On Angel's Wings: Gabriel Angels provide caring outreach, practical assistance during pregnancies

by Joan Kurkowski Gillen

North Texas Catholic

Angela Walters, diocesan coordinator of Gabriel Project, and her husband, Bob Walters, show some of the items mothers in crisis pregnancies receive when they reach out to Gabriel Project.Angela Walters, diocesan coordinator of Gabriel Project, and her husband, Bob Walters, show some of the items mothers in crisis pregnancies receive when they reach out to Gabriel Project.
Angela Walters, diocesan coordinator of Gabriel Project, and her husband, Bob Walters, show some of the items mothers in crisis pregnancies receive when they reach out to Gabriel Project. The help doesn't stop there. Gabriel Project advocates help needy mothers with prayerful and emotional support as well. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)


A week before Mother’s Day, Gwen Rein received a surprise gift in the mail. The framed photograph was beautiful, but, more touching, were the words included with the thoughtful gesture.

“You made a difference in my life at a time when I really needed someone to be there,” the sender wrote.

That heartfelt compliment came from a single mother Rein met through her work with the Gabriel Project. Launched by a Houston priest in 1973 after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, the program encourages women in a crisis pregnancy to choose life. In addition to providing material necessities like diapers, clothing, and cribs, the Gabriel Project offers moms-to-be spiritual and emotional guidance regardless of their personal situation or religious beliefs.

Today the parish-based outreach ministry is found in 28 states across the U.S. 

A Gabriel Project volunteer in the Diocese of Fort Worth for three years, Rein was assigned to help a former Hurricane Katrina refugee who was pregnant, couldn’t pay her rent, and had no immediate family in the area.

“A lot of times, these girls don’t have the support we take for granted and give our own kids,” Rein pointed out. “You always want to make that big change in someone’s life. I’ve learned it’s just the little things we can do.”

Facing insurmountable problems, the Gabriel mentor convinced the distressed mother to reach out to older siblings living in Houston. She moved to the area and is flourishing.

“She has an apartment and a car. All the things we talked about, she’s been able to achieve,” said Rein who calls the new mom every few weeks. “I just want to tell her how proud I am. That’s why we continue to have conversations.”

“SOMEBODY TO WALK WITH THEM”
Women anxious about an unplanned pregnancy find the Gabriel Project through referrals, word of mouth, and signs posted outside churches. Search engines also point the way to information.

“Google the words ‘pregnancy help’ and Gabriel Project is one of the websites that pop up,” shared Angela Walters, longtime pro-life advocate and Gabriel Project coordinator for the Diocese of Fort Worth. “People are finding us more and more on the internet.”

An expectant mother visits an Angel House to get necessary supplies for her baby. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)An expectant mother visits an Angel House to get necessary supplies for her baby. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)
Gabriel Angels sort through supplies. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)


Part of the diocesan pro-life movement for more than two decades, the outreach ministry came under the administrative auspices of Catholic Charities Fort Worth in 2017. The social service agency now handles the Gabriel Project’s fundraising, publicity, and promotion. Walters manages personnel and is continually searching for community resources that will benefit moms. 

Currently, 100 Gabriel Angels from 26 parishes care for 216 women who are either pregnant or have a child under the age of 18 months. Most of the clients are in their early 20s, unmarried, and receive some form of government assistance. The women are in a “crisis” pregnancy, with crisis defined by the person asking for support.

“If she calls and says she needs help, we consider that a crisis,” Walter stated matter-of-factly.

Often estranged from their parents, many expectant moms have no family support system and struggle with housing issues. Some live in shelters or “couch surf” at a friend’s home. Gabriel Angels often network with the St. Vincent de Paul Society and other charities to find money for a client’s rent and utility bills.

“They need diapers, wipes, and baby clothing but, really and truly, they are reaching out for more than that,” Walters suggested. “They’re looking for somebody to walk with them, be with them, and love them.” 

Young, vulnerable mothers-to-be don’t want a substitute mother or psychologist.

“They need a friend,” she added.

ANGEL HOUSES BROADEN ACCESS
Jane Bosworth began working with Gabriel Project moms when she lived in Houston and was happy when Angela Walters helped start the ministry at her new parish, St. Bartholomew, five years ago. Today, the church community is home to the largest Gabriel Project outreach in the diocese. Eleven volunteers serve 80 mothers who range in age from 15 to 40.

An Angel House, set up in a parish building, stores bins of donated clothing from size 0 to 5T, maternity apparel, and anything else you’d find in the baby aisle at Wal-Mart or a department store. The well-organized space also provides a safe area where volunteers can meet with clients on a regular basis.

Other Angel Houses are located in Keller, Arlington, and at St. Michael Parish in Bedford. A fifth will soon open at Holy Family Parish.

Bosworth spent part of her Monday evening inside St. Bartholomew’s Angel House gathering layette items, bottles, and diapers for a newborn. She’ll deliver the supplies to the baby’s home because his mom doesn’t own a car.

“I usually visit for 25 or 30 minutes and we talk like you’d talk to a friend,” the volunteer said. “Some moms are mature. Others are not. You just try to teach them the basics and encourage them to do better for themselves.”

Mothers who come to the Angel House to find maternity clothes or pick up formula are humbled by the experience.

“They are no different than we were when we had children,” Bosworth observed. “They don’t want their children to go without.”

PRAYER IS PART OF MINISTRY
More women are contacting the Gabriel Project thanks, in part, to a new relationship forged between the organization and the Mother and Baby Program at John Peter Smith Hospital. 

(L-R) Kristen Patterson, Mildred Girón-Arthur, Sally Kurz, Jane Bosworth, Nancy Jones, Juanita Thornton, and Linda Fowler are some of the Gabriel Angels who volunteer at St. Bartholomew Parish’s Gabriel Project outreach. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)(L-R) Kristen Patterson, Mildred Girón-Arthur, Sally Kurz, Jane Bosworth, Nancy Jones, Juanita Thornton, and Linda Fowler are some of the Gabriel Angels who volunteer at St. Bartholomew Parish’s Gabriel Project outreach. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)
(L-R) Kristen Patterson, Mildred Girón-Arthur, Sally Kurz, Jane Bosworth, Nancy Jones, Juanita Thornton, and Linda Fowler are some of the Gabriel Angels who volunteer at St. Bartholomew Parish’s Gabriel Project outreach. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)


“We’re seen as a good additional resource that will actually mentor a mom,” Walters continued. “They get their medical needs at JPS but not emotional and spiritual support.”

Prayer is an integral part of the ministry. Many of the women who walk through the door of an Angel House identify as Christian but few practice any formal religion. 

“We’ve seen Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus who allow us to pray with them after we ask permission,” the coordinator said, emphasizing that all beliefs are respected. “We hope they see Jesus in us through the work we do with them.”

When Gabriel Angel Kristen Patterson meets expectant moms for the first time, she gives them several worship aid booklets and a rosary handmade by the St. Andrew parishioner.

“They’re very receptive,” observed Patterson, who also directs expectant mothers to a Gabriel Project board on Pinterest for practical tips on baby care and spiritual guidance. “It’s nice to be able to say to someone ‘I’m here for you. Let me give you some diapers and prayer.’”

GENTLE, NON-JUDGMENTAL GUIDANCE
With requests for assistance booming, the Gabriel Project is desperate for volunteers. Ninety percent of people asking for help live within Loop 820 and Walters is encouraging parishes located near the highway to consider starting a Gabriel Project ministry. 

“Each parish that wants to get involved can do so independently,” the coordinator explained. “And each parish runs it a little differently depending on the volunteers.”

To guide a pregnant woman through difficult life circumstances, a Gabriel Angel must be gentle, kind, and non-judgmental. Training is required.

“We need people to mentor ladies and give them spiritual and emotional support no matter what they’ve done,” Walters continued. 

That’s not always easy, she admitted. Some women have a history of drug or alcohol abuse. Rarely is there a relationship with the baby’s father.

“We may want to change them but that’s not what this is about. It’s about people making mistakes and still loving them,” Walters added.

Success stories keep her and other Gabriel Project advocates motivated. One young mother was living in a car with a youngster when she reached out to the Gabriel Project. The homeless transient was concerned about the unborn baby she was carrying.

A Gabriel Angel worked with her for two years.

“We found her resources that got her out of the car and into an apartment,” Walters said proudly. “She delivered a healthy baby and today has a better job and a better place to live.”

This fall, the former Gabriel Project mom begins classes to become a nurse.

“That’s what Gabriel Project provides — unconditional love. We tell a woman dealing with a crisis pregnancy, we’ll work through this together.”

Angela and Bob Walters with supplies for babies.

A week before Mother’s Day, Gwen Rein received a surprise gift in the mail. The framed photograph was beautiful, but, more touching, were the words included with the thoughtful gesture.

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