The Catholic Thing
Saying Yes to Life Print E-mail
By Kathryn-Jean Lopez   
Thursday, 29 December 2011

“He will have the most amazing set of lungs.”

Paul Stefan James lived for only forty-two minutes – with a heartbeat, but never taking a breath. It seemed like a cruel coincidence that his mother’s Chicken Soup for a Mother’s Soul calendar had those words to offer on his birth date.

But within about a human gestational period, a maternity home would open in his name, and the first baby born to a mother housed there arrived a year after Paul’s birthday. “This is his lungs,” said Paul’s father, Randy James, standing in the hearth of one of the four maternity homes run by the Paul Stefan Foundation in the state of Virginia. “And it is amazing.”

“I was just told to drop the subject and drop the baby as soon as possible,” Shama Khan, one of the mothers who have called a Paul Stefan home her temporary residence, remembers. Shama’s family was ashamed of her and her unwed pregnancy and just wanted it to be gone. Feeling as if she had no other options, Shama went, alone, for an abortion.

“After what seemed like an eternity in the waiting room,” she recalls, “I was then taken into an exam room and asked to watch a short video in preparation for the ‘procedure.’ The video made it seem like it was a quick in-and-out procedure and that I’d have my life ‘back to normal’ in no time. Next the doctor laid me on the exam table and began the exam and ultrasound. I couldn’t see anything but could hear a swishing sound. I asked what that sound was and the doctor replied it was a heartbeat. I thought to myself, ‘A heartbeat? Really? At only 5-7 weeks?’”

That perception made her too tense for the procedure. She took it as a sign that she was going to do whatever it took to see her pregnancy through.

“My income was not enough to support me and my newborn. . . .I had the ability to give birth to my child but not the means to raise her. I nearly fell into depression. The thought of adopting out my firstborn was tearing me apart. Seriously, were there no other options? Section 8 housing was closed in the state of Virginia, low-income housing was being offered only after placing my name on a three-year waiting list, and most shelters in the area were full and only offered a 30-day solution. I had WIC and a few other benefits but no place to live. I was a paycheck away from being on the street; in reality I would be homeless as soon as my time in the family home ran out.”

Khan’s case is an example of the Paul Stefan Foundation’s flexibility, working with women where they are, making the world they find themselves in as welcoming to their choice to embrace their child’s life – either to care for them at one of the foundation’s own facilities, or to put them in a loving family’s arms.

Normally a woman will be pregnant when she is taken in. Shama Khan had already had her child, and was living in a home courtesy of Catholic Charities. Having welcomed life, she did not have the resources on her own to support herself and her child, but she was willing to work. The mission of the Paul Stefan homes is to make sure that these moms have a fighting chance.

                    Madonna del Parto [detail] by Piero della Francesca (c. 1460)    

“People say miracles don’t happen,” Randy reflects. But he feels like he is living one.

Which obviously does not mean he has an easy life or is without suffering.

When Randy and his wife Evelyn were told that the baby she was carrying would be “incompatible with life,” a doctor – who, like Randy and Evelyn, is Catholic – suggested terminating the pregnancy. But they wouldn’t, and Randy says that “yes” to life put them on a path through a whole series of life-saving yeses.

Their story is, in many ways, rooted in the Nativity:  “Just like Mary said ‘yes,’ we just said yes and followed the course. We have no ideas why God picked us; we just keep praying for us daily. It has been like a light was out there, showing us where to go. He opens doors.”

And there’s certainly that at the Paul Stefan homes:  open doors. Mothers are referred from Catholic Charities and social services, and they come on their own, after Googling “maternity home.” They come from Chicago, New York, Iowa. They come from all around Virginia.

It weighs on Randy that there are three abortion centers in Charlottesville and no homes. They’d like “to open up a couple more to fill the state,” and have expansion plans into Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

“Yes” is a constant in the story of the Paul Stefan Foundation. The homes are warm, welcoming, child-friendly environments, but not free babysitting or free rides. Staff helps make connections to job skills, education, and transportation, helping women know what services are available to them.

Frequently these young mothers have been “abandoned by those who love them the most,” Evelyn notes. Taking baby steps, guided by a loving hand, will get them moving forward.

“One of the things we have in common is the brokenness and suffering,” the James’ parish priest, Fr. Stefan Starzynski, who is spiritual adviser for the homes (which serve women of all faiths and no faith), tells me.

We argue a lot about abortion, especially during presidential campaigns and elections. At homes like Paul Stefan’s or the Visitation Mission in uptown Manhattan or Maggie’s Place in Phoenix and Cleveland or the Northwest Center in Washington, D.C., or Good Counsel in New Jersey, all rhetoric stops, the healing begins, and life is lived with love.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She can be e-mailed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Comments (8)Add Comment
written by Tammy, December 29, 2011
I was in the room when Shama gave that amazing speech and her testimony was so powerful and eloquent.

When the issue of abortion comes up in discussion in the big world, I will freely admit that Im tired of fighting with people about it, our culture spends too much of its time and resources fighting this issue. If we instead spent those same resources housing, feeding, clothing and nurturing young women in crisis, we would have nothing to fight about. And that is why I love the Paul Stefan Homes ...they do the corporeal works of mercy to care for those who have no other options left.

I am honored to know Randy and Evelyn James and proud to support their apostolate.
written by Louise, December 29, 2011
"If we instead spent those same resources housing, feeding, clothing and nurturing young women in crisis, we would have nothing to fight about."

If we spent those same resources cultivating--and demanding (through our wallets) that the media cultivate--the virtues of modesty, chastity, and self-restraint, and teaching our children to respect for others (and themselves), to recognize others (and themselves) as having been made in the image and likeness of God, supporting the dignity of others as persons and not as tools for our own pleasure and satisfaction, demanding that Catholic politicians be held accountable and not coddled or thinking that they can be taught to respect what they have no respect for, we wouldn't need to spend those resources on either of the above noble causes. In the mean time, we save a child here and a teenager there (which is no small thing), while our culture is debased and ultimately destroyed. Merry Christmas.
written by TeaPot562, December 29, 2011
In the 1930s - early 1950s virtues such as modesty seemed much more acceptable to the media. Yet our teens still knew or discovered sex; and a number became pregnant. Proportionately more babies carried to term were put out for adoption, and their mothers had a "cover story" for the months away from their usual homes. Abortions still existed - probably fewer proportionately than the years since 1973, a/c illegal to some extent in most states.
Currently a sad situation is that few mothers in this situation - perhaps less than 10% - seriously consider adoption. If the father (of the child) is not willing or able to commit to marriage and support, the mother and child often wind up on welfare and in poverty. Getting an education that allows self-support at a comfortable economic level is a challenge at best. With a small dependent child it becomes more like climbing Mt. Everest for a woman in this situation. Some succeed, but they are truly exceptional.
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
written by Kathryn Jean Lopez, December 31, 2011
Dear 11bravo, I am so sorry about your siblings ... so many of us have faced difficult, painful decisions. Raye, as spokesman for the Schindler foundation, believes that we ought to be a little more open to life. Not by any means necessary but certainly by being open to feeding a person. As he said: “I know that there are a lot of complex issues involved. But in the case of Terri, she didn’t need any extraordinary means. She wasn’t on a respirator. She simply needed food and water to stay alive." I'm really not interested in accusing anyone of anything but of encouraging an openness to life, even when it's difficult. God bless you in the new year.
written by ProfMom, December 31, 2011
11Bravo: Nowhere in Catholic doctrine does it say we have to keep people alive by any means necessary. Fatally injured people need not be kept alive on plugs - respirators, etc. No one who has faced the decision to keep a loved one "alive" on a machine is guilty of anything if they do not do so. Neither Kathryn nor anyone else has accused you of killing anyone.

But your post has the potential to confuse people on an issue that is already emotionally wrenching and which was distorted by inaccurate and biased media coverage. As Kathryn notes, Terri Schiavo was not on a respirator. She was not comatose. She was not in a "persistent vegetative state." She was not being kept alive artificially. She was starved and dehydrated to death. Her death was no more natural than a baby's would be if you simply stopped feeding it.

We don't starve babies, or sick people, or old people, or injured people, or disabled people. We don't claim that feeding the helpless is "extraordinary care." That fairly straightforward principle should be obvious. The fact that it isn't; that so many could claim that starving and dehydrating Terri Schiavo was something that ought to have been done is proof of how desperately we need "fervent" believers to remind us of value of all life, and the risks inherent is deciding that some lives have value, and some do not.
written by Tammy, December 31, 2011
Profmom, Thank you for your post. As a nurse who has worked in end-of-life care (a little with adults, mostly for critically ill babies) I've interacted with a lot of Catholics and other pro-life Christians who have a poor understanding of the proper ethics of end of life care.

ProfMom is right, we dont starve people but neither do we force people to submit to terribly burdensome treatment when there is no expectation for recovery. Allowing natural death in an unchangeable situation isnt "killing" anyone. Please know though, Ive read many articles written by poorly informed Catholic lay people (even some associated with well funded prolife organizations) who misinform people on this topic. There are reliable sources of info , my 2 favorite are the USCCB website and the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

11Bravo, please dont let some misinformed person condemn you in the caring you provided for your loved ones.
written by Tammy, December 31, 2011
For the sake of clarity, I am not familiar with Ms Lopez's article 11Bravo referenced and Ms Lopez surely isnt the "poorly informed Catholic laypeople" I mentioned above. From what I know of her writing, she is reliable on this topic. Come to think of it, I would love to see her write a piece on "common misunderstandings" in Catholic Bioethics.

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