Into the Light ministry serves families experiencing the death of an unborn child
Feb 7, 2020
At St. Andrew Apostle Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, a cross stands on display in the rectory. Pinned to the cross are tags with various names – Grace, Luke, Anthony; the names honor babies who died before birth.
This cross is one of the fruits of the Into the Light ministry – a community dedicated to fostering healing for individuals and couples who have lost their unborn children through miscarriage.
“Into the Light is an invitation to priests and lay people to mourn babies miscarried,” Father Dan Leary, pastor at St. Andrew Apostle said.
Father Leary, who has ministered to couples experiencing the death of an unborn baby for many years, encourages couples to bury their baby and “really mourn properly, because this was a created gift.”
“We have to progress the women through the whole experience, which is not just a miscarriage, but a baby,” Father Leary continued. “You have to give yourself permission to mourn.”
When Lisa and Brandon McRae, members of St. Andrew Apostle, first learned of the death of their unborn daughter, Maria Caterina, Father Leary was one of the first people that they called. Lisa McRae said that he helped guide them through what the coming days and months might look like.
“It was a great help,” she said, adding that he walked the couple through funeral arrangements for their daughter. “Almost immediately it was put on my heart to do what was done for me for other women.”
She said that without the support of Father Leary and a family friend who had experienced many miscarriages herself, “I don’t know how I could have gone through it so well without their guidance.” Lisa McRae added that she experienced an underlying and overwhelming joy even in the midst of the sorrow of miscarriage.
The purpose of Into the Light, Lisa McRae said, is to guide not just couples who have lost an unborn child, but also to equip priests and deacons to assist couples who come to them. In the first year since the ministry’s beginning, much of the outreach has been at special Masses said for the children and families, as well as a retreat for couples. Into the Light also prepares special kits to give to couples experiencing the death of their unborn child, with information and a memorial box.
On Dec. 27, the eve of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a special Mass was offered at St. Andrew Apostle for the parents and families of babies miscarried. At the Mass, there was an opportunity for those in attendance to consecrate their unborn child or children to the Holy Family.
Lisa McRae said the ministry really encourages couples to attend both the Masses and retreats together.
“Sometimes miscarrying can really tear couples apart,” she said. “I think just from not knowing – the feelings can be so different between husband and wife. We really encourage couples to come to the Masses together, the retreat together. We really want to help the couples.”
Last spring, when Father Leary started addressing miscarriage within the parish on a more frequent basis to let parishioners know about an upcoming Mass for miscarried babies, Fred and Ann Salancy felt called to get involved with the ministry, after having three miscarriages several years ago.
“It started to reignite an experience we had had 20-something years ago,” Fred Salancy said. “Both Ann and I felt that we had never dealt with that.”
Ann Salancy added they initially thought the Mass would be something for younger people who had recently lost a child, not people who had experienced miscarriage decades ago.
To the Salancy’s surprise, those attending the Mass last May were split between couples who experienced miscarriage long ago and more recently.
“We represent those who have lost babies a long time ago,” she said.
Fred Salancy said after the Mass and learning about Father Leary’s vision for the ministry, “it shed light on the experience that we had.”
“From my perspective, it was something that was a void for me. I didn’t know how to feel or react. I knew we were pregnant at the time, but I wasn’t feeling anything or experiencing it. As a father, bringing this to the light for me was like… wow. These are things I was carrying with me. I was then able to focus on it, and move forward with it,” Fred Salancy said.
Ann Salancy added that conversations and ministries surrounding couples and families experiencing miscarriage are needed in the Church today.
“This is a significant thing that, as a Church, needs to be addressed,” she said.
Her husband added that a stigma is often attached to miscarriage, leading people to carry their crosses silently, but “nobody is at fault in this process.”
“Now we’re embarking on another journey where people are welcome to come and talk about it,” Fred Salancy said.
At Into the Light’s first retreat in September, 25 couples attended. And during sessions when the men and women separated into groups and opened up about their individual experiences, Fred Salancy said there was beauty in the fact that many of the people were “now coming to a place where the Church was providing them an opportunity to share their experience.”
“We have to help people,” he added.
With two daughters who may have children of their own in the future, Ann and Fred Salancy said that while they pray their children don’t have to go through this experience, “we as parents are prepared to guide them through the process,” Fred Salancy said.
One of the challenges of the ministry, Ann Salancy said, is spreading the word of its existence. The couples involved with Into the Light hope that as people see and hear about it, they can bring the ministry to their own parishes and communities.
“Our goal is to have some kind of procedure where any parishioner would know where to go and what to do,” Ann Salancy said.
The ministry also hopes to work with as many priests and deacons as possible.
“We really encourage people to reach out,” Lisa McRae said. “And if they feel like they don’t know how they can help or be helped, just take that first step. We can use the help in reaching other people.”
To get involved with Into the Light ministry, contact: [email protected].
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