House opened in November 2022 and welcomes women/children in need
By ANDREW HANSEN
MATTOON — It was a dark, cold night in Mattoon last December. For a mother of four girls living in the city, the night represented her year.
“I’ve had an extremely difficult year,” the mother, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “I’ve lost everything. I need help getting into my own place.”
Another young woman, also living in Mattoon, who also wished to remain anonymous, felt empty.
“I moved to Illinois in 2022,” she said. “I didn’t have much and was struggling to find a secure, safe, and stable place. I was staying with a friend for a couple of months and then was asked to leave due to ‘life happening.’”
All hope seemed lost for these women until the Catholic and pro-life community in Mattoon stepped in and offered these women things they desperately needed: love, support, resources, and a warm, comfortable place to live. That place, the St. Mary House, which opened in November of 2022, has become the symbol of hope for these women and future women who will live there.
“Having been a part of the community effort in Charleston that brought together St. Charles Borromeo Parish, the Newman Center at Eastern Illinois University, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society that walked with people in need, we saw an opportunity to provide a transitional home environment in Mattoon for women and children on the Catholic worker model,” said Father John Titus, pastor of Immaculate Conception in Mattoon and St. Columcille in Sullivan.
When a home across the street from the Immaculate Conception Church parking lot opened, the Catholic and pro-life community acted. Money was raised, the home was demolished, and the new, three-bedroom St. Mary House was built in one year.
“As Catholics, we embrace the spiritual and corporal works of mercy,” Father Titus said. “The St. Mary House is a manifestation of both, caring for body and soul and helping make it possible for women to regroup. We affirm that every life has value — born and unborn. We want to help mothers make good choices for themselves and their children at the dawn of life and in the shadows of life. When a cynical world scoffs and says as Catholics we do not care about what happens to moms and their children after birth, we can invite them to join our efforts to serve even more women and children in our community.”
For these two women, the St. Mary House has become a beacon of light in their lives.
“The home is beautiful,” the young woman said. “It’s homey and safe, and you feel nothing but love when you walk in. Physically and emotionally, this home has helped me become more OK with spending time with myself, and it has helped me create a healthy routine. I was able to find a job within walking distance so maintaining that means saving money will be a lot easier.”
For the mother of four, the St. Mary House is also giving her a new, refreshing outlook.
“You have your own private bathroom which is a plus for me,” she said. “My youngest and I love that it’s safe. There’s also a code for entry into the home. The home has given me hope that there are people out there that still care.”
Those caring people include the Springfield Dominican Sisters who offered a grant, generous individual donations, including from area businesses, and one family that gave $25,000, all which contributed to the construction of the home. The Springfield Dominicans also donated furniture. Proceeds from fundraisers in the area and more donations keep the home in operation for women and their children.
Guests of the home sign off on the “Expectations of Guests” policies and agree to a background check. The home is communal living with shared house responsibilities. The food is shared and the home offers commonly used items. The home has a washer and dryer, and volunteers are “on the house” throughout the week, which means while they are not babysitters, Uber drivers, cooks, or housekeepers, they may voluntarily come to assist in any of those capacities, and they are a caring presence who visit and help the guests to become acquainted with the larger community and often help guests plug into community resources. Each guest has a volunteer contact person who meets regularly with them to discuss personal and financial goals. There is no charge for rent or utilities, and there is no expiration date for a guest’s stay, but they need to develop an exit strategy. This is part of their regular discussion with their contact person. The St. Mary House is run by an independent board and is registered as a not-for-profit. While there is no formal or financial relationship with Immaculate Conception Parish, the faithful play an active role.
“When you give people the opportunity to be generous and do good things according to the Catholic principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, then you will change hearts and lives in time and for eternity,” Father Titus said.
“I am extremely thankful to the Catholic community,” the mother of four said. “It has put my faith back that people still help and that there are angels among us still.”
“This is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to care for myself solely and learn that it is OK to be alone,” the young woman said. “Staying at the St. Mary House has helped me in so many ways, and I am beyond thankful to everyone that was involved in the making of this beautiful home.”
Want to support the St. Mary House?
Mail checks made out to “St. Mary House” to: St. Mary House, 320 N. 21st St., Mattoon, IL 61938.