On the Road to Mary's Shelter

One of the greatest burdens our national culture suffers under is the growing distance people experience from each other. This distance dims hope, since our futures are increasingly disconnected. Of all the areas in which this isolation darkens our neighbors’ lives, one of the most devastating is the isolation experienced by women who are on their own as they expect the births of their children.

One beautiful place here in Virginia is making sure that expectant moms are not left alone and that their futures are gifted with hope. That place is Mary’s Shelter in Fredericksburg.

Mary's Shelter provides a home for women in crisis during their pregnancy and for any additional children they may have. The mission has multiple, shared homes in Fredericksburg.  According to the founder and director, Kathleen Wilson, “Our hope, in addition to offering a loving option for women to choose life, is to provide women with stability, security and time (two to three years residency) in order to exit our program with education and employment in place, giving the opportunity to lead an independent life for their families.” Mary’s Shelter is a Catholic based ministry, operating mostly with volunteers. “We witness our love of the Lord,” explains Wilson, “through our example and work.”

This past year, Cana Academy established a monthly seminar program for the Mary’s Shelter residents. The seminar is on the Bible and is led by Cana’s Mary Frances Loughran and assisted by her colleague, Jeannette DeCelles-Zwerneman.

In the spirit of the gospel story of the Cana feast, Loughran makes sure to visit the joy of each resident. “We provide each resident with their own ESV bible. We wanted them to have a readable and beautiful bible of their own. We also provide them with a journal to use as they want. These two things may be the most important thing we did for the residents. They expressed heartfelt gratitude when we told them they were theirs to keep. I think the bible is a treasured possession for them.” To add further to the delightful experience, Loughran adds something sweet: “We also bring baked goods to enjoy during our discussion. The women have begun to expect and look forward to that special gift.”

The seminar is streamlined. “We only have an hour together in each session,” explains Loughran, “so our focus is to read through the material together, stopping to ask and answer questions. We try to steer clear of doctrinal concerns and stick to the basic gospel message using Luke’s gospel as our guide. We know that many of the women do not have the time to read on their own. So, when meeting together, it is important for us to read the text together.”

Kathleen Wilson believes the seminar is having good results:

“Two amazing ladies from Cana Academy, Mary Frances and Jeannette, visited our homes one or two Monday nights each month and shared scripture with our residents. This gave our residents the opportunity, maybe for the first time, to hear and understand the word and love of God and possibly to begin changes in their lives, from the inside out! We believe the hearts of our residents were changed forever.

“Our residents did not feel pressure to come to this class. Instead, they felt loved and left with hope. The feedback from our residents was so positive. One night, while Mary and Jeannette were there, one of them even wrote on our white board We love our teachers. We pray Mary Frances and Jeannette will come back next year. They were a blessing to this ministry and the women and children we serve.”

The Cana team welcomes the opportunity to hit the road for another year at Mary’s Shelter. The next season of Bible seminars starts in September.  


Andrew J. Zwerneman is president of Cana Academy.

Header image by Helen DeCelles-Zwerneman.