In the depths of the abortion holocaust in 1980, a Protestant minister put a sign in front of his Church in Houston: “If you are pregnant and need help, call this number.” The sign promised “immediate and practical help.”
That message rocked Texas, and many churches put up the same sign. This was the beginning of a movement to help women facing a crisis pregnancy. It spread like wildfire all over the world. And in 1992, the Gabriel Project came to East Texas.
Today there are 20 active parishes in all 33 counties of the Diocese of Tyler. “We strictly follow Catholic teaching and strictly operate on the generosity of the people of East Texas,” said Collette Dockery, Gabriel Project Director for East Texas.
The process begins with a confidential phone call to 1(888)300-5112. “We are concerned with her most urgent needs,” Dockery said. “They are afraid. They don’t know what to do. They fear this is the end of their life — their hopes and dreams.”
They may need ways to stay in school, places to live, car seats, baby clothes and diapers. They are afraid they cannot care for their child. “We help them as if they were our own sister,” Dockery said. The people who do this are volunteers called “angels.”
Dockery recalls the case she handled where a woman was expecting triplets. Her husband told her to get an abortion. She refused and he left her. Many women are grieving the loss of their man as well as their hopes for the relationship.
It took three parishes to get all the help the mother of triplets needed, Dockery explained. “We were all holding baby showers. We got her cribs that turn into toddler beds, car seats, and a used washer and dryer. She’s in an apartment. She can’t go to the laundromat with triplets.”
The three girls are 8 years old now. Their mother, of course, wasn’t present at the showers because of privacy considerations, but the mothers the angels work with are able to make a list of items they need.
At Holy Family Catholic Parish in Lindale, they were barely out of their training when they got “Mama S” who was expecting twins, according to Linda Wray, Gabriel Parish coordinator at Holy Family. They spray painted a branch and added gift cards with a few things twins would need like diaper bags, car seats, clothes, bath and tub items. “People took tags off the tree. They were very generous,” Wray said. They brought these gifts to the parish.
“We had one giant car load (for Mama S). She couldn’t believe we had all these gifts for her,” Wray explained.
“It’s so much fun to help these women,” Dockery enthused. “A lot of them don’t have money or insurance. We help them locate resources such as Medicare through the state of Texas.”
Fr. Gavin Vaverek, former Respect Life Director for the diocese, noted, “the Gabriel Project is designed to be a clearinghouse of information. The mothers need love as well as diapers and clothes. The angels help them find doctors, insurance programs, and other resources. They help meet a lot of practical as well as spiritual and emotional needs. Someone cares about them, prays for them, guides them. Through these small steps they can be very helpful accompanying women on what can be a hard journey.”
To have an angel accompany you during your pregnancy, “feels good,” said one beneficiary of the program, who prefers to be unnamed. “We talk every other day. She checks up on me,” she said. The first time she met her angel, “we talked for four hours. We talked about our lives and TV shows we liked,” she said. Unlike others, she is content in her pregnancy, but she has given them a list of items she needs and they are working on it.
“I truly believe in the Gabriel Project,” affirmed Fr. Denzil Vithanage, pastor St. Patrick Catholic Church in Lufkin. “I strongly believe that every parish is pro-human life from conception to natural death. In the Gabriel Project we’re dealing with conception. What a beautiful way to see the face of the newborn Christ and to hear His cry. He’s calling you and me to see that baby. I thank God I am the fourth child. And I thank God my parents gave me life.”
Fr. Vithanage’s parish sees many walk-ins, according to Gabriel Project Coordinator, Stefanie Brunner. “We have the sign out front and people are responding.”
The parish maintains a closet of baby items and they can answer the needs of walk-ins immediately. They recently helped a pregnant woman pay her car note. Finding she had nothing to prepare for the baby, they set up a gift registry at Walmart listing items she needed. The parish came and donated through the registry.
“We found a resource to pay her electric bill,” Brunner said. They introduced her to Medicare and Food Stamps to handle the crisis until she could go back to work.
“We pray with them. We encourage them to go to church. We listen to their concerns. These women can suffer an awful lot of fear. When Mary faced an unexpected pregnancy, the first thing the Angel Gabriel said to her was ‘Fear Not.’ That’s what we are trying to do — help them to have the courage to bring their child out of the womb,” Brunner concluded.
The criticism is often made that the pro-life movement is only concerned with birth. After the child is born they no longer pay attention. The listener is made to imagine a dreadful future for the child saved from abortion. But the Gabriel Project puts the lie to that allegation.
In Lufkin, Brunner organized a whole wardrobe for twin five-year old girls to wear to kindergarten. Dockery found four children and twin babies who needed coats. She asked the mother for their sizes and arrived with coats from a coat drive in various sizes and colors. Cold weather was coming and the children were thrilled with their new coats.
“We don’t want to be pro-birth. We want to be pro-life. We help mothers after they have their babies,” Fr. Daniel Dower, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Longview said. “Nothing could be further from the truth that we don’t care what happens to them after they are born.”
People’s motivation for volunteering varies as well. For many of them being an angel meets a deep need. “I’ve seen such good come out of the Gabriel Project,” said Isabel Pratte, coordinator for Christus Love for Children, a cooperative program between Christus maternity ward and Gabriel Project. “My husband and I were told I was infertile. It’s really helped me get through our infertility. It brings us a lot of joy.”
She spends a lot of time restocking the maternity ward with diapers, crocheted baby clothes, blankets and onesies. These go to carefully screened mothers in need. “There are a lot of twins being born right now so I’m making deliveries like crazy.” And she sounds very happy doing it!
Carol Todd who is part of the committee overseeing the Gabriel Project, has been a Gabriel Project member for 10 years. “I’m meant to do this. I’ve experienced a crisis pregnancy adoption through a relative.”
She thinks Gabriel Project business has picked up since the overturn of Roe vs. Wade. “I helped pay utility bills, groceries, and buy diapers,” she said. Todd helped one woman who was in an abusive situation with her boyfriend, through more than one pregnancy. “I helped with gas and helped them get to a doctor. It is always a good feeling to help. It’s a wonderful, much needed organization.”
Melissa Aguilar, Gabriel Parish Coordinator for St. Mary’s Church in Longview, was adopted herself. “I try to do my best to help women,” she said.
To date she helped 34 women. Of that number 30 kept their children, and the other four were adopted. “I take them to the doctor’s office. I went to their prenatal appointments. I helped them with the cost. I make sure they have food to eat,” Aguilar explained.
“One woman was in line at the abortion clinic. She was crying, ‘I don’t know what to do.’” Aguilar helped one woman who was going to get an abortion put her baby in an open adoption where she could see her child as it grows up. “Her baby is three years old now, the happiest baby you want to meet,” she said.
“I grew up in a Catholic household. When I turned 12 I decided to be Catholic,” Aguilar, who raised five children of her own, said. “I want to save every baby there is. The babies are our future.”
To learn more about the Gabriel Project, or to get involved, visit www.gabrielprojecteasttexas.org.