by Evelyn James
In April of 2005, my husband, Randy and I received the wonderful news that we were expecting our sixth baby. I knew in my heart that this was Paul. Years before, it came to me during prayer that we had not yet had Paul. Through additional signs, we had a sense that Paul was going to be a very special child of God.
I must admit, though, that we were concerned when we learned of the pregnancy. During my previous pregnancy with Rebekah, our fifth child, I had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes; I had to inject myself daily with insulin. Now, unfortunately, my doctor informed me that this condition was unavoidable.
Randy and I had been told by many parishioners at our church that our priest, Father Stefan, had the gift of healing. I immediately contacted Fr. Stefan early in my pregnancy, and he prayed over me. As a result of his prayers, not only did I avoid the daily insulin shots, but throughout the entire pregnancy, the results of every glucose test fell well within the normal range. There is no doubt that a healing took place.
I had my first sonogram on September 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Viewing the sonogram, the technician detected a problem and alerted the doctor. After studying the sonogram himself, the doctor informed me that our baby had a diaphragmatic hernia, a hole in the diaphragm. This hernia would allow the abdominal organs to be pulled into the chest cavity and thereby prevent normal lung development. The physician gave me this one-minute definition and then asked if I would like to consider terminating my pregnancy. I was crying as I tried to comprehend the horrific words coming from the doctor’s mouth. I had just viewed our beautiful baby; I had watched him moving and growing inside of me. Again we called Father Stefan for prayers and a miracle.
In October, we invited Father Stefan to our home for dinner. Prior to his arrival, I had an overwhelming curiosity to look at September 15th on a Chicken Soup for the Christian Soulcalendar, a compilation of inspirational messages from all the Chicken Soup books. I had not kept up with this calendar, so the top page was an inspirational message from one day in June. I flipped the pages to the 15th of September, the date we were told of our baby’s condition, and found an entry “A Mother’s Journey,” that spoke of “A precious little baby with …..an amazing set of lungs.”
Knowing our baby didn't have lungs, we considered this a message to keep believing and praying for our baby’s health. I did notice, in flipping through the pages of the calendar, that this was the only inspirational message that came from Chicken Soup for the Expectant Mother’s Soul to me, this was another sign, and I couldn't wait to show Father when he arrived that evening. We took his advice to put the September 15th reflection on our refrigerator and to read it daily. Father Stefan told us to expect a miracle.
Later in October, we received a call from a friend letting us know that Fr. Stefan was on a trip to Mexico. She told us of his plans to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and to include our baby’s condition in his prayers. Around this same time, we learned from the recent sonogram that our baby was a boy. We immediately named him Paul. We also had decided on his middle name, but we wanted to keep that as a surprise.
Fr. Stefan encouraged us to attend his healing Masses, held one Saturday a month. During one healing Mass in November, Fr. Stefan quoted Mother Angelica: “If you are willing to do the ridiculous, God will do the miraculous.” He asked all of us to make an act of faith. At this point in my pregnancy, we were advised by several doctors to travel to Kansas to secure a legal late-term abortion. Paul’s condition was worsening: his intestines, stomach, and kidneys were in the chest cavity-not only pushing his heart to one side but preventing little, if any, lung tissue to develop. In response to Father Stefan’s request for an act of faith, and desperately wanting a miracle of healing for Paul, we made a bold proclamation to personally take part in a pro-life organization. We discussed Project Rachel, a mission related to the healing of women after abortion, as an option.
So many lovely people from our parish had also been praying for Paul. We prayed constantly- saying the rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, various novenas, and attending Mass as frequently as possible. Fr. Stefan met us on many occasions to pray. After praying, he would open his Bible at random and read the scripture. Each and every time, the verse he opened to had great meaning and encouraged us to continue praying for Paul’s healing. During our last visit with F. Stefan, he read a passage from the Bible about a baby being born alive. This was contrary to all the doctors, who said Paul would die before birth. Fr. Stefan boldly told us that day that Paul would be born alive!
On the morning of December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I awoke with more pain than usual. At this point, due to Paul’s condition, the quantity of amniotic fluid was well over the normal amount. I had refused the technique of inserting a needle into the amniotic sac to withdraw some of the excess fluid. We did not want to increase the chances of an early labor. Paul was not due for another five weeks, so I refused to think I was in labor.
Although I wanted to attend Mass, I couldn't seem to manage the pain, as it increased throughout the morning and afternoon. Randy picked up our children from school that day. That very day, a parishioner I had met only once had given our daughter, Rachel, a framed picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This picture had been brought back from Mexico by Fr. Stefan at the request of this woman. On it she had placed a sticky note that said to place our hands on Our Lady’s picture while praying. We did this together and by 11:00 p.m., I called my doctor to say that I was leaving for the hospital.
We took the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe with us to the hospital and were greeted by a Catholic nurse who happened to be my dear friend’s sister and knew Paul’s story. She told us how that very morning when she arrived at work, she reached for something in her glove compartment and a rosary had dropped into her hand. Although she did not typically carry a rosary with her, she put it in her uniform pocket. As she handed it to me to use, we all noticed that the rosary included the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Randy and I told her that we had never seen one like this before; we knew that Our Lady was making herself known to us.
After a brief exam, not only was it confirmed that I was in labor, but my cervix was dilated nine centimeters. An emergency C-section was unavoidable. But the pain I experienced during this labor was not nearly as severe as the pain I had experienced during labor with our other children. All of our prayers were being heard!
While the surgery was being performed, the doctors, nurses, and Randy were concentrating on Paul’s delivery, not knowing exactly what to expect. Paul was immediately whisked away to a prepared area in the room and an intubation procedure was attempted in order to inflate any lung tissue that might have developed.
One of the nurses stood behind me during the C-section and whispered Psalm 23 and other Scriptures in my ear. Over a year later, I learned that this nurse was not seen or heard by anyone else in the room. I am convinced that my guardian angel visited me, coming to my aid in my most desperate time of need!
On December 13, at 3:00 a.m., Tammy – a perinatal bereavement nurse, whom we had met once in the doctor’s office – arrived at the hospital. She brought along holy water, a camera, and a beautiful baby blanket that she had personally made for Paul. Without Tammy and Fr. Stefan, I am not sure where my husband and I would have found the strength to endure during this most critical time in our lives.
Our beautiful Paul was baptized and photographed by Tammy and died after only forty-one minutes of life. We held him and loved him and brought our other five children to the hospital to share in the memory of their baby brother that came to us for such a brief time, but will touch all of us forever.
When Fr. Stefan arrived at the hospital that day, we thanked him for his unceasing prayers and, in honor of him, we named our precious baby Paul Stefan. (Father’s name is Stefan Paul Starzynski.)
On December 17, Fr. Stefan celebrated the funeral Mass for Paul Stefan. He was laid to rest in Baby Land at a cemetery close to our home. Knowing that I was still in recovery from the surgery, a friend of Fr. Stefan’s brought a meal to our home after the funeral. She mentioned to Randy that she had been praying a novena to St. Andrew with Fr. Stefan, in regards to establishing a home for unwed mothers.
After she left, Randy and I discussed this and became convinced that God was calling us to help establish this home. Randy and I agreed to find out more about the novena to St. Andrew that Father Stefan and his friend had been praying.
Five weeks later – on the very morning we had said to each other that it was time to call Father’s friend – Randy ran into her in the parking lot of a grocery store. The following morning, she and six other people gathered at our home for what was to become the beginning of the Paul Stefan Foundation. We discussed many topics that morning, but the primary focus was on how to raise the funds necessary to build a home.
Fr. Stefan, on a trip to Israel, continued his prayers and offered his Masses for the establishment of a home for single expectant mothers. The Saturday night he returned home, he celebrated a healing Mass. In an act of faith, five people gave him $1,000 each for that intention. The following day, after the Sunday morning Mass, a parishioner told Father about two beautiful vacant farm houses nearby, on seventy acres of land owned by a pipeline company. After discussions with the company, an agreement was made for the company to lease the two farmhouses to the Paul Stefan Foundation for one dollar a year.
While waiting for the approval from the company, Fr. Stefan invited several of us to attend a Mass celebrated at one of the homes. During his homily that day, as he prayed for the end to abortion, he stated the need for these homes nationwide. He told us that the pipeline company had built these homes for their employees; they extended from the Southwest all the way to New Jersey. He also prayed to acquire additional homes to help women in other areas of our country.
At that very moment, the Holy Spirit revealed to me the meaning of the September 15 inspirational message from the Chicken Soup Calendar. Paul’s “lungs” are amazing – not earthly lungs, but heavenly lungs created to breathe into existence homes from expectant mothers, to provide them an alternative to abortion in a loving, caring environment. It all makes so much sense to us now! There is no doubt that we were called to join Father Stefan in his mission.
In the following weeks, the necessary planning for a special use permit was submitted, renovations were made to the homes, and the decision to call these safe havens “The Paul Stefan Home of Our Lady of Guadalupe” was made public knowledge. On September 10, 2006, we held our first Paul Stefan Home Open House with approximately 250 guests attending. Fr. Stefan spoke that day and brought it to our attention that it was almost exactly nine months from December 13 – Paul Stefan’s birth and death – to September 10, the birth of the first Paul Stefan Home.
The first call from accommodations at the Paul Stefan Home came from a nearby homeless shelter. After the initial interview, Erin had received very little prenatal care, so we immediately made an appointment for her with the Health Department. The doctor told her she was having a boy, due between December 2 and 26. Erin decided to name her baby Andrew. Erin knew nothing about the St. Andrew Novena that Fr. Stefan and his friend had prayed the previous year. St. Andrew was the “conception” that had brought about the Paul Stefan Homes.
On December 12, 2006, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Erin went into labor and was taken to the hospital in the next town. Andrew Nicholas was born the following day, exactly one year to the day that our Paul Stefan was born and died. We know that Our Lady and Lord have given us this beautiful gift of Andrew as a confirmation to continue our mission to house women and babies in need.
Fr. Stefan Starzynski’s devotion and faith have influenced how we live our lives today. After six years since opening our doors to the Paul Stefan Homes, over 150 women and babies have been given the opportunity to improve their lives. We combine our prayers with Fr. Stefan’s that we will see the end to abortion and we continue to lovingly support women by seeking other homes in all areas around the country.
For an interview or speaking engagement contact Randy or Evelyn James @ 540-854-2300