Catholic ministries aim to serve every need of at-risk women

Starting with shelter, apostolates move women from crisis to stable new life

Roxanne King

From providing emergency shelter to women who find themselves homeless, to offering them transitional housing as they gain the stability of a job and save for their own home, to the chance to be part of a communal home, Catholic ministries in the Archdiocese of Denver strive to help homeless and formerly homeless women become self-sufficient.

Testimonies share the success of these efforts. To protect their privacy, the women included here will only be identified by their first names.

Gift of Mary Shelter

“Homelessness is not only not having a home made of bricks, but homeless is being rejected, unwanted, unloved by society,” St. Mother Teresa often said.  She added, “And Jesus said, ‘whatever you do for these, you do for me.’”

St. Mother Teresa’s nuns, the Missionaries of Charity, run Gift of Mary Shelter in a building attached to St. Joseph Parish offices and classrooms, located at Sixth Avenue and Fox Street in Denver. There, in a nondescript stucco building over a large garage, four nuns use half the space for their convent and use the other half to shelter up to eight women, typically for a month, which can be extended to three months if they find a job and need the extra time to save up for a permanent place. It’s a simple shelter meant to provide a safe place to sleep, meals, showers and a prayerful community to help the women get back on their feet. On a recent visit to the home, none of the residents were Catholic.

“Our purpose, like Mother [Teresa] always said, is to [serve] those who are rejected, who are lonely, to the poorest of the poor…to build up a family here,” explained Sister Rosella, superior of the Missionaries of Charity. “We pray together as a family. They do their chores. They try to find a job. They have structure and dignity.”

“I was a hot mess when I got here,” Mississippi native Madeline, 21, told the Denver Catholic in the sitting room of the shelter July 1. Expressing gratitude to the sisters for the shelter and their loving care she added: “God’s been blessing me. I started working a couple of weeks ago. Now I’m looking for an apartment and I’m hoping to go to school.”

“We don’t want them to live a shelter-to-shelter kind of lifestyle,” Sister Rosella told the Denver Catholic. “When they leave here, we refer them to [Catholic Charities’] Marisol Homes and to [the Capuchin Franciscan’s] Julia Greeley Home, which offer more resources to them.”

Emergency Women’s Shelter

It’s possible that Gift of Mary is the smallest women’s shelter in Denver. It’s certain that Catholic Charities’ Women’s Emergency Shelter, a satellite of Samaritan House downtown, which serves men, women and families, is the largest. The 32,000-square-foot renovated facility opened nearly two years ago in northeast Denver. It provides 65 percent of the shelter services to homeless women in the city.

“We care for up to 225 women every night [between the two locations], and if there’s bad weather, we can get creative and take more,” said Mike Sinnett, vice president of shelters and community outreach for Catholic Charities Denver. “We’ve never turned a lady away at night due to capacity. And we’re open every day of the year. We never close.”

The women gather at 5 p.m. daily at Samaritan House, located at 2301 Lawrence St., and are bussed to the satellite location. They get a hot dinner and breakfast, a safe place to sleep and shower, and the opportunity to connect to other vital support services through the wide-ranging Catholic Charities network. The women can stay as long as they need to, Sinnett said.

“Our purpose is to get these ladies, who are the least served homeless population in Denver, off the streets and in a safe environment, “ Sinnett said. “We protect them, feed them, love them, and we try to help them where they are in their journey and get them on a trajectory of recovery.”

Marisol Homes

Catholic Charities also offers a transitional program for homeless women through its Marisol Homes, formerly called the Father Ed Judy House. Located at one site in Lakewood, Marisol Homes offers community-based housing to single women, pregnant women and single women with children. Unlike emergency shelters, which help women with temporary shelter and addressing immediate needs, Marisol Homes aid them in finding long-term financial and housing stability.

“I left with self-esteem, responsibility and an education,” said Jennifer, a former Marisol Homes resident, in a testimonial video. “They supported me in everything. I’m very blessed to have been at Marisol.”

The majority of Marisol Homes residents have fled domestic violence. Seeking a safe environment for her and her son, Jennifer moved to Colorado from California. Marisol Homes connected her with a case manager who helped her establish benefits. Within four months of her stay, Jennifer found permanent housing. In 2018, she graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and entered a master’s program. She aims to pay forward what she’s received by helping others in need in her career.

“[Marisol Homes] made a big impression on my life,” Jennifer said.

“There is no time limit on a family’s stay,” said Jan McIntosh, vice president of Marisol Women’s Services. “We walk with them through their journey [to self-sufficiency] and beyond as they establish themselves in their new life.”

Mary’s Homes of Hope

Third Order Franciscan Lynn Reid began providing maternity homes for women in need 21 years ago in the metro area shortly after she converted to Catholicism at age 52. A year ago, she moved focus from that ministry to a new one aiding women who have been through emergency and/or transitional housing and now desire a permanent Christ-centered communal home.

“I felt a strong calling that had been on my heart for a very long time about the piece missing that is now the reality of Mary’s Homes of Hope,” Reid said. “Once the babies were born and the moms were ready to go out on their own, they were shored up in faith but most only got into government housing, which is God-absent. It was really getting them back into a very dependent lifestyle. Some even lost their children.”

Today, Reid serves as director of Mary’s Homes of Hope and lives in the ministry’s large spacious house — complete with a chapel — located in Arvada. She shares the home with four other women, one of which has one young child full-time and a second child who spends part of the time with his father.

The ministry, which is operated by a board, depends on providence for funding and gets spiritual support from the Capuchin Franciscans. A Catholic family purchased the home, which they lease to the ministry.

Life at the home includes daily communal prayer time, Mass twice a month in the chapel on Saturdays (the women all worship at parishes on Sundays), and regular Scripture- and faith study. All the residents work, buy groceries and pay a nominal amount toward rent.

“They have a definite purpose in their life, following and committing to be part of this Christ-centered community,” Reid said. “They can stay till God calls them home if they want. Some will want to consider purchasing a home. But it’s their moving on, not us saying you can only be here a year or two.”

The members seek to live the type of communal life Christians shared in the early Church and to carry out Christ’s mandate to St. Francis of Assisi to rebuild the Church by being his light and love in the world and sharing the Good News, Reid said.

“It’s Gospel in the life and life in the Gospel,” she said. “That’s really what the order of St. Francis is. We live the life of Christ and we are called to go out and share that.”

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Gift of Mary Shelter: 303-860-8040

Emergency Women’s Shelter: 303-294-0241

Marisol Homes: 720-799-9400

Mary’s Homes of Hope: 303-424-9007

 

COMING UP: Marisol clinics help abortion-vulnerable women choose life, rebuild lives

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Marisol clinics help abortion-vulnerable women choose life, rebuild lives

Catholic Charities offers health care, housing and human services to women with crisis pregnancies

Roxanne King

Nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and about 4 in 10 of these are terminated by abortion, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Twenty-two percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion, the 2013 study shows.

There were 8,333 abortions last year in Colorado, a decrease of nearly 18 percent from 2015, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Marisol Health, a network of medical clinics run by Catholic Charities of Denver, aided that decrease by providing life-affirming medical care, counseling and social services to women facing crisis pregnancies.

Denisa Thomas, 28, is among the women Marisol Health helped to bring their unborn babies to birth. Thomas had already had three abortions and several miscarriages when she first visited Marisol’s Denver clinic, strategically located across the street from abortion provider Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains’ headquarters.

Adding to Thomas’ distress: the father of her unborn child was incarcerated, she had no health insurance and an 8-year-old son to care for.

“Planned Parenthood was my favorite place to run to,” Thomas said. “That’s mostly the reason why I’ve done abortions in the past, out of fear of being a single mom and struggling.”

With her history, Thomas feared she couldn’t have a healthy pregnancy.

“I thought maybe I had messed my body up and I wanted to see … if the baby was OK,” she said.

At Marisol Health she heard the baby’s heartbeat and saw her growing child via an ultrasound.

“If God gave me one more chance to have this baby, I’ve got to have it,” she decided.

The compassionate staff at Marisol Health helped her make a plan. They scheduled her appointments, gave her donated clothing and suggested resources to help during pregnancy, and after. She now takes classes at Community College of Aurora and worked part-time while awaiting the birth of her child.

Thomas has reclaimed her dignity and, with it, confidence.

“I’m really proud of myself,” she said. “I got over my fear.”

This wall of photos at Marisol Health highlights the many babies that were born because of the low-cost and compassionate care they offered women. (Photo by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic)

That’s the goal of Marisol Health, said Jan McIntosh, Catholic Charities’ vice president of women’s services.

“We try to address all the barriers women are seeing in their lives that are influencing their consideration of abortion,” McIntosh said. “We really try to walk with them and help them realize they have more options than they might see at the current time.”

Formerly known as Lighthouse Pregnancy Center, the name of the clinic was changed to Marisol Health in July 2016, when it also expanded its services to offer women affordable, comprehensive health care. Within a short time it added a second location in Lafayette and an outreach office at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

“We wanted to come up with a brand that would resonate primarily with women in the childbearing years,” McIntosh said, adding they were led by research from the Vitae Foundation, which helps pro-life organizations create messaging that resonates with abortion vulnerable women.

Vitae Foundation findings show that women with crisis pregnancies often shy away from overtly religious clinics for fear of being judged, McIntosh said. The Spanish name Marisol, she added, aims to evoke the beauty and essence of nature while subtly paying homage to Catholic values.

“Marisol was created from mar, which means sea, and sol, which means sun,” McIntosh said. “In history, it’s also a term that honors the Blessed Mother.”

The name is believed to be a shortened version of Maria de Sol, “Mary of the Sun,” or Maria de la Soledad, “Mary of Solitude.”

Marisol Health clinics are welcoming, women-focused centers whose Catholic identity shines through the chapels available for the guests and the Christian care of the staff.

The clinics are just one arm of Marisol Services, which also includes housing for single expectant mothers, single mothers with children and single women, who are experiencing homelessness, through four Marisol Homes, and human services through other Catholic Charities entities.

“It’s a pro-life continuum of services,” McIntosh said.

During fiscal year 2017, Marisol Health served 821 clients, 70 percent of whom earn less than $30,000. Additionally, 133 babies were born to mothers assisted by Marisol Health. The most recent may be Thomas’ daughter Leah, who was born Dec. 12.

Marisol Health made possible the seeming impossibility for Thomas to have her child and to build a brighter family life and future. She continues to be served through Marisol Health.

“When I go in I feel like I’m the only person there,” she said. “If I have a bad day, I go to talk to someone. I get plenty of support.”

In fiscal year 2017, the number of women who received prenatal care at Marisol Health increased four-fold. The clinics are now at, or close to, capacity given their current number of providers, for prenatal visits, McIntosh said.

“As we grow are going to need many more resources so we can continue to serve more women,” she said. “We also need to expand our digital marketing, that’s where women are going to search for abortions. We are doing some digital marketing but we need to expand it, to enable us to help women as they come to that crisis point.”

MARISOL HEALTH

For information or to donate visit MarisolHealth.com