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November 8, 2009

Taking care of women, babies

By Alicja Pozywio


When Sister Marta Cichon, a member of the Missionary Sisters of Christ the King for Polonia, took Grace home four days before Christmas two years ago, she did not know it was the beginning of the Holy Family Single Mothers’ House.

Sister Marta had dozens of things on her mind in the midst of Christmas preparations when the phone rang at her convent. The nervous voice on the other end of the line said that he knew a young woman who was considering having an abortion. He asked the nun to rescue the baby and the woman.

Because Grace, 27, an immigrant from Poland, already had pills to facilitate an abortion the nun hurried over. After arriving at the given address, she found that neither Grace nor any other woman was living at that house.

She started checking out all streets in the neighborhood for a matching house number.

“I knocked on many doors asking if they knew a woman named Grace,” she said.

Finally when she started doubting herself, someone pointed out a building occupied by Polish immigrants.

“She [Grace] didn’t even want to talk with me at first. All she wanted was to have ‘that procedure,’ what she called an abortion, done and have it behind her,” said Sister Marta. But after a long conversation Grace agreed to stay with Sister Marta at the convent.

Moment found them

The sisters were already considering opening a crisis pregnancy home in Chicago when Sister Marta met Grace. Since one of the apostolic works done by the order in Poland, where the Missionary Sisters were founded, is operating such houses, the Chicago sisters had models to follow and people to share the experience with.

The Missionary Sisters had even organized a foundation called Totus Tuus in order to collect funds, but there had never been an opportune moment to open the home. Grace, her story and situation, convinced them that the right moment had arrived.

Next, the community started looking for an adequate site. In May 2008 the sisters purchased a three-flat building. They asked that the address of the home be kept confidential for the safety of the women and children.

Almost a month later the first occupant, Grace, moved in. On Aug. 20, she gave birth to a baby boy. Now more than a year later, 10 women and 14 babies have found help, understanding and love under the roof of that house.

Like a home

Edyta, age 36, who emigrated from Poland about six years ago, is a recent occupant of the home. She said that the house is not like an institution, but thanks to the loving atmosphere, like a real home.

There are two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and a living room on each floor of the three flat. While renovations of almost the entire building are finished, there is still some minor repair work going on.

“Most of the renovation and repair work was donated by Polish contractors. The furniture, kitchen and bathroom supplies were given,” said Sister Marta.

When asked how in this difficult economy she finds donors, Sister Marta smiled and said, “I beg. When we need something I visit businesses, tell them what type of home we’re operating and ask if they can donate something or if I could get a discount on certain products.”

One day she was buying a furnace but the price, even after getting a 60 percent discount from the owner, was still too high for the sisters’ budget. One of the Polish contractors who accompanied her to the store took off his hat, explained the cause and took up a special collection throughout the store. He collected half of the remaining sum needed.

“The most difficult time was the beginning. Now a lot of people offer help. Even strangers are touched by our mission,” said Sister Marta.

A year reprieve

There are several rules that apply to all the women living in the house. One of them is, they can’t stay there longer than one year. Edyta, who lost her job and condo during the unwanted and unplanned pregnancy, said that this is plenty of time to organize her life.

“For me the year will end in February,” she said. “It will give me extra time to find a part-time job and to finish a real-estate course, which I always wanted.”

She said she is optimistic about her future.

Sister Marta’s impact

There are six women and seven babies currently living at the Single Mother House. But the number of those who have gotten temporary help is much higher.

Throughout the house Sister Marta distributes furniture, clothes and food to the women in need. There are already four women who have left the home after their year ended. Two of them went back to Poland and keep in touch with Sister Marta. The other two moved on with their lives after finding jobs and housing in Chicago.

It is obvious to people affiliated with the house that Sister Marta is the heart and the brains of it.

But the sister says that she is just a tool in God’s hand.

“It is not me,” Sister Marta said. “It is our religious order and God himself, who conducts this house.”