PROVIDENCE — About seven years ago Cindy Conroy, a retired middle and high school special education teacher, decided to take a more active role in her faith, in part as a way of giving back for the blessings she had received in her life.
Sixteen years ago, her husband had faced a life-threatening health crisis and prayer had helped the couple through it. Seeing the power of prayer at work in her life, Conroy wanted to harness and focus that energy to save even more lives.
She became a volunteer in the diocese’s pro-life ministry, which as part of its mission extends support to pregnant women who may not be fully prepared financially to have a child.
For three hours one day each week she volunteers in the Office of Life and Family’s St. Gabriel’s Call ministry, which, while based out of an office at the diocesan chancery building, also provides for those in need in satellite offices around the diocese.
“We give material help so people will have their babies,” Conroy says as she waits for her first client of the day to arrive for infant formula and other needed supplies.
The ministry also helps by providing car seats, cribs, clothes, gift cards and other supplies, either donated to the office or purchased by the Office of Life and Family with funds it receives to operate from the annual Catholic Charity Appeal.
Local parishes and schools, including St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket and St. Luke School in Barrington also do their part in helping the ministry by taking up in pew collections or holding St. Gabriel’s Call baby showers to collect supplies to help infants and families.
While the office offers assistance to anyone in need, the volunteers, including Conroy, also encourage those they help to follow the light of Christ in raising their children.
“I try to mentor these women and counsel them,” she says. “I’m just a friend and try to involve spirituality as well. We encourage them to have their children baptized.”
Conroy also serves on the diocese’s Human Life Guild Board and is involved with the St. Vincent de Paul Ministry and in the pro-life ministry at her home parish of St. Paul in Cranston.
But her volunteer work with St. Gabriel’s Call also gives the retired teacher a special joy.
“I love seeing the little children too, they’re so cute,” she smiles.
On a recent Wednesday, one of those little children was Jayden, just three weeks old. Jayden’s mother, Ciera, came to the office with her newborn and his two school age siblings to request some assistance toward a security deposit for an apartment.
In the latter half of her pregnancy Ciera was unable to work for health reasons, and the family moved in temporarily with relatives. But now, she is about to be cleared to return to work and will need to move into their own place.
“It means a lot to have the Church provide help for the kids,” Ciera said of the infant formula, clothes for the children and rental assistance she was seeking.
Carol Owens, director of the Office of Life and Family, said she is amazed at the outpouring of support people continue to show toward the pro-life ministry and its efforts to encourage women, especially those at economic and other risk, to have their baby and not take what others may encourage as an easier way out by aborting their child.
“We’ll do whatever we can to help these women,” Owens said. “The mom’s we serve are grateful for the assistance, the friendship, the guidance and the prayers. Many return with baby items once their baby has grown to help other moms. They want to give back to others.”
The Office of Life and Family Ministry has been serving local mothers since April 2006. Prior to the inception of St. Gabriel’s Call, the diocesan office offered training to parishes that wanted to begin their own. One parish in the Diocese of Providence accepted that responsibility. All Saints Parish in Woonsocket offer The Gabriel Project for many years. This ministry was officially turned over to the diocese when the coordinator retired.
Owens said that the office tries to “think outside the box” with their assistance, often referring families to other diocesan ministries, recently, assisting the Diocesan Immigration and Refugee Ministry with cribs and other baby needs.
“The more moms learn about our services, the more the calls.”
The ministry is a multi-faceted diocesan program, a response to pregnant mothers in need with a message that says “be not afraid.”
“It is a pro-life ministry that offers assistance to women during a crisis or unplanned pregnancy and continues to assist beyond pregnancy,” said Owens. “It is a way to evangelize young women that come to the Church for help and support. Our staff and our Gabriel volunteers bring Jesus to moms where they are in life.”
During the celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to be particularly attentive to ways they may exhibit God’s mercy by serving the needs of those in their communities and around the world. To offer a donation to help the numerous ministries served by the annual diocesan Catholic Charity Appeal, please visit: https://providencediocese.thankyou4caring.org