Vatican-approved lay association brings hope to mothers in need

OMAHA, Neb. (OSV News) — Defending life with love.

That’s the mission of Mater Filius, a network of homes for pregnant women in dire need.

Now — with the Vatican’s recent approval of the organization as a lay association of the faithful — Mater Filius is poised to spread its mission as part of the Catholic Church’s pro-life outreach.

The network began in Mexico and includes homes in several U.S. cities, including Omaha.

Mater Filius becomes official apostolate of the Church

Through its new status, Mater Filius becomes an official apostolate of the Church under canon law, establishing consistent operating rules and placing each house under the authority of the local bishop, said Steve Raynor, the Omaha home’s co-executive director along with his wife, Anne, who are members of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha.

“This is a formal approval by the Church of the rules on how each house is run,” he told The Catholic Voice, Omaha’s archdiocesan news outlet.

Support for women in crisis pregnancies

Mater Filius, named with the Latin words for mother and child, helps women in crisis pregnancies choose life by providing safe housing, mentoring and support services at a time when they may feel isolated, desperate and hopeless, Raynor said.

Under the approved rules, Mater Filius houses may serve up to 10 women, along with any children under 5, under the guidance of a live-in house mother, called an “ima,” the Aramaic word for mother.

The nonprofit organization emphasizes accountability. Women are required to live communally, sharing cooking and meals together; to be employed, working toward an education plan or completing a substance abuse program; to attend weekly Mass or other religious services — all with the goal of transitioning to independent living.

Inclusive services and spiritual growth

As an official ministry of the Church, the association’s statutes also spell out guidelines for people volunteering to serve at the houses, said Julie Mainelli, who with her husband, Jim, founded Omaha’s Mater Filius in 2012 and who now serve as national executive directors. They are members of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha.

“This places us under the Catholic Church, and each person who is involved also is involved in attending to their own spirituality … and following the teachings of the Catholic Church,” she said. “Though we’re Catholic, we serve women of all faiths or no faith.”

As part of a lay association, people also can become praying members, Mainelli said.

Growth and expansion

Mater Filius was founded in 2003 by Miriam and Jose Manuel Tejeda. Through the efforts of the Tejadas and Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico City, the organization received the Vatican’s approval for its new designation in 2021.

Opening its doors in 2014, the Omaha home was the first to be established outside Mexico. Mater Filius has continued to grow and has locations in Miami and Cincinnati, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and most recently in Milwaukee. Mater Filius Global has 22 locations worldwide.

Archbishop George J. Lucas gave his approval for the Omaha home late last year.

Increasing need for pro-life services

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Vatican designation comes at a time when serving abortion-vulnerable women is becoming more critical, Anne Raynor said.

“In combination with the economy the past several years, people are in need,” she said. “We have more women with children who are coming to us not able to make rent, being evicted. We definitely are receiving more calls.”

“Mater Filius is a unique model for helping women in need,” her husband said. “We’re trying to facilitate generational change for the families we serve. Having this designation will hopefully stimulate more people to become involved and enable more houses to be formed … having the stamp of approval of the Church.”

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