Cheryl Calire likes to borrow a phrase from Pope Francis when she says, "Open your hearts to life." Director of the Office of Pro-Life Activities in the Diocese of Buffalo, Cheryl and her caring staff continually seek new ways to help expectant mothers open their hearts and choose the gift of life for their unborn child. The opening of the St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center on Church Street in downtown Buffalo is a recent example of how the office is doing just that.
In its first year, starting out at St. Vincent DePaul on Main Street, the Center assisted about 200 women with services to help them before, during and after childbirth. That number grew each year, especially after the move to a more central location downtown. Last year, the Center served more than 1,000 pregnant women, helping to protect God's great gift of life with love and compassion. Cheryl Calire describes their mission as "saving lives in the coffee shop" as they meet the women where they are to help them make the choice for life.
"Our ministry brings the love of Christ to these women and we are able to change hearts and minds by talking, understanding and caring according to His example," she explained. "When they open their hearts to life, the Center is there to help at every step, from connecting them with prenatal care and counseling services to assisting in bringing the baby safely home from the hospital."
The Center is named for St. Gianna Molla, an Italian physician who, when complications arose in pregnancy with her fourth child, decided to sacrifice her own life so that her unborn daughter could live. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1994 and inspires the Center's ministry of Christ's great love for every person.
While the number of women seeking services grows, the Center relies strictly on donations to fund essentials such as transportation for the expectant mothers to doctor appointments; diapers and supplies; and car seats and cribs for the baby's safety. The Foundation presented a grant to the Center this year to help fund more than a month's supply of these items, enabling more women and their children to be served.
"The Diocese of Buffalo is committed to promoting all human life through the love Christ taught us and the grant to the Center is one example of how we support that commitment day in and day out," said Richard Suchan, Foundation Executive Director.
The grant helped the Center purchase new car seats that meet the latest safety standards, as well as pack and play cribs that ensure the infants have a safe place to sleep when they go home with their mothers. Many of the women served by the Center are poor and have next to nothing to start out a new life with their child.
Cheryl Calire said she could write a book from the remarkable stories of expectant women the Center has helped. She tells of a Muslim couple from Pakistan who, despite a language barrier and religious differences, decided to have their baby after hours of discussion with Cheryl.
Another account involved a young, expectant mother with three children who had to flee an abusive husband in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their backs. In the eleventh hour, the Center helped her reach out to the community, and in less than a couple of days, they had a furnished apartment for the family and so many donated items, a storage space had to be rented.
A young woman named Jennifer had decided to end her pregnancy but changed her mind after meeting with Cheryl and her staff at the St. Gianna Pregnancy Outreach Center. In an e-mail to the center, the expectant mother wrote, "God must have heard my cries because in the most helpless and hopeless time of my life, He placed Cheryl and the Center in my path. Thank you Father for these precious saints."
Cheryl said those success stories will continue to be told as word is out about the Center, in family courts, hospitals, and other family service organizations. She noted that the Center offers the perfect opportunity to evangelize in the Catholic faith and that is what sets them apart from other pregnancy outreach organizations.
"Reaching out to those in need is the call of our Catholic belief and through the Center we are witnesses to Christ's love regardless of the expectant mother's religious background," she concluded. "We would not be able to do that without the support of our donors and funding such as the Foundation grant."More information on the St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach center is available at www.buffalodiocese.org/prolife