Has helped single mothers since 2015
By Dan Russo
DUBUQUE — As Kelsey M. recently held her daughter Eleanor in her lap, she couldn’t help but smile as she looked into the baby’s eyes. Since Eleanor’s birth several months ago, the young mother has had a safe place to watch her child grow as a resident of Mary’s Inn Maternity Home in Dubuque.
“She changes every day,” said Kelsey. “My baby is my whole life right now.”
The maternity home, dedicated to providing a haven for single mothers facing unexpected pregnancies, provides shelter, teaches life skills and encourages spiritual development of its residents. The idea for the ministry came out of experiences by local Catholics while assisting a woman in need in 2012-2013.
After lots of preparation and fundraising, the doors to Mary’s Inn opened in 2015. Marking its fifth anniversary in 2020, the home has helped 31 women and girls to get on their feet and provide for their newborns.
“It’s been more successful than we anticipated,” said Marian Bourek, one of the founders of the ministry. “We’ve seen lives changed and lives made better. We’ve had our share of heartaches. We’re praying it will continue.”
Residents live with paid staff for up to two years during pregnancy and afterwards, according to director Colleen Pasnik, director of the program and also a founder.
“There are only three maternity homes in the state and we’re the only one in Northeast Iowa,” she said.
Residents are required to be engaged in work or school at least part-time and observe a curfew and other rules. The ultimate goal is to put them in a position to succeed independently. Much of this work is done with the help of the staff.
“The staff is absolutely critical,” said Suzanne Lansing, another one of the founders. “They have a passion for the mission and can show unconditional love.”
Lora Small is another one of the current residents and said she has been grateful for the program.
“I was on a vacation and I got into a little bit of trouble,” she said. “I found out I was pregnant.”
She never considered abortion and knew she needed help. She had recently gotten out of jail and was living in a homeless shelter when she received the news of her pregnancy. Eventually, she got into Mary’s Inn and has been working with staff on developing her career and other goals.
“Having certain backgrounds, it’s hard to find employment,” said Small. “You can put them (Mary’s Inn) down as a reference.”
Mary’s Inn is a lay led ministry that has no connection to the Archdiocese of Dubuque. The board of directors are all practicing Catholics and base the program on Catholic teaching. They are open to accepting residents of any faith or no faith at all.
“We don’t force anybody to be Catholic, but we have had one young lady be baptized and confirmed,” said Pasnik.
“We’re trying to fulfill the Gospel as explained in Matthew 25,” added Tim Duggan, president of the board of directors.
Walking into the home itself, there is a sign on a wall in the living room that reads “There’s Hope.” Lansing said the idea for Mary’s Inn was the result of personal experiences the founders had trying to help women who were pregnant and in dire situations.
“We are hoping to be open and successful in meeting the needs out there,” said Lansing, who continues to serve on the Mary’s Inn board of directors. “When we started, we didn’t realize how large the need was and how severe.”
With COVID-19 restrictions in place for public health reasons, there is no formal celebration of the Mary’s Inn fifth anniversary scheduled, but organizers hope to mark the occasion later in the year.
For more information, visit marysinnmaternityhome.org.
Mary’s Inn resident Kelsey M. is pictured with her daughter Eleanor. Kelsey says she has benefited from the ministry’s program. (Witness Photo by Dan Russo)