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The Gabriel Project: Interview with Catherine McConn

P: I am happy to welcome today the founder and director of a project which more and more through out the United States, is showing the full face of the Church in response to the tragedy of abortion…a response which takes in to account not only the needs of the child in the womb but of the mother and of the entire family, and responds to those needs as a Church. I am happy to welcome Cathy McConn from Houston, TX.

C: Hello Father; it's nice to be here.

P: Tell us about this marvelous project called the Gabriel Project.

C: Well, Father, the Gabriel Project helps women in crisis pregnancy through a network of churches in a city. We have a central phone number which answers a hotline… very similar to what the crisis pregnancy centers do and Birthright does. But the difference is that the people in the church are able to help through the church and the woman who is helped knows that the help is coming from the church. And that the people who are there who believe in life and believe that abortion is wrong actually put their money where their mouth is, and do the work and help her, and provide whatever she needs. We find that mostly it is emotional support, more and more, but also financial support, transportation, medical help, anything that that church community thinks that she needs for her life to be stable at that time, for her to continue her pregnancy of course

P: How did this effort begin?

C: In 1990 I had friends in Corpus Christi who started it. And so at the time we were about to have a meeting with Bishop (Joseph) Fiorenza, here in Houston, about programs here in the diocese. And I brought the idea to him and it happens that St. Michael’s Church has had something similar to the Gabriel Project since 1974, I think. They have a cross outside their church that offers help to pregnant women. It was actually the germ of the idea for the people in Corpus Christi who started it. They had seen it here at St. Michael’s church in Houston. Our bishop, Bishop Fiorenza knew how St. Michael’s had managed this all these years, and so when I brought him the idea that we should make it a diocesan wide program and also that it would be ecumenical so any Christian church could join, he liked it very much. So he wrote a letter to his priests, and approved it. I have to say a lot of times the priests just get reams of mail, so I had a copy of the letter for interested parishioners in each parish. Some of the priests took it and said "we’re joining", some of the parishioners took it and asked their pastor, "we’re joining." And so we now have 60 churches that are members of the Gabriel Project.

P: And when a church is a member of this project, what exactly happens? First of all how do women of that local community know that there is help available if they are in a pregnancy?

C: Basically.. you are a member of the Gabriel Project if you put a sign outside of your church that says: We the members of this church community, see in the birth of each baby a fresh expression of God’s unfailing love for each and every one of his children. We offer immediate and practical help to any woman faced with what seems to be a crisis pregnancy. The only condition is that the child be allowed to live.

P: I find that very interesting wording, "what might seem to be a crisis pregnancy."

C: Yes we...actually they had used that wording in Corpus Christi. And we adjusted it a little bit for here. Ah.. but it seems to be a crisis. In other words, it seems to be just the greatest crisis of her life. But is something that is manageable and it makes people think, you know.

P: So this is a program that inspires hope…

C: Well we know that this message says things to the community at large more than helping the women who need the help. Of course some churches are on very busy streets. And so we know that the people who see it are seeing a message that we what them to see…that there is help, that a woman can always be helped all around the city, at many locations. And there are people there to help all these children who are going to be born. Our new signs also have Gabriel Project written across the top.

P: Where did the name come from?

C: The Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to be the Mother of God. And she said, "How is this to be?", and he said "nothing is impossible with God." And so we tell the girls, nothing is impossible, nothing is impossible with God. It is based on the good news that the Angel Gabriel brought. It is always good news that a child is born.

P: How would the parish that wants to become involved in the project obtain the signs?

C: If one parishioner, if one person in that church is interested , they call me or just call the same number that is on the sign. We provide the materials, we do the signs centrally, of course, and we also provide handbooks. There are two books .. On the front of all of our books is the Blessed Mother, the Madonna of the Streets…an Italian painting that is very famous. People love it. And so they want our picture more than they want anything else. But this helps the church. There is a booklet that explains how the church sets up the Gabriel Project. And I will go and give a presentation to any group in the church, the pastor, to a parish council, whoever. Some churches say yes we want to do it, they say send us the signs, send us the materials. And they know that they have to have one person in the church who answers when they come in. They have a committee of people who usually help that person to follow these girls and to be an angel to these girls. We call it an angel because we want one person to be her friend. That is the important, the most important part is that we are there to be a Christian friend. And we try to emphasize this through the program. It is not so much a social service program as it is bringing Christian love into her life. And the love of Christ, and the love of God, and something she may have forgotten .. I’m talking about the mother now, in her lifestyle that she ended up pregnant like this. So it’s possible that her roots, and her family where she grew up went to church and she knew about this. Maybe she didn’t. But we hope that by seeing people in the church who are committed to the Christian life, she will see a different type of lifestyle and maybe want to embrace that.

P: So, in other words, the pastor decides to get involved in this project, and calls to obtain both the sign and the written description of how the project works. And then what is needed is a team of these Gabriel Angels people in the parish who will then follow the cases that come forward , the individual women who need help. Tell us a little bit more about that.

C: And one person in particular to keep it organized..

P: Tell us a little bit more about how the dynamic works from the time when the women sees the sign. Now obviously, this does not have to be a member of the parish. It can be anyone going by that street, from any denomination, from anyplace.

C: Any woman from 12 years old to 40 years .. I mean whatever. Or a couple for that matter. We have helped couples too, of course. But they see it and call us. Occasionally they see it when they are driving to work. And we generally put them in touch with the Gabriel Project church that’s nearest to where they live. Because we feel like we want it to be a local effort. That the woman feels like people in her community are helping her. It’s not some central organization far away. And so we put her in touch with that church community near where she lives, and depending upon her circumstances. If she has called and said she is contemplating an abortion, we will meet with her much sooner than a woman who calls and says I think I am going to need baby clothes for this baby…and a woman who is 7 ½ months pregnant. And we get both of those kinds of calls. We actually have certain people in the project, just in the administration of the project, who will go out and visit some of the women who call us, who say "I’m looking for an abortion." And if they are willing to talk with someone we’ll go sit down and talk with them. Have coffee whatever. So that’s a little bit different. But the church people can do that also if they feel competent at that. Some people don’t, and other people do feel .. sidewalk counselors feel more at ease with that ministry.

For most of these women, their image of fatherhood is very bad. Very often these are women who have had an abusive father. So for them to love God as a father has not been an image in their life. We would like for them to see the priest or the deacon as someone who is loving, caring, that they may have seen in an old-fashioned movie, but they have never seen for real.

P: So this would be an initial visit at the early stage of the process. … After that?

C: Then they set her up with one of the Angels, someone who has volunteered…If it is a smaller parish it might be one person in the parish who takes care of the women who come there. But if it is a larger parish and they have a group which has joined the Gabriel Project, then she is assigned a Gabriel Angel. And that is a person to be her Christian friend to walk with her through this pregnancy so she does not have to tell her story to 4 different people in the parish every time. And that does not mean that her Angel has to do everything for her. By no means. The Angel is just her confidant, the one who knows all about what is going on in her life, and who calls her every week throughout this ordeal…and who also helps her get through whatever crisis she’s in at the moment. If it is transportation she might have to call someone else in the church to provide the transportation. If it is financial need then she may have to talk to some other people in the Gabriel Project, to see if they have the money, or if they want to raise the money, what her needs are.

P: In other words her Angel would be talking to the other people.

C: …would contact probably the parish coordinator and they would talk about do they have the money, do they need to meet, do they need to ask Father, do they need to… whatever. We let each church do it more or less their own way. A lot of the churches ask me more questions about finances than anything else. Generally, Medicare takes care of a lot. Most of these women do not need as much financial support as people think they might. But when they do, rent, food, whatever, it is taken care of by that church. So when the church commits to it, there is no central fund. It is the church community that raises the money. And I always tell any church that if you ever get into a bind where you really need some money and you think your church can’t handle this, call me. And I will find someone who can. And I have not had very many calls like that, I have only had a few.

P: Well you know Frederica Matthews-Green has written in her book Real Choices.

C: Yes, I have read it.

P It is interesting what conclusions she comes to after having listened to so many women who were in these situations that we just mentioned. It is not primarily a financial, economic stress that we are dealing with here when we are speaking about someone who is tempted to abort. But rather, there is a terrible sense of loneliness. And it seems to me that this is one of the strengths of the Gabriel Project … that this woman no longer feels alone, because the Christian community has come to her side.

C: And yes, so hopefully she will see a friend there.. and someone who cares. And you get different degrees of response to our care. We have one young lady who came to the Gabriel Project and was pregnant. Her parents and her boyfriend were telling her to abort. But she saw the sign so she went to the parish out there, and she said to us it was the first example of Christian love she had ever experienced in her life. She ended up miscarrying the baby, but she subsequently entered the church, and is now the Gabriel Project director at that church. She is a young, single lady. That's what we hope, that people would get their life more on track so that this does not happen with so many unplanned pregnancies…and would come back to Christ too.

P: How many parishes are doing this now nationwide, as far as we know?

C: Over 200 probably, maybe getting close to 300.

P: We would like to offer the phone number in a moment of so to people to take down and have so that both they can contact the Gabriel Project for more information or refer their pastors to it, or perhaps even if they know of people right now who need assistance before their parish gets involved formally they could certainly use this number.

C: It's 713-225-5826. That is our central number here in Houston.

P: Well this is a project which we at Priests for Life intend to promote and collaborate with you on. The priest, in his role as a minister of the Gospel, finds at the center of his ministry the obligation and the privilege of proclaiming the Gift of Life. There is no more concrete, practical way to express the love of God than to reach out to these people in this particular manner and help them to avoid what could become the most devastating mistake of their entire life, the tragedy of abortion. Thank you for work that you do, and through you I want to thank all those who throughout the country who are involved in this effort …and not only in the Gabriel Project, but in all the efforts that are underway to reach out to women, and to help them to choose life. We look forward to working together with you and why don’t we pray now for all of those who are in these terrible situations of fear and loneliness.

Lord God, we turn to you now, and we pray for those women, even those who at this moment who are pregnant and afraid. Lord God, we ask through the intercession of Mary and of the Angel Gabriel, that they be given courage...that they know that they are not alone…that they turn to Church for help. Lord we ask you preserve them from the terrible mistake of aborting their child. Rather, give them the courage to do what is right. And give us your people the courage to reach out to them. Bless the Gabriel Project. Bless all of those who are involved in it and bless all of those who in anyway strive to defend the most defenseless among us -- the children yet in the womb. We ask all of this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Click here for more information on the Gabriel Project in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston



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