Thursday, January 7, 2016
Anne DiBernardo - Florida Catholic
Photography: JONATHAN MARTINEZ | FC
HOLLYWOOD | Calling it “a real living witness to the mercy of our God,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski blessed the archdiocesan Respect Life Ministry’s new “life center”—Our Lady of Hope Expectant—Dec. 18.
The 5,000 square foot center, located at 4747 Hollywood Blvd., became a reality thanks to a generous donation from an anonymous donor and the vision of Respect Life Director Joan Crown.
In 2009, the ministry lost all its funding due to budget cuts, and the staff had to vacate the Miami Gardens building which had housed both the administrative offices and the North Dade Pregnancy Help Center for 30 years.
The administrative offices moved into a small temporary space inside the former Madonna Academy in West Park, and the North Dade Pregnancy Center moved to Miami Lakes. Our Lady of Hope Expectant now houses both the administrative offices and the South Broward Pregnancy Help Center, formerly located just up the street at 5600 Hollywood Blvd.
When things looked bleakest, Crown and her staff prayed for God to provide a light in the darkness. Not knowing how it would come to pass, they decided their new permanent home would be named Our Lady of Hope Expectant.
Their prayers were answered when the faith-filled donor purchased the 5,000-square-foot space for the ministry. “This is Mary’s money and she would want this,” he told Crown. She received word of the sale May 13, 2014, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
Although the center has been open for about four months, the blessing was delayed due to scheduling conflicts. The 80 or so people in attendance included priests, respect life volunteers, parish representatives, benefactors, and members of the Knights of Columbus.
“After many, many long days of very hard work we are ready to ask the Lord to bless us and our surroundings so that we may carry out his work in service of the least among us,” Crown said.
She also listed some puzzling challenges that she and her crew faced during the last year and seven months.
“We wondered if because we’re in this battle with life and death, if we were being challenged even harder. We moved closer to an abortion mill, and strange things kept happening. Not one thing but several things,” Crown said.
“The (ceiling) collapsed three times after we had a new roof put on—I was literally standing in here with an umbrella one day. On another occasion a brand new door handle fell to the ground in pieces so that the girls could not come in. These things kept us on our knees and we asked, ‘Lord, why are these things happening to us?’ But among all of this there were always signs that the Lord was with us.”
One of those signs, Crown recalled, was “when St. Michael paid us a visit. I was outside up on a ladder for about 30 minutes trying to remove the name of the former owner on the glass door with a chisel and hammer; they were very sharp metal letters and I couldn’t do it. Then I hear this voice behind me say, ‘May I do that for you?’ There was a young man who looked like he was in his 30s. I didn’t know him so I said, ‘Thanks but I’ll eventually get them off.’
“He then said, ‘In the name of Jesus, may I do that for you?’ It was so commanding so I said, okay, and got off the ladder. He got up on the ladder and the letters peeled off like tin foil. I asked, ‘How did you do that?’ and he replied, ‘I have my ways.’
“‘What is your name?’ I asked, and he replied, ‘Michael.’
“‘Like Raphael and Gabriel?’ I asked, and he replied, ‘Exactly,’ and said, ‘God bless you,’ got on his bike and he rode away.’”
“Many of you have been our angels, showing up right when we needed help,” Crown continued. “Mopping up water, installing cabinets, and praying with us that we could move our center and not drop services for anyone in the process.”
She noted that the center has averaged 283 office visits per month since the move. Project Joseph, a Franciscan outreach ministry for fathers in at-risk pregnancies, has had its largest class in the new center.
“We would not be here without our donors,” said Crown, recognizing an extensive list of supporters and benefactors who helped make the center a reality by donating their time, money and materials.
Although the building was sound, it needed a new roof, new air-conditioning and a complete interior renovation to transform the dated maze of office space into a welcoming and uplifting haven for families seeking assistance.
The center includes offices, an ultrasound room and counseling spaces. Aside from Project Joseph, it offers Earn While You Learn, an enrichment program for pregnant couples; Project Rachel, a post-abortive healing program; and counseling for every woman who comes into the center for a free pregnancy test and ultrasound services.
The furniture and decorations for each room were donated by the parishes in South Broward. Each is identified by a placard hanging above the entry to the room.
Fundraising will be ongoing to defer the cost of operating the facility, but Archbishop Wenski, in his remarks, congratulated everyone—staff, volunteers and donors—calling them the “soul of this place.”
“The Year of Mercy was invoked by Pope Francis to convince us of the closeness, of the nearness of our God to us,” he said. “Certainly in this center you are going to see, in the coming days and months and years, every one of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and so this is a sign and a real living witness to the mercy of our God.”
After blessing each room, he blessed those who serve there, praying that they might bring Christ’s healing to those wounded by abortion and blessings to those who are in crisis.
“The episcopal blessing is something we have been waiting for,” said Sandy Lebel, who took over as director of the South Broward Pregnancy Center three months ago.
“It’s been a difficult three months,” she added. In the midst of moving, she was hit with a state audit, not to mention the ceiling caving in three times.
“I had no idea we could make this big a difference,” she said. “My passion is to get parishes and community to know why we are here, what we represent and what we have to offer. When we see people come through the center we can feel the Holy Spirit and have such a sense of mission… There is a spiritual victory today that is palpable.”