Celebrating life during the Year of Mercy

St. Joan of Arc parishioners throw baby shower for mothers in need


CUMBERLAND — On a recent Saturday afternoon, a baby shower was in full swing at St. Joan of Arc Church, Cumberland. Three mothers sat opening presents while a roomful of women in sundresses admired each new gift and passed around sandwiches and cake. The event was full of its usual warmth, so much so that a newcomer might never realize the mothers and guests had met for the first time only an hour before.

The baby shower was part of an effort by St. Joan’s, in particular the parish’s Men of St. Joseph group, to participate in more community projects during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The guests were St. Joan of Arc parishioners, while the mothers were young women receiving support from the Little Flower Home, a Catholic organization dedicated to providing housing and other resources to mothers in crisis pregnancies. The Little Flower Home had connected the women with the parishioners, who were eager not only to offer support but to celebrate with them.

“We invited everyone in the parish who would like to join us,” said Mary Jane Nolan, one of the organizers of the shower. “When we found out the number of pregnant homeless young women in the state, we had to act on it.”

Planning for the baby shower began with the Men of St. Joseph, a parish men’s group dedicated to developing spiritual leadership in family and community life. Steven Nolan, a parishioner and member, explained how Pope Francis inspired the group to take on a more active role during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began in December and extends until November.

“With the Year of Mercy, we decided to take on some projects,” he said. “In the past we’ve done some evangelizing, but we decided to go after more tangible things. It was perfect timing with the pope.”

The men chose several “Year of Mercy projects” to participate in, including greeting parishioners at the door of the church, offering rides to Mass, organizing an end-of-life health seminar for the elderly and protesting outside an abortion clinic. However, they discovered their largest project so far when George O’Loughlin of the Little Flower Home came to speak at one of the group’s meetings about the challenges faced by pregnant and homeless women in the state. The men decided the best way to support mothers in need was to hold a baby shower. They started planning, but quickly realized they would need to bring in some help.

“Men usually aren’t very good at planning baby showers, so we decided to get the women and the wives involved,” said Steven, laughing.

Steven’s wife, Mary Jane, and several other women took on leadership roles, and soon the baby shower had become a parish effort. Parishioners donated more than a hundred gifts, many of them homemade, and offered cash donations toward gift cards for the new mothers and used baby items to be given directly to the Little Flower Home. Others helped with decorations and food, making the shower a colorful event that would not only offer material support, but give the women a chance to celebrate their babies.

“It’s not enough to have them choose life. You’ve got to support them,” said Mary Jane.

Out of the three women honored at the shower, two had recently given birth while a third was expecting in May. The two infants attended with their mothers, to the delight of the parishioners, who were happy to hold the babies and ask about their progress as the mothers ate and opened gifts.

“It’s kind of funny when you see these miracles right in front of your own eyes,” said Mary Jane as she watched the babies interact with the parishioners.

For one of the mothers, her own role at the shower came as a surprise. Sarah Politano had originally planned to attend as a guest and friend of another mother but was surprised to find when she arrived that the parishioners, learning another new mom would be in attendance, had prepared gifts for her and 8-week-old Gabriel as well. Politano spoke about her experiences with the Little Flower Home, which she discovered via an online search engine after learning she was pregnant.

“People really came through,” she said. “The Church really came through. It’s brought me back to my faith.”

The Little Flower Home connected Politano with a host mom, who supported her throughout her pregnancy. The two developed a close relationship, and the host mom now serves as godmother to Gabriel and helped Politano, who attends St. Pius V Church in Providence, to reconnect with her faith.

Lareal O’Loughlin, a longtime volunteer and host mother for the Little Flower Home, said that though parishes often hold collections of baby items, this was the first time a parish has thrown a full baby shower with mothers in attendance.

“It’s so special. I really am in awe,” she said as she watched the mothers open their gifts. She explained how much of the support for the Little Flower Home comes from the mothers themselves, who often give back once their baby has outgrown certain items or they are back on their feet. In this way, the gifts of the parishioners could go even further than helping the three women and be used by new mothers for years to come.

“It’s all a cycle of give and take,” she said.

For the parishioners and the Men of St. Joseph, the day was all about celebrating life and conveying God’s mercy to those open to receiving it. Mary Jane spoke admiringly of the three women, who chose to give birth and support their babies emotionally and materially despite difficult circumstances.

“I can’t imagine wanting to honor anyone more than someone who chooses life,” she said.