 200 of the organization’s supporters at a reception marking the organi-zation’s 20th anniversary.
Joann, an altar server in her parish, is just one of hundreds of children helped in the years since Friends of the Unborn, a shelter for women in crisis pregnancies, began.
“Joann was born with us,” said founding director Marilyn Birnie. “It just made me cry to see that she is a big girl now and a good Catholic.”
Birnie was not the only one at the anniversary celebration to be touched by the stories of how the lives of so many women have been helped.
“Some of the waitresses told me they had to stop working because they were crying,” recounted Birnie. “They couldn’t believe all the work that is being done.”
The 20th anniversary celebration began with a Mass at St. Clare Parish in Braintree Sept. 11. Most of the staff, volunteers and financial supporters of Friends of the Unborn are Catholic and some parishes hold “baby showers” to collect infant clothing and supplies for them.
While the Friends of the Unborn helps women of all religious backgrounds, the program has a definite Catholic foundation, said Birnie.
“I’m a Catholic and I started this ministry myself so it’s grounded in the Catholic Church, but all girls are welcome” she explained. “I was called by God to do this 20 years ago and started by taking girls into my own home.”
The first girl arrived at Birnie’s Hull home in 1984. After watching a Christian television program on the pressures and difficulties many teenagers and young women face when they become pregnant, Birnie started to think of how she could help. She turned to prayer for the answer and was inspired to welcome a young girl who had nowhere else to go into her home.
Birnie contacted the archdiocesan Pregnancy Help Office with her offer of help and, shortly thereafter, an 18-year-old moved into her home rather than keep an abortion appointment her mother had made for her. Six months later, Birnie had five more girls sharing her home along with her and her two daughters.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that we would have gone 20 years,” Birnie exclaimed. “I thought I was going to take in one girl and then she would go off with her baby, but God kept working with me and it just kept growing.”
Over the years, she established other homes for girls and women with crisis pregnancies; at one time four were in operation. Since it began, over 1,700 girls have been helped by Friends of the Unborn. Today, two homes housing 19 girls in total are open in Quincy.
About 18 years ago “we wanted to bring the whole ministry to Quincy,” Birnie said. “I didn’t even know him at the time, but one day Tom Flately, the developer, called and said ‘I heard you looked at the nursing home that’s closing. Did you like it?’ I said ‘Oh yes’ and he said ‘Good because I just bought it for you.’”
It is in part due to the kindness of strangers that Friends of the Unborn has stayed open for the past 20 years and continues to thrive. The organization relies solely on donations.
“It’s a miracle how we meet our bills,” said Birnie. “Sometimes we are poor and we might be in debt for a few thousand dollars and then the Lord will send someone who pays the bills.”
“We are always struggling, but I know that when we’re in struggle we need to turn to the Lord for help. I don’t mind the struggle because I know it keeps us close to Him,” she continued.
Despite the work involved, the bills to pay and the instruction and counseling to provide, Birnie cannot imagine ever giving it up.
“The homes are always full. One moves out and another moves right in,” she said. “I would love to have more because women are always waiting to get in — there is a desperate need. There are many homeless pregnant women out there often because their parents will say, ‘Have an abortion or move out.’ They don’t have any choice sometimes so they have to have an abortion, but if they have a place to go and someone to support them they would keep the baby.”
“We take care of them, help them network to other social services that will help them survive and help them apply for housing while they are here,” said Birnie. “And they are still part of our family even when they leave. Many girls come back and walk in the door with their little child growing up and it’s always a celebration to see these babies. We just love these babies.”