Mary Pat had witnessed many women in crisis pregnancies, scared and alone. During one summer vacation, she volunteered at a Missionaries of Charity maternity home in Los Angeles, California, and fell in love with the work.
Mary Pat returned to her teaching duties, but God began stirring her heart. In 2000, she took a leave of absence from her teaching post in Fargo to teach second graders on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in northern North Dakota. During her year there, a different “pregnant mom” helped seal her destiny. On December 12—the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which commemorates the pregnant Virgin’s apparitions in 1531 to St. Juan Diego—Fr. Damian Hils, then pastor of St. Stanislaus Church in Warsaw, North Dakota, was giving a First Reconciliation retreat to Mary Pat’s second graders. Fr. Hils asked Mary Pat about her plans. Would she stay on the reservation or return to Fargo?
“I’d like to start a maternity home,” Mary Pat replied.
“How about in Warsaw?” Fr. Hils asked. The pro-life activist had been praying about what to do with St. Anthony Convent and School—a dilapidated convent boarding school that had closed in 1971.
Warsaw was but a speck on the map—a tiny village of 60 souls on the vast prairie 30 miles north of Grand Forks. Erected in 1920, the four-story brick school was now an eyesore. Graffiti. Bats and birds. Broken windows. But the price was right: $1.
Mary Pat, single and 32 years old, heeded the call and moved to Warsaw in the summer of 2001. A board was formed, and fundraising began. Hundreds of volunteers and professional tradesmen, many of whom donated their services and supplies, turned the 9,000 square-foot school into a real home—with sunny, spacious bedrooms and bathrooms, play areas, a kitchen with a large dining room, and a library. The state-licensed home opened in 2004.
Saint Gianna Maternity Home in Warsaw, North Dakota
“Saint Gianna’s Maternity Home is more than a shelter,” explains Mary Pat. “It’s a pro-life home of formation for pregnant women and their children. [Unlike many maternity homes, Saint Gianna’s welcomes pregnant moms with children.] Many women come from abusive and dysfunctional backgrounds and need the emotional, physical, and spiritual support of a family. For some women, Saint Gianna’s is the only family they have.”
And like a real family, some residents study during the day to earn their high school or college diplomas or a trade, while others take prenatal or parenting classes or care for their little ones. No mothers or babies are ever pushed out of the nest prematurely to make way for more pregnant women.
“Women and their children can stay up to three years,” continues Mary Pat, who lives on-site. “Our work is more about quality than quantity. Some moms may need more education or an extended stay in a family setting to build a brighter future for themselves and their babies. Our mission is ‘one mother, one baby, one family at a time.’”
Three young women, single and committed Catholics, work as live-in housemothers, showering love and care on the residents. They take them to medical appointments, prepare meals, teach classes, babysit, lend a listening ear, and enforce house rules when needed. One of the hardest rules for new residents is “no cell phones.”
“We want them to escape the drama of back home,” Mary Pat says.
Has Saint Gianna’s Maternity Home delivered? Yes! In its first 17 years, nearly 140 moms—from around the country and ranging in age from 12 to