Updated 6:20 p.m. Jan. 6 with information from the Salina Diocese.
With no referrals to house unwed mothers in 2019, the Mary Elizabeth Maternity Home, 204 W. Seventh, closed its doors at the end of the year, the organization announced in a news release Monday.
The home had operated as an independent nonprofit organization for 22 years and served 332 girls through their pregnancies, according to the release.
The home could house up to six mothers through their pregnancies and up to a month after giving birth. It was founded by a group of women in the Legion of Mary prayer group to offer an alternative to abortion.
The lack of referrals last year is possibly a sign of the times, its former executive director, Christin Nunnery, told The Hays Daily News. Most of the girls who stayed in the home were referred from state foster care agencies. It had probably been 10 years since the home saw its last self-referral from a family, Nunnery said.
“We’ve kind of seen the numbers decrease over the years. The state made some budget cuts quite a few years ago, and it really affected us then. And just different agencies weren’t pulling girls out of homes,” she said.
“We prayed, we’d just hope that maybe we’d get a phone call one day and have four or five referrals. We kind of held on hoping that would happen,” Nunnery said.
The Mary Elizabeth Maternity home as a nonprofit group was also dissolved at the end of the year, and the property donated to another organization, Nunnery said. She declined to name the organization, saying it will make its own announcement.
Records with the Ellis County Appraiser’s office as of Monday list the owner of the property as the Diocese of Salina. A spokesperson with the diocese confirmed Monday evening to The Hays Daily News the diocese has taken possession of the property and is evaluating how to use it.
Nunnery, the only paid employee, said she has been helping wrap things up for the organization, but isn’t sure what she will do next.
Community support was always strong for the home, Nunnery and founding board member Shirley Dinkel said.
“I praise God for the kindness of the people in this community. I never, never … had a ‘no’” when asking for assistance, Dinkel said. She served on the board of directors through 2005.
Taking on the project was monumental, she said, and took about two years of work. Along with Dinkel, the founding members of the home were Isabel Pfannenstiel — who died Friday — Eva Bryant, Sister Mary Catherine Grief, Elizabeth Marcotte, Mary Kay Schmidt and Heidi Goff.
“The home and its ministry would not have been possible without the work of these women. Without their vision and prayers, we would not have been able to do the good work we did the past 22 years,” board president Chuck White said in the news release.
The two-story, six-bedroom 1889 Victorian home was donated by Marcotte, then a widow with two young children.
The group raised $175,000 to renovate the home to meet state regulations, Dinkel said. And often, when the home was in need of repairs or other work, other organizations would come through, she said.
“Just when we were thinking the windows need washing, the phone would ring and some sponsor would say, ‘I have a service group, could we come over?’ This is almost surreal,” Dinkel said.
The home also offered services to the mothers such as counseling and spiritual guidance, and help with financial planning and other skills. Those offering the services often did so free of charge, Dinkel said.
“We even had two doctors in town who delivered babies for free,” she said.
There were many others, including Pfannenstiel, who would volunteer their time to rock babies to sleep, make blankets and take the mothers to medical appointments.
“We did what we were called to do when it was that time to do it. We didn’t turn our shoulders away. We embraced them,” she said.
“All of us had said even if we saved one little child, one baby from abortion, we were thrilled to do whatever work it took,” Dinkel said.
“I myself have been in touch with women who have really continued on with productive lives after this crises in which they were in a downward spiral. We were their safety net.”
Dinkel also acknowledged the maternity home is a concept whose time has come, but said she was grateful for the community support through the years.
“I just want to tell our community thank you,” Dinkel said. “This was the greatest offering of love with zero regret. It was as God would have wanted it.”