Mater Filius supports life, transforms lives
November 9, 2021
Shelby was a wreck.
Seven months pregnant and malnourished, she had two black eyes and a broken nose when she walked into Omaha’s Mater Filius on July 23.
Earlier, a case worker, frustrated with Shelby’s no-show for visitations with her 7-year-old daughter, had persisted in trying to reach her.
She finally located Shelby, beaten and her cell phone smashed, and took her to the hospital, then to Mater Filius.
Since arriving at the Catholic-based home for women with crisis pregnancies, Shelby has given birth to a healthy son, reunited with her 7-year-old daughter and has been sober for more than 100 days.
“I’m starting to believe in God again because of all the miracles. I did drugs with my baby for seven months, and he’s perfectly healthy. … I’m finally finding peace,” she said. “I’m not the same person I was when I walked through that door.”
Mater Filius helps women in crisis pregnancies choose life and strengthens their families with its home and supportive services.
The pro-life organization was founded in Mexico City in 2003. In 2012, its founders came to Omaha looking for an opportunity to expand to the United States. Two years later, the first home outside Mexico opened in Omaha.
Nebraska co-executive directors Jim and Julie Mainelli, members of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha, said their mission is “defending life with love.”
SUPPORT FOR LIFE
“I believe that women do want to choose life,” said Rita Sawin, Mater Filius’ director of spirituality and a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. “Our home is for women who want to choose life but have really no support.”
Women who approach Mater Filius are assessed to determine if the home is right for them. “They have to be willing to move their lives forward,” explained Sawin.
The assessment identifies basic needs, such as safety, health care, nutrition and shelter, to transition them from chaos to stability. Surrounding them with love is next, said Julie.
“Many of these girls are in panic mode, sleeping on couches, and don’t know what will happen from one day to the next,” said Jim. “We give them good, healthy options in a tough world. They begin to relax and start healing.”
The home is a former convent near St. Mary Church. “Archbishop Lucas has been a great support. We are responsible for utilities and upkeep but no rent,” said Jim, adding this helps direct more resources to the women and children.
GIFTS FROM GOD
At Mater Filius, mothers are called “mathis,” a derivative of Matthew, which means “gift of God” – a reminder of God’s unconditional love. Mathis receive education while at the home, which includes instruction on St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
Mathis also receive assistance with doctor’s appointments, transportation and seeking employment, as well as learning life skills and continuing their education. With “BLU-bucks,” earned by doing household chores and progressing in the program, they can purchase items from the BLU-Tique (Building Lives Up) “shop,” which offers new or gently used clothing and household items.
The organization’s Early Childhood Learning Center and Lighthouse Preschool provide childcare for mathis’ children at no cost. Some mathis need extra help with childcare to do schoolwork. Others receive scholarships to send their children to Catholic schools.
Mathis typically stay nine to 12 months, but some support such as childcare, education assistance and aftercare meetings continue for years following their departure. The ongoing connection fosters confidence as they build new lives, said Julie.
“This time I won’t have to turn to someone I shouldn’t for help,” said Shelby. “I have new support here, a new way to be.”
MOTHERS HELPING MOTHERS
Healing and growth come from the nurturing, modeling, support, acceptance and unconditional love that imas and doulas provide at Mater Filius.
Imas, women who function as house mothers, are present around the clock. Doulas are women assigned to mentor mathis upon their arrival and are among the 70 volunteers who work closely with the imas to create a structured and loving environment.
“Doulas are liaisons for moms. They advocate for you … someone you share your entire journey with,” said Hailey, who stayed at Mater Filius from November 2017 to July 2018. “Mine offered me good parenting skills, advice and helped me see options on both sides of decisions.”
Hailey was pregnant with her third child when she arrived. Although she had completed treatment and was sober for six months, she was about to lose custody of her children. “I was living anywhere and everywhere … I needed stable housing, a job and more support all the way around,” she said.
She remembers the ima who held her as she cried in relief when she arrived. “That’s when I knew there was nothing but love in the house,” Hailey said. ‘They told me no matter what choices you’ve made, God still loves you.”
Doula Christina Navis, a member of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, said all the volunteers strive to help the mathis experience God’s love.
“You can say to her a million times, ‘God loves you,’ but it’s more effective when someone shows her love, accepts her, doesn’t judge her, gently guides her,” she said.
Since coming to Mater Filius, Hailey reunited with her two other children, became a member of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Omaha and was hired as office manager for Heart Ministries, an Omaha social services organization. All of her children have now been baptized.
Hailey said she tells other pregnant women how much Mater Filius changed her life when she was pregnant and scared.
RULES FOR LIFE
Mater Filius maintains order and peace through rules, Julie said, adding that everyone does household chores, much like single-family homes. The rules also include leaving the house only for work, school or other approved appointments; designated wake-up times; and room responsibilities.
“It’s hard, tough love. You probably don’t see its value until you move out … but they taught me so much,” Hailey said. “I now know why the rules are in place – so the structure carries over into your life after. This benefits you and your kids so much more.”
Marissa Crowell also credits Mater Filius for her success. She was a senior in high school and in an emotionally abusive relationship when she moved to the home in April 2018.
“Having a restricted household and rules forced me into things that were really good for me. It created a structure to make my life into what I wanted,” she said. “It’s very simple; I prefer it to the chaos.”
She moved out in August 2019. This December, she will graduate from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, and transition from intern to full-time employee at Union Pacific in January.
Those associated with Mater Filius say they see miracles and prayers answered daily – from healthy deliveries to finding employment to personal transformation.
The Mainellis point to the in-house chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is kept in the tabernacle. Weekly Masses and meetings between doulas and mathis are held there.
“God’s presence radiates through the entire building,” Jim said. “It’s so beautiful, you can’t even explain it.”
Crowell said the presence of the Blessed Sacrament comforted her during her stay. “Some nights I would go to the chapel and bawl my eyes out with Jesus. I had a second conversion while there,” she said.
Volunteers like Sawin and Navis said they, too, feel God at work in their lives there.
“We act. We do things to help them find services, but it’s so much more,” said Sawin. “You see the face of Jesus in them … enter into relationship with them.”
“Jesus told us to do that over and over, to care for each other and help the vulnerable,” she said. “Through that you get to know him, and it has a profound effect on your life. Jesus changes you through that work.”
MATER FILIUS: A GROWING MOVEMENT
Mater Filius is a home for women in crisis pregnancies who want to choose life but lack support. The organization’s approach involves assisting women throughout pregnancy and helping them to deepen relationships with their children.
Mater Filius was founded by Miriam and Jose Manuel Tejeda in Mexico City in 2003. The couple came to Omaha in 2012 to open their first home outside Mexico and their third home worldwide.
Jim and Julie Mainelli became the first executive directors in the United States for Nebraska. They worked closely with Stacey and Mark Floersch, also members of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha.
Mater Filius Omaha has served 147 women and 115 children, not counting the 48 babies born to the women they serve since opening their doors in 2014. The organization now has homes in Dallas, Miami and Cincinnati. Planning for another in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is underway.