A Place for Moms & Babies
By Joseph Pronechen
Ten years ago when Christie Aaronson answered a Gabriel Project hotline, a pregnant teen asked for reasons not to have an abortion. Christie later met with the teen, who wanted to keep her baby but said, “When we leave this place, where will I go?” Her parents didn’t want anything to do with her; neither did her boyfriend.
“That’s what put it into our hearts: We needed to find a place where these young women can live to have their babies,” says Christie’s husband, Deacon Michael Aaronson.
They co-founded Annunciation Maternity Home in Georgetown, Texas, in 1999.
The Aaronsons have no doubt God is behind Annunciation. Following much prayer, the $85,000 down payment for the property arrived unexpectedly: Old debts owed Deacon Aaronson’s business were paid to the tune of exactly $85,012. The home’s nonprofit status approval was granted March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, which celebrates the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to tell her she would be the Mother of God. Their first teenager gave birth on March 25, 2001, and every year since a baby has been born on that day or the night before.
Today, Annunciation Maternity Home is the only licensed long-term home of this kind in central Texas and the only one whose clients are young teenagers (the average age is 15). Annunciation, which is home to 17 girls and their children, gets more than 55 calls a month from young girls seeking assistance.
Annunciation is unique in several ways — from its location to its focus on education and spirituality and its commitment to the girls, who can stay two years with their babies once they’ve given birth.
The home is an oasis for the young mothers, many of whom come from extreme situations, such as rape and sexual abuse.
“Immediately you feel peace and God’s presence,” says the director of development, Tod Stehling, of the quiet five-acre setting not far from Austin. “It’s a tranquil place to be for girls to focus on themselves and their relationship with God, with their babies, and the peace they’ve never had in their life before.”
Last November Annunciation’s Education Center and Learning Lab opened. It was blessed by the home’s longtime friend and supporter from the Austin Diocese, Msgr. Michael Mulvey, who will be installed as bishop of Corpus Christi on March 25. (Another major supporter of the home is former Austin Bishop Gregory Aymond, now archbishop of New Orleans.)
The education center includes a University of Texas Charter School where the girls complete high school while their children are looked after at the child development center. Classes also provide training in good parenting and many other skills, from balancing a checkbook to healthy anger management and abstinence education.
Overall, Christie says, “We try to instill in them that they’re loved by God, no matter what they’ve done, and God does have a plan for them and a plan for their baby — and try to help them discern what it is.”
The girls learn respect and responsibility. Under 24-hour supervision from house moms, the girls do their own cleaning and laundry and work with a wellness coordinator to make healthy meals. They eat together at 6pm. Everything implements and mirrors what a healthy family should do and be.
Spiritual development is the home’s most important feature, says Christie. “We don’t preach the Gospel as much as we pray and model it as much as we can. They can feel the unconditional love there. They begin to realize God loves them, everybody sins, but he forgives and still loves them. That’s what they come away with more than anything.”
“We do not push our Catholic faith on them,” adds Deacon Aaronson, “but we radically live our Catholic faith to witness to them.”
From it the girls are drawn to the Catholic faith. Non-Catholics go from asking about the “necklace” to wanting to learn how to pray the Rosary. They start coming to Mass. The Catholic girls start receiving the sacraments. Some have never gone to confession. Non-Catholics also want to talk with the priests.
Daily the girls must begin with morning prayer in the chapel and end with an examination of conscience and prayer.
“God gives us all these affirmations,” notes Deacon Aaronson. The first graduate of Annunciation just received a master’s degree in psychology and wants to help girls in crisis pregnancies.
And there’s current resident Amber. “I like the fact we’re taken care of really well,” says the 18-year-old. “They want our children living in a safe environment.”
A Catholic, Amber finds herself growing spiritually. “There’s a chapel where we’re welcome to pray anytime we want.” She credits the regular opportunities for confession and Mass at nearby St. Helen’s Church for bringing her closer to her religion.
Annunciation Maternity Home has changed the lives of many people in the area along with the 285 girls who’ve lived there in the last decade.
“Many people in this area are pro-life, Catholic and non-Catholic, asking themselves: ‘What can I do that’s positive?’” says St. Helen’s pastor, Msgr. Louis Pavlicek. “This gives people very much pro-life the opportunity to do something right here in our community.”
Many parishioners are among Annunciation’s 200 volunteers, who gave more than 17,000 hours of their time last year alone for everything from driving to doctors’ appointments to mentoring and being prayer partners. Even the children in the parish’s grammar school raise donations from sponsors for their walk called March for Moms.
Soon more lives will change: Annunciation is planning to add transitional housing for 25 older girls.
The hard work is “very fulfilling when you’re able to change a girl’s life and then change it for the next generation,” says Deacon Aaronson. “We’ve planted the seeds.”
— Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut. This article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register.