2007 Bernardin-O'Connor Award for Pro-life Journalism: Best Human Interest Pro-Life Story
'Getting Out of the Boat'
Arlington Priest Starts Home For Unwed Mothers
By Henrietta Gomes
Arlington Catholic Herald
Diocese of Arlington, VA
March 1, 2007
It is only a matter of time when Americans will experience
the overturn of Roe v. Wade, said Father Stefan Starzynski, who compared the
future event with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The priest, who
serves as parochial vicar of St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg, is filled
with great conviction about the end of the court ruling, which legalized
abortion in the United States in 1973, and has been preparing for the
victorious day when the procedure will meet its demise. It is a palpable
preparation for Father Starzynski, who has started the Paul Stefan Home for
Unwed Mothers, named after a parish couple’s baby who survived for only one
hour after he was born without lungs.
Thirty-seven percent of babies are born to unwed mothers,
Father Starzynski said, so at the imminent fall of abortion, “We are going
to have millions of unwed mothers.” It is imperative to be ready, but more
so, it is part and parcel of the pro-life movement to support these women
and provide a safe haven for them, he said. “We have done the marches, we
have held the banners, this is absolutely the next step.”
The abolishment of the 34-year-old court ruling may sound
absurd and foolish to some, but the priest who is certain that the fall is
forthcoming said in 1988 if you asked someone living in East or West Germany
if they thought the wall would come down, they would probably say no. “It’s
not a matter of if, but rather a matter of when,” he said. “We’re moving in
that direction. It’s only a matter of time. No evil can stand on its own,”
he said confidently.
“We have to be willing to do the ridiculous, so God can do
the miraculous,” said Father Starzynski, echoing the famous words of Mother
Angelica, foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network. He often refers
to the Poor Clare nun who started the global Catholic network 25 years ago
with $200 in a garage in Birmingham, Ala.
The priest fervently believes in miracles and has been
watching them occur one after another. It all started with a deep stirring
in his soul, said Father Starzynski, who felt called to initiate the
project. He had been praying for Randy and Evelyn James, who were having
complications during the pregnancy of their sixth child.
During an unplanned trip to Guadalupe in October 2005,
Father Starzynski prayed for the couple and their unborn baby. His continued
prayers for the James baby were intertwined with prayers for a home for
unwed mothers, and upon his return from Mexico he started a novena to St.
Andrew with some parishioners. The prayers were offered for these homes.
Within that time, the James’s had learned that their baby
would not develop lungs because his stomach and intestines were rising up to
where lungs would normally develop. Doctors advised the couple to go to
Kansas to have a late-term abortion, but the devoutly Catholic couple,
refused to consider that as an option. It was during that time when the
couple knew in their hearts that “whether or not he survives, we have to
plunge ourselves in the pro-life movement,” said Evelyn. “We just placed it
in God’s hand.”
In prayer they had felt inspired that their baby’s lungs
would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Evelyn randomly came across a message
from a compilation of quotes from the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. The
message for expectant mothers was a mother speaking to her unborn child
noting the child’s “amazing set of lungs.” It was that line that caught
Evelyn’s attention as she had just learned that her baby would not develop
lungs. At the time, it was not clear to her what it meant, but she continued
to trust in God’s greater plan.
Soon after, on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Evelyn
went into labor and the next day Paul Stefan, whose middle name was chosen
in honor of the priest who prayed for him unceasingly, was born and
baptized. He lived for about one hour before his last heartbeat. It was a
time of deep anguish, but also a profound sense of peace for the James
family, who knew that God had a distinct plan. After Paul Stefan’s funeral,
the couple began to hear more about the home for unwed mothers and felt
called to be a part of it.
During a pilgrimage to Israel in February the following
year, Father Starzynski found himself in the Prophet Elijah’s cave praying
for a release of the Holy Spirit and for the hopeful project. Upon his
return to the parish, Father Starzynski celebrated a Mass, which culminated
with a healing service. During the service he felt inspired to tell his
congregation that five parishioners who were present would donate $1,000.
After the generous act of faith was made, the concrete plans for a home for
unwed mothers would commence. As it was divinely ordained, the very next day
what the priest had prayerfully predicted came true. Upon receiving exactly
$1,000 from five different parishioners, Debbie Patterson, also a
parishioner, approached Father Starzynski and told him that her husband
would give him two homes and 50 acres of land a few miles from the parish
for one dollar a year. “So many extraordinary things have happened … that I
almost expect the extraordinary … and lots of miracles,” said the priest,
who firmly believes that the project is being guided by the Holy Spirit.
The donation was nothing short of extraordinary and
miraculous. Exactly nine months after the baby’s death, the Paul Stefan Home
for Unwed Mothers was born. With the help of Randy James and other
parishioners, the two homes were renovated. Various people and organizations
donated furniture and their services, and one of the homes is already being
After living in an area shelter, a young unwed pregnant
woman has found a safe haven at the Paul Stefan Home. She went into labor on
the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and gave birth the next day, exactly one
year after Paul Stefan was born and died. “Now, I’m convinced that this is
what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Evelyn.
The homes will allow the women to stay for up to two years
and help them get back on their feet. After an appearance on EWTN, Father
Starzynski and the organization began receiving hundreds of e-mails from
people all over the world, including the Artic and Australia, who are
interested in starting homes for unwed mothers.
“God had to pick the simple people,” the priest said humbly
of his work. It is the simple people who do not get blinded by the surface
practicalities “ … because they’ll do whatever [God] wants them to do … .”
For this type of work, God does not pick “the people who know exactly what
they’re doing,” said Father Starzynski, noting that those people will see
the logistics and explain why certain things will not be possible. The
priest, who often envisions the apostle Peter getting out of the boat and
walking toward Jesus, said the faithful must emulate Peter’s great act of
faith. “We have to have the courage to get out of the boat. If we step out
of the boat and take the next step, God will make it all happen.”
The priest’s work has certainly not ended, and neither has
Paul Stefan’s. Those who have heard of the miracles believe that the baby
who lived for an hour is using his lungs from heaven to proclaim the message
of the homes, which will provide a safe and nurturing environment to unwed
mothers and their babies. With the vision and anticipation of thousands of
these homes around the world, the miracles are not over, in fact, they have
only just begun.
For more information go to www.paulstefanhome.org.
Henrietta Gomes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org