Women’s shelter planned at St. Pascal
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
A Catholic social services organization wants to open a transitional shelter for women and their babies in the vacant convent near Saint Pascal School at the southwest corner of Irving Park Road and Meade Avenue, according to Alderman Timothy Cullerton (38th).
The group Aid for Women assists young women who are faced with unplanned pregnancies and encourages them to forego abortion and keep their children by providing resources. The group runs Heather’s House at the Maryville Academy campus, 1150 N. River Road, Des Plaines.
The group was formed in 1978 in Deerfield in response to the legalization of abortion in 1973. Heather’s House was opened in 2011, according to the group’s Web site. The group is supported by the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The home, which would be called Saint Monica’s House, would give shelter to women and their children who have proven their maturity and motivation toward maintaining their independence. The convent on the grounds of Saint Pascal Church, 3935 N. Melvina Ave., has been vacant for more than 30 years, Cullerton said. The space is used by various parish organizations.
The convent would house at most six women and their babies, Cullerton said. He said that the women would be screened for drug use, alcohol abuse and past abusive relationships, and that they would have had to live at the Des Plaines location for a minimum of 6 to 12 months prior to coming to the new location.
Heather’s House provides a home for women for up to 2 years, as well as education programs and opportunities to develop life skills.
"I had a meeting with the pastor and representatives from the group, but also with the community and not just parishioners," Cullerton said. "We had a good-sized crowd and people had good questions." The meeting took place Aug. 18 in the school gymnasium.
Cullerton said that residents raised concern about the safety of the school children and the possibility that the fathers of the infants might come looking for their babies and the mothers. Residents also were concerned whether the shelter would be a homeless shelter.
"For the most part, people are being supportive once they had heard the details of the plan," Cullerton said. "This is not some homeless shelter for battered women, this would be a place for young mothers to transition back into society with their newborns.
"All the ladies would be getting assistance at the Heather’s House before coming here. It’s for ladies who don’t have finances to raise their newborns."
Cullerton said that opening the shelter at Saint Pascal would free up room at Heather’s House, which in turn could help more women.
"It’s a pro-life organization that helps people have a child when the circumstances don’t let them," Cullerton said. "I’m a Catholic, and I think women have a right to choose, but I don’t think it’s my position as alderman to voice my opinions on this matter. It’s a woman who makes that decision."
Cullerton said he supports of the transitional shelter. Opening it would require the Zoning Board of Appeals to issue a special use for the site. Cullerton said that if the board grants the special use, he expects the parish to try to open the facility by the beginning of next year.
The women who live in the center would have to be employed, looking for work or be in school. A staff person would be on the premises 24 hours a day, the doors would be locked at all times, and an alarm system would be activated at 10 p.m. If a resident wants to meet a man, she will have to do it off-site, according to a statement by church’s pastor, the Reverend Paul Seaman, in the parish bulletin.
Cullerton said that Heather’s House has had no documented problems with the fathers of infants.
"The biggest problem people have had with this is the fathers, but the fathers don’t want to be involved and that just doesn’t happen," Cullerton said. "These deadbeat dads are not going to come around."
In the bulletin Seaman said that the programs and organizations that use the convent would be moved to a different space on the campus. He said that the group would pay about $500 per month in rent and that it would be responsible for medical bills for the women. The parish would pay for maintenance costs to the building, but any decorative changes would be the responsibility of the group.
"The most important thing for the parish is this gives us an opportunity to respond to the gospel call to care for those in need," Seaman said. "The church has long spoken against the evil of abortion. This residence and others like it takes us from all talk to real action that will change people’s lives for the better.
"Pope Francis has even addressed the issue by saying that empty convents and monasteries should be used to help people in need. This is our plan. As long as it is in God’s plan, it will succeed."