Thanks to a little divine inspiration, a friendly nudge from a pastor and a series of small miracles, the former rectory at St. Peter Catholic Church in East Troy is poised to become a safe haven for women experiencing crisis pregnancies in Walworth County.

What began as just an idea four years ago has slowly transformed into Gerard’s Embrace, a non-profit established in 2015 by Suzanne Kasper, director of religious education at St. Peter. Along with a dedicated board of directors, Kasper is working to make the house at 1995 E. Beulah Ave. ready to accept pregnant mothers as residents by this spring.

“It’s a slow-moving train,” Kasper said. “But we have such faith in God.”

It was about four years ago that Kasper got in touch with several pregnancy helplines in the Elkhorn and Mukwonago area to inquire if there was housing available for homeless women who found themselves pregnant.

“I said, ‘I’m sure you’re going to tell me I’m crazy, but in this day and age, are there even homeless pregnant women?’” she recalled.

As it turns out, there are — and they desperately need resources. It was an issue that Kasper’s daughter Megan also had first-hand experience with. As a social worker specializing in child protection in Walworth County, Megan Kasper has seen plenty of situations where pregnant mothers have nowhere to turn, and the county’s hands are essentially tied.

Because of the removal of the Unborn Child Protection Act (called the U-CHIPS law) earlier this year by a Wisconsin federal court, “we can’t get involved with women who are drug-addicted and carrying any unborn child,” said Megan Kasper.

“I work with women who have a small child, who have been in domestic violence situations and who have turned to drugs because of all these stressors, but there are so many barriers to them getting services,” she said. Often these women will deal with homelessness because of domestic abuse situations.

The idea really started to take shape when Suzanne Kasper’s other daughter moved into the parish’s old rectory with her prematurely born son. Finding herself the mom of a premature baby at age 19, she at first lived at home with Kasper but wanted to strike out on her own, against her mother’s urging. After living in subsidized housing far from family and friends, she struggled until the parish agreed to let her occupy the rectory.

Originally built in 1915, the building had been Kasper’s first office at St. Peter. It occurred to her that maybe this house wasn’t just the solution for her own daughter and grandson, but for other mothers who needed help. “I thought, oh, I need a few more babies in here.”

But in an unfortunate development, Kasper’s grandson developed lead poisoning from the house, and mom and baby both had to move. Kasper had all but given up on her dream until December 2014, but St. Peter pastor Fr. Mark Molling approached her.

“He said, ‘You know that idea you shared with me? You should do that,’” she recalled. “That was my answer.”

After establishing Gerard’s Embrace — named for St. Gerard of Majella, patron saint of mothers — in March 2015, Kasper requested permission from the parish council to use the house (they now have a long-term commercial lease in place). Since then, she’s been tackling various necessary home improvement projects, starting with the lead abatement, a costly endeavor that was accomplished in 2016 due to a gift from former St. Peter pastor Fr. John Twomey. When he passed away in early 2016, he left his car to the parish to auction off, with the proceeds benefitting Gerard’s Embrace.

It is anticipated that the house will finally be ready to accept residents this spring, due to the generosity of contractors who have donated their time and volunteers who have helped prepare furnishing. Kasper and her board hope that Gerard’s Embrace will be able to offer not only shelter for their residents but a much-needed support system and sense of family.

Clients will be assisted by a house mother and receive the guidance of Gerard’s Embrace in accessing county resources like WIC and W2, as well as transportation to appointments, help with building job skills, compiling resumes and learning to budget, buying groceries and preparing meals.

“We want to teach them anything they want to know — from gardening to sewing or making their own baby food. They may not have had that in their family of origin, and that may be the reason they’re in the situation they’re in,” said Kasper.

Clients will be able to stay in the home for about six to eight months after their baby is born, and Kasper hopes that after they get on their feet, they will return to serve on the organization’s board of directors.

Finding low-income housing for the clients after they leave Gerard’s Embrace is still an issue Kasper and the board are working to address — but when everything else so far has worked out, even after a few bumps in the road, she’s got a lot of faith that the answers will come.

“God keeps breaking down all the barriers. It’s just amazing to see what happens when you put it all into His hands,” she said.

An Ice Fishing Jamboree will be held Jan. 20 to benefit the mission of Gerard’s Embrace, featuring free DNR fishing with no license required and special help for first-timers. Kids are welcome at this family event, and those interested in attending can visit