Guide assists parishes with miscarriage ministry

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, August 10, 2014

Parishes around the country can now make use of a new guide to help volunteers and staff work with families who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Elizabeth Ministry International has published its “Pastoral Guide: Miscarriage, Stillbirth or Newborn Loss,” a work 17 years in the making, said Jeannie Hannemann, founder of Elizabeth Ministry International.

“Every time we got close to being done with it, there was more we wanted to put into it,” she said.

Hannemann, a grandmother now, still remembers the miscarriages she had, and she has encouraged parish Elizabeth Ministries — which reach out to women in their childbearing years, whether they are suffering from infertility, coping with new babies or grieving lost children — to offer support to families that have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth.

The book includes blessings for miscarried and stillborn babies, rituals and memorial services that can be used, and information that can help priests or other pastoral ministers explain to parents why the church does not baptize babies that die before birth. There is also information on setting up Catholic support groups for parents whose babies were miscarried or stillborn.

“So often the call parishes get is a request for baptism,” Hannemann said. “And we have to explain that baptism is a sacrament for the living. We can do blessings, we can do a funeral, a graveside service, all of that.”

Sue Brandt, one of the leaders of the Elizabeth Ministry at Prince of Peace Parish in Lake Villa, said their ministry has a niche in church that holds a vase. Women are invited to place different colored rosebuds into the vase, and fill out cards requesting prayers. There are yellow rosebuds for women experiencing infertility or waiting on adoption, pink rosebuds for those who are pregnant, red for successful births and white for those who have experienced a loss through miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death.

There are not too many white rosebuds, Brandt said, but the cards that accompany them often mention three or four miscarriages.

“They’ll write about miscarriages that happened a year ago, three years ago, five years ago, even seven years ago,” Brandt said. “It stays with them.”

Women who include contact information on their cards receive phone calls and notes of support, and assurance that the women in the Elizabeth Ministry are praying for them.

Other parishes that have Elizabeth Ministries offer similar gestures of support, sending cards and prayers when they learn that a woman has miscarried or experienced a stillbirth.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 20 percent of women who know they are pregnant will experience a miscarriage or stillbirth, and the secular world has begun to acknowledge the pain and loss they feel. This resource aims to help parishes accompany them as they move through that, Hannemann said.

It also offers information about Catholic teaching that reinforces the belief in the sanctity of human life, including the teaching that the remains of babies lost to miscarriage or stillborn should be buried, each in his or her own vessel, rather than disposed of as medical waste.

“This is a religious response to human dignity,” Hannemann said. “This is truly a pro-life statement. How can we say we are concerned about the babies who are lost to abortion when we don’t care for the remains of the babies who are miscarried?”

Downloadable materials that are made available with the book include programs for memorial services and other resources, and those will be updated periodically.


  • miscarriage
  • elizabeth ministry internationa

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