Doors opened June 2008

Archbishop Listecki to keynote event, Sept. 19

BROOKFIELD — WSC is hosting its Inaugural Banquet Sunday, Sept. 19, at the Sheraton Hotel, 375 Moorland Road, featuring Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki as the guest speaker. Reservations are due Sept. 10. Social hour begins at 6 p.m., with formal dinner (steak, chicken or fish) at 7 p.m., followed by announcements and Archbishop Listecki at 8 p.m. For information on how to sponsor a table for 10, call (414) 306-0159. The event is gratuitous, but donations are appreciated.

For more information about the WSC, located at 2051 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, 53233, in the upper level of the Pettibone Mansion, call (414) 934-8888, e-mail or visit the Web site, where you can donate to support the center’s work.

Mary Gilpin, fertility care practitioner and director of the center since its doors opened to the public in June 2008, said it has served close to 600 clients, including: giving free, confidential pregnancy tests; doctor referrals for ultrasounds and other medical help; counseling in reproductive and sexual health, especially those in crisis; education and support for single mothers in need; referrals to community resources and agencies; free, newborn layettes, diapers and other baby items.

“WSC strives to make a worthwhile difference in the lives of our clients, their families, and their future,” Gilpin wrote in an informational letter about the center, formed with the help of a board of directors, volunteers and supporters and blessed on Dec. 12, 2007, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “WSC believes in loving and caring for both mother and child by meeting not only some of their material needs, but also their emotional and spiritual needs.”

Though the center is Catholic-based, Gilpin estimated that about only 20 percent of the women who come are Catholic.

“Just like I respect the truth that I find in a non-Catholic, they don’t have a prejudice against us. Maybe some, but mostly, I don’t think they do, because we’ll share things and they’re interested,” Gilpin said of the center where they serve everybody, regardless of religious affiliation. “… and I’ve learned also, from non-Catholic people who have a strong faith.”

Center promotes chastity

Gilpin, whose strong Catholic faith was nurtured first at St. Catherine Grade School, Milwaukee, then at Pius XI High School and Alverno College, worked in a Pregnancy Help Center for about 23 years before the WSC.

“When I first came (to the Pregnancy Help Center), nobody was doing chastity counsel …” Gilpin said, explaining that they counseled against abortion and did some post-abortion counsel. “I’d have to say within that first year I just knew that this is where it all kind of starts.”

She continues chastity counseling and more at the WSC.

“When we do the chastity counsel, it’s never done condemning. Never. It’s always done just to help them understand the purpose of the marital act and the why and it’s to help them understand it’s (sex before marriage) wrong, because it is wrong,” Gilpin said, explaining that beyond promoting chastity, she and volunteer counselors at the center take their counseling in everything a step further and explain what they see as the benefits of natural family planning or the harms of contraception – information that Gilpin said some centers may advise women to get from their doctors.

Mom comes to center for support

Elizabeth Crespo, 23, who first came to the center in May when she was looking for information on pregnancy, came back a second time Aug. 26.

“When I first came here, (Mary) was very supportive. I mean, she made me feel comfortable,” said Crespo, who is due with her second child in December, and whose 7-year-old son was watching a movie in an adjacent room.

Crespo, who attends the Southside Baptist Church in West Allis, and her husband married on May 28, in part because of Gilpin’s counseling on marriage and its importance in a relationship and for the children.

When Crespo first came, Gilpin gave her a pregnancy test and estimated with the pregnancy calculator wheel that Crespo was about nine weeks along. Gilpin said many women who come to the center are between seven and nine weeks. Then, Gilpin showed Crespo little plastic models illustrating the baby’s development.

“It’s amazing to see the baby, how small it is, and it gets you to think about that life that’s inside of you, and excited about the baby and just knowing that it’s yours and God gave it to you,” Crespo said. “It’s just a precious thing.”

When her son was about 1 year old, Crespo got very sick using a patch form of birth control.

“When I took it, the doctor didn’t tell me this is what’s going to happen, and these are professionals,” Crespo said. “And you come here and she (Gilpin) explains to you how this stuff affects you, and there’s even documents stating that it is true.”

Gilpin counseled Crespo on the harmful effects of birth control to her body and to a husband and wife’s relationship.

“I never knew about birth control, any of how it affects your body and even the relationship and it was just surprising and just the advice she gave me about marriage and my situation with my husband … I felt like I was in the right place,” Crespo said.

The blue sign standing on the grass outside, displaying in bold letters, “Women’s Support Center,” was exactly what Crespo said the center offers and what abortion-minded women need – support.

“I know a lot of times when women come here they – they’re set (in) their mind they want to abort this baby, and just coming here and breaking it down to a woman in a loving way – I think that’s very important,” Crespo said. “Not to come at them harsh, but just to show them the facts … to kind of steer them back in the right direction and put them on a positive path.”

Guidance offered with natural family planning

Gilpin’s resources are kept in large binders on an oblong coffee table next to the couch where Crespo sat. They’re in the cassette tapes and videos that Crespo listened to and watched, and in the brochures and pamphlets Gilpin sent home with Crespo to read and refer to for guidance.

Crespo said she wants to learn one of the methods of natural family planning after Gilpin’s counseling.

“I’d love to go ahead and go through that because I don’t want to put (any) chemicals in my body or have to do anything where it’s going to affect my marriage,” she said. If she chooses the Creighton Method, Gilpin can teach her at the center and be part of the upcoming “Learn to Earn” program where she will receive coupons for time spent learning. The coupons can be used in the baby store that Gilpin and volunteers are creating in the basement – with new and used items, many of which have been donated by parishes.

“Each little situation is a little different so and you kind of do it different. …” Gilpin said, referring to the counseling she gives.


Mary Gilpin, director of the Women’s Support Centers of Milwaukee Inc. since its doors opened to the public in June 2008, gives brochures and pamphlets to Elizabeth Crespo, 23, during her second visit to the WSC on Aug. 26. Crespo’s son, Enrique Jr., patiently waits while Gilpin talks with Crespo who is due with her second child in December. (Catholic Herald photo by Tracy Rusch)

Every woman enters the center with a life story — one that Gilpin spends time getting to know. One post-abortive woman came in just to get clothes and didn’t want to talk, but Gilpin said that counseling goes hand in hand with distributing donated items to the women.

“So, what I did is I did post-abortion counsel with her to help her heal, to help her know how God loves her, to help her to start to love God back and to value those babies,” Gilpin said, “and when she left, she just said, ‘I really did need to talk to you; I’m glad I came.’”

Center funded by donations

The center is funded by donations, which Gilpin said come in at about 90 percent from pro-life Catholics and donations from organizations and non-Catholics who are pro-life and support the center’s work. Gilpin would like to have ultrasounds done at the center, and to hire more staff, but funding is an issue. Volunteers are important, ranging from college-age to volunteer counselors like Sullivan.

Many of the counselors are Catholic, but Gilpin said it’s not a requirement.

“We do have non-Catholics sometimes counsel, because we’re counseling in the Natural Law, you know, this law is written in your heart,” said Gilpin, noting that she just has to make sure volunteers don’t proselytize, just as she doesn’t.

“I don’t care if you’re Hindu or Buddhist. …No matter what, even if you’re non-Christian it’s the Natural Law,” she said.

But Gilpin said “even an ultrasound won’t stop an abortion.” That’s why, though it’s not her purpose to convert people, the faith aspect of the center is important to her work.

“I’ve had women come here to me because they somehow know I do the work; they’ve already had an ultrasound, they’ve already seen their baby, but what I have to do is help them understand that God wants their baby,” Gilpin said.

God must be a part of the equation, “because God doesn’t make mistakes, OK? The women make mistakes, the men make mistakes; but God doesn’t,” Gilpin said. “I’m the fifth child out of eight in a poor family, so if it weren’t for God being a part of their lives, I wouldn’t be here,” Gilpin said of her father, who was Catholic, and mother, who was Presbyterian.

Gilpin and others work to empower women to make life-affirming choices in their lives now and in the future by offering the resources they can at WSC. Whether she’s counseling against abortion, for chastity or on the risks of cohabitation, Gilpin tries to “propose God’s way.”

“My hope is conversion of hearts to seeing the beauty of marriage, and you know, just stopping the using – the man of the woman, the woman of the man – and just seeing the value of family life…and woman coming to understand the meaning of her fertility,” Gilpin said. “…God has good plans for them and that they need to kind of start trying it his way.”