December 16, 2011

Founder saddened by closing of Terre Haute pro-life ministry

Cecelia “Cel” Lundstrom sits at a desk in the now vacant Birthright facility in Terre Haute. The pro-life ministry closed in October after serving Vigo County residents for 37 years. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

Cecelia “Cel” Lundstrom sits at a desk in the now vacant Birthright facility in Terre Haute. The pro-life ministry closed in October after serving Vigo County residents for 37 years. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

By Mike Krokos

TERRE HAUTE—The room, once filled with maternity clothes, was nearly empty.

At one time, the clothes extended into the kitchen and closets in bedrooms in the modest home, too.

Baby clothes, diapers, diaper wipes and other “baby things” were also once commonplace at the facility.

Those items were recently donated to Catholic Charities Terre Haute and much of the home’s furniture to St. Patrick School in Terre Haute, the result of the end of an institution that embraced a pro-life cause in Vigo County for nearly four decades.

When Birthright of Terre Haute closed its doors in October, the crisis pregnancy assistance ministry had helped countless women since 1974 deal with the gift—and challenge—of carrying unborn babies to full term.

“We called Catholic Charities and asked how to start a Birthright as soon as the Roe v. Wade decision came down,” said Cecelia “Cel” Lundstrom, who helped found and direct Birthright of Terre Haute, a non-denominational outreach, during its 37 years of existence. She served as the director of the facility for all but two years. Birthright was housed at four places through the years, its last address at 227 S. Ninth St. in Terre Haute.

“When Roe v. Wade came down, I was stunned,” said Lundstrom, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Terre Haute. “I thought there won’t be many [women] who will take the lives of their own babies, and I was very mistaken.”

The facility opened on Jan. 22, 1974—a year to the day after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion.

“Our first mission was to save the life of the unborn child, and by doing so, we know were helping the life and the health of the child’s mother,” Lundstrom said. “We did our best to honor motherhood.

“Pregnancy is a beautiful thing. God has to be actively involved in all conception, and so motherhood is always beautiful, and we always tried to promote the dignity of the mother whenever we could.”

Down to four volunteers, Lundstrom made the difficult decision to end the ministry this fall.

“I’m 77 years old, and I just can’t handle it anymore,” said Lundstrom, her voice trailing off.

“It’s heartbreaking to have the place close,” she later said. “It’s not easy.

“It’s very sad to see us close because we were the only pregnancy service in Terre Haute that would not counsel for contraception, which is the root cause of abortion,” Lundstrom added.

The all-volunteer ministry had 18 people helping at the beginning, she noted, but has gradually seen those numbers slip in recent years.

“There have been so many wonderful things [happen through the years], and the volunteers here that we have had were fine people,” Lundstrom said.

Rhonda Maher, one of the last volunteers, helped at Birthright of Terre Haute for eight years.

After stepping down as director of religious education at her home parish, St. Mary-of-the-Woods Parish in

St. Mary-of-the-Woods, she felt called to do something else.

“I’ve also been against abortion,” Maher said, “and this seemed like another way to help the Church.”

Maher described Lundstrom as a “very caring, dedicated person” who “gives all she has.

“She is a loving Catholic woman who lives her faith,” she added. “It just broke my heart” to see the facility close.

The stories from Maher’s years volunteering at Birthright are etched in her memory.

“I had a girl call in who was contemplating abortion. I spoke with her on the phone for 15 minutes, begging her to come in, and she never did,” Maher said. “That really impacts you. I still pray for her, and hope it worked out.”

There was also the young lady who came back to Birthright two weeks after delivering her baby, looking for blankets and a car seat to carry the infant.

“Luckily, we had a stroller for her,” she said. “It made you feel so good that there were people truly in need” that we were able to help.

From the first client, a 40-something-year-old mom who became pregnant out of wedlock, to a 13-year-old teenager, the women who visited Birthright came from all walks of life.

Though adoption was a preferred option during the early years of their ministry, Lunsdtrom said the “kill it or keep it” philosophy became more prevalent.

“That really is too bad,” she said, “but as time went on, people came to know that we were pro-life and that we would not help them with an abortion.”

Over the years, Birthright became associated with the Catholic Church because the majority of its volunteers were Catholics who came from area parishes.

But “we didn’t appeal to churches, we appealed to individuals,” Lundstrom said.

Msgr. Lawrence Moran, who served as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Terre Haute for 20 years before retiring in 2005, said it was providential to have the Birthright facility by the campus of Indiana State University in Terre Haute.

“It was near where college students had access to it easily, and they [Birthright] gave free pregnancy tests and, of course, referred them to other organizations that could be of help so they wouldn’t [kill] the [unborn] baby.”

The ministry helped countless college students and others in need through the years, he added.

“It was a wonderful pro-life effort in town in a very strategic place,” said Msgr. Moran, who serves as full-time chaplain at the Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph and chaplain of John Paul II High School, both in Terre Haute.

He, like so many others, was sad to see the ministry come to an end.

“She [Cel] certainly has been one of the great pro-life spokespersons from the very beginning,” he said. “They [the volunteers at Birthright] really tried to reach out” to people in need.

Through the years, Lundstrom said the organization helped thousands of women, though no specific numbers were kept.

“We didn’t need statistics to prove anything,” she said.

As a nonprofit, no one was ever paid for their outreach in the entirely independent pro-life ministry.

“We have never done anything that would violate our Catholic faith,” Lundstrom added.

For Lundstrom, some of the “thank yous” stand out.

“There is a woman I see at Mass regularly who still thanks me. … It really is a tremendous joy when something like that happens.”

As she reflects on the years of Birthright’s existence in Terre Haute, Lundstrom is certain of one thing.

“Our 37 years would have been worth it just to save one child.” †

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