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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ss Simon & Jude Convent to Become Shelter For Pregnant Women

Instead of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the convent at Saints Simon & Jude Catholic Church, located at 6th and Broad in Bethlehem, will soon be home to 6 or 7 pregnant women. Bethlehem's zoners, in a unanimous May 26 ruling, paved the way for Mary's Shelter to "bring hope to the hopeless," in the words of Bethlehem supporter David Muething.

Executive Director Christine Folk told the Zoning Hearing Board that, as ironic as it sounds, convents are actually an "ideal location" for pregnant women in need of housing because they are "designed for group living." In the eight bedrooms available, a "house mother" will occupy what was the Mother Superior's bedroom. The remaining seven bedrooms will be available for pregnant women with an average age between 17 and 25.

During their stay, pregnant guests will get an education, job training and learn to be self-sufficient. Folk testified that a professional social worker will be at the convent during the day, and there will be supervision by between two and four employees, 24 hours per day. Once the child is born, the new mother will be able remain at the convent for up to six months.

Mary's Shelter already operates at two different locations in Reading and, according to Folk, is licensed by the Department of Public Welfare. She added that seven different states are now using their program as a model.

Asked whether neighbors should be concerned about visits from the fathers, Folk told zoners that "[u]nfortunately, the fathers of the babies are not usually involved."

John McGeehan, a Public Safety Administrator with Northampton County and a parishioner at Saint Simon's, said that a "home for unwed mothers is highly laudable, but not right next to the Church." Although he acknowledged that he's pro-life, he was also troubled by a home for unwed mothers being located right next to Seton Hall Academy, a Catholic school. "Young children in the Church, in the school and in the neighborhood will ask: 'What is an unwed mother?'"

McGeehan noted that 48 churches have closed in the Allentown Diocese, and is dismayed by the "cavalier attitude" he sees from the Church.

But his strongest point is a provision in the Bethlehem Zoning Ordinance that prohibits any residential treatment facility within 800 feet of another. McGeehan produced an aerial map that clearly demonstrates that Valley Youth House, a residential treatment facility at 539 8th Avenue, is only 458 feet from the convent. "No means No," argued McGeehan.

Attorney John Miravich, representing Mary's Shelter, denied that this proposed home for pregnant women provides is a "treatment" facility.

West Bethlehem resident David Muething also took issue with McGeehan's claim that this home is inappropriate so close to a Catholic Church. "This is very much in keeping with the values of the Catholic Church," he argued.

In addition to this home, Catholic Charities has a program for the "adoption" of unwed mothers by "special friends" to give these women a safe place to stay.

Immediately after the hearing, McGeehan was excommunicated and struck by a lightning bolt as he tried to cross the street.


Charlie Dent said...

A quick abortion or some RU-486 would save a lot of money here, and keep the minority population down. Let's adopt a more progressive approach to deal with overbreeding indigents.

Les Lee said...

catholics don't care where the little buggers come from as long as they grow up and give more money to the church and then make more little buggers to do the same.

michael molovinsky said...

not to sound like, but five employees for six pregnant girls? allentown is full of pregnant girls, actually so is the high school. haven't heard the term unwed mother for decades. here's an idea, why don't they live with their parents if they're not self-sufficient.

Bernie O'Hare said...

MM, There is one house mother in the evening, one social worker during the day, and there are 2 PT employees who give the FT employees a break. So most of the time, there will only be one person on duty. And the whole point of this home is these unwed mothers cannot stay with their real families. There are plenty of people who can stay with mom or dad. These women cannot.

michael molovinsky said...

bernie, i looked at the web site, and it certainly is written to sound like a desirable program, fifty years ago. the amount of young girls having babies is staggering. i fully supported continuation of programs at the high school which addressed this reality in our society. it's what home economics classes are currently about, not sewing like 40 years ago. i question if the circumstances of those 6 girls is really that different than hundreds if not thousands of others. does it make sense to cut the school budgets which address hundreds of pregnant girls and then subsidize a program like this? apparently this program makes people feel good about supporting it, perhaps more of a testimony about the public relation skills of the director sign me cynical bastard

Bernie O'Hare said...

Unfortunately, the circumstances of these women (average age is now 17 to 25) is not much different than that of many others.

But nobody is cutting school budgets to subsidize this program. This is paid for by private donations, not public grants. That was the testimony last night.

Some nuns are actually involved in the program. It's a Catholic response to unexpected pregnancy.

Home ec classes may deal with similar issues. But last night, Ms. Folk testified that she's been approached by young ladies who don't even know what utilities are, and some of them dropped out of school before taking those home ec classes.

michael molovinsky said...

mcGeehan must have been very exasperated. it's clearly a treatment center, as it's expanded website clearly states. ah, the grayness of zoning, mixed with political correctness

Bernie O'Hare said...

McGeehan made an excellent argument and may very well be right. The attorney representing the home stated it is not a residential treatment center, but treatment is defined to include social work. He claimed to have a litany of caselaw to support his position, and McGeehan responded, "You may need it."