Friday, November 24, 2006

Women’s Center Head Leads the Way in Chicago Archdiocese for Catholic Renewal. Mary Strom’s Her Name; Saving Lives Her Game.

[Another article in the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly, The Wanderer. It was edifying to learn a week after this column was published, readers of the newspaper sent an Ultra-Sound machine plus several thousands of dollars in contributions to the Women’s Center, for which heartfelt thanks.]

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO--When delicate parsing comes from archdiocesan officials to politicians and so-called “Catholic” universities on issues that shouldn’t have to be defended, I cheer up by thinking of one person.

She’s far too young to be ready for the hereafter but for a woman in her late 30s, blonde, vivacious, prayerful Mary Strom has accomplished a lifetime of service in behalf of pro-life and the Catholic Church. Without fanfare. She’s the executive director of an organization in Chicago that goes by the name “Women’s Center.” It means everything and nothing due to its name: it could even be an abortion referral designee. But in a city where the Irish Catholic Democratic mayor has reneged on his former pro-life position to the point where he supports an anything-goes position, and whose leading politicians are Catholic—a state whose Democratic Catholic Senator, Richard Durbin, renounced pro-life when it became pragmatically important to support abortion, and where almost all Chicago-area Catholic pols endorse abortion in an archdiocese where prelates seem to bend over backwards not to offend secularists, Mary Strom is a blessed anomaly. For at Strom’s direction, the Women’s Center bends over backwards, too-- to convince young pregnant women who are considering abortions to have their babies.

Born in Pittsburgh the oldest of five to a warm and hospitable Catholic family where football and daily Mass were synonymous, she was an athlete early and played touch football with her siblings including a brother Rick. He took sports all the way, scoring touchdowns and headlines as lead quarterback with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mary Strom was interested in business and marketing as well as sports. Graduating from the Jesuit John Carroll university, Cleveland, Ohio in 1986, like a good number of young people she strove to make Catholic teaching intimately personal to her. “I’d say the `Hail Mary’ and concentrate on every word, blocking any extraneous ideas from my mind,” she says. “I was never in doubt, never an agnostic but sorely wanted to increase the identification of the Church with what I was doing every day.”

In a sense it was a prayer for commitment. She moved up the business ladder at a startling pace for one without an MBA which is taken these days as the gold-standard for success. Rather, she moved beyond MBAs and had them working for her in a PP0, a preferred provider organization of doctors, hospitals and other health care providers banded together with an insurer or third-party administrator to provide health care at reduced rates to the insurer’s clients. Operating in Cleveland, Chicago and Philadelphia, it was an idea born in the 1990s and praised by some for initially cutting the rate of medical inflation in the U. S.

The work was satisfying but still not what the doctor ordered for Mary Strom who wanted to tie the Church into her daily life. I asked her if she had ever thought of becoming a nun.

“My goodness, no! Not at all!” exclaimed Strom who could easily pass for winner of a William Morris agency contest search for an attractive, successful, coolly competent senior woman executive. “Not knocking it, of course—but I was looking for a tough, demanding job in the world where after a long day you go to bed every night exhausted but completely satisfied that you’ve done your best.”

Still looking, she went to work for Baxter Laboratories headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois, one of the world’s leading health care companies with 45,000 employees where half its sales come from outside the U. S. Formed in 1931 the company developed new methods to make blood banking practical for the first time following which it pioneered a stunning array of products and services including ambulatory peritoneal dialysis and a ventricular assist system that was first to keep alive a patient with a dying heart until a donor heart becomes available for transplant. `

“Very satisfying,” says Mary Strom, looking wistfully, “but--.”

But what?

The new scientific breakthroughs as revolutionary as they were had nothing to do with the Church she loved.

She rose swiftly, became divisional vice president, earning well above six figures. Did she became a typical mega-consumerist, driven for expensive living quarters, luxury cars and expensive vacations?

“You know, I didn’t. I did and still drive a Honda `96, have a condo in Wrigleyville [the not-posh, not poor, average Chicago neighborhood near Cubs field on the north side]. I gave a lot to charity and was so absorbed in some of them that I goofed and lost $100,000 in stock options”—which tells you that for someone geared to business opportunities she was fastening a large part of her mind on extra-materialist activities.

Still searching, praying, a daily Mass goer, she decided to volunteer some time at a crisis pregnancy center—and picked the Women’s Center where she filed reports, and, with other volunteers, answered phone calls from frantic women seeking abortions…talking to them calmly, saying that they are other options beyond killing their unborns. The Women’s Center was founded as a non-profit in 1984 by Conrad Wojnar, an early hero of the state’s pro-life movement. Under his guidance it grew three counseling offices in the Chicago area, serving nearly 6,000 women a year.

Mary Strom was a volunteer. Then, suddenly, there was a change in command at the Center. They were looking for a chief executive.

“They came to me,” says Mary Strom. “They offered me the job at—oh, I don’t want to go into the salary they offered; it’s a miniscule of what I was making. But I jumped at the offer. Jumped at it. What a job! What a deal!”

And never looked back?

“Never. The job and this work—saving lives—is just what I had been looking for since…well, I don’t know when.

Much of her job is fund-raising to keep the $4.6 million enterprise which has three offices running. There’s a major fund-raising dinner with gourmet food prepared by husband and wife master chefs, “Refined Dining” headed by Guido and Kathy Von Aulock of DesPlaines, Illinois…a Mother’s Day Flower Sale…a Walk for Life…and a Wreath Sale. Special little plastic bottles are distributed at many Catholic churches including my own St. John Cantius which are taken home by parishioners who empty their pockets of spare change and fill them up to the top.

Is it hard work?

“Sure,” says Mary Strom. “But prayer, not just work, has always been the backbone of our efforts—because our battle is not against flesh but against principalities and powers. Abortion is one of Satan’s favorite tools in his vain attempts to destroy God by destroying His image and likeness.”

In the main Center at 5116 N. Cicero on the northwest side of the city, there’s a chapel dedicated to St. Jude with the Blessed Sacrament. One of thirty volunteer priests team up to be sure that Mass is celebrated there each day: Monday to Friday at Noon and a second Mass on Friday at 6 p.m. There is Eucharistic Adoration each Monday through Friday and all-night adoration twice a week.

In the St. Jude chapel, there’s one special intention Mary Strom and her workers pray hard for in that chapel every morning.

“It’s for an Ultra-Sound,” she says. “An Ultra-Sound shows the prospective abortion-seeking mother-to-be what her unborn child looks like in her womb. It’s absolutely the best sales clincher in the world. One look at that little guy or gal inside her and, in most cases, the lingering desire to kill the baby vanishes.”

How much does an Ultra-Sound cost?

“$200,000—but worth millions in terms of lives saved. Those who help provide it will have the spiritual guarantee that what they have given will do more than anything else to save unborn lives.”

Even without an Ultra-Sound, Mary Strom and her 14 full- and part-time experts in counseling as well as her 300 volunteers received more than 10,000 incoming telephone calls from expectant mothers last year. They met with 5,113 clients who came to the Centers in person. And here’s the big boxscore:

Mary Strom and her workers at the Women’s Center have saved more than 1,000 unborn babies’ lives last year and more than 30,000 babies’ lives since it was founded in 1984.

More than $874,000 worth of donated material goods—baby cradles, beds, clothes, diapers, toys, highchairs and more were distributed free to poor mothers last year.

It just may be that you might want to contribute to Mary Strom’s fund for an Ultra-Sound. Or, if you can’t afford it, just to drop her a note to add your prayerful support. Address her at The Women’s Center, 5116 N. Cicero Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60630. Phone is: (773) 794-1313, FAX (773) 794-1622 or log on to .


After reading this inspiring story about Mary Strom and the Women’s Center, you might become so optimistic that you think things are hunky-dory in this and other Catholic dioceses. So to bring you down to earth, let me report that “Out There”—the second national conference of “scholars and student personnel involved in “Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer-Questioning” issues on Catholic university campuses will be held next year at…where else?...DePaul University, the home of Queer Studies 101 which provides a minor in the subject—and which has not been sanctioned or commented-upon by either the archdiocese of Chicago or the reputed head of the office of Catholic Educational renewal in the Vatican, Archbishop John Miller.

Letters from the president of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, Mary Anne Hackett, to both this archdiocese and to Archbishop Miller lie in the dead-letter box, unanswered while Archbishop Miller goes across the world delivering stirring homilies about the need to re-catechize Catholic universities. Both the Catholic archdiocese here and Archbishop Miller at the Vatican can remove the designation “Catholic” from DePaul, and other institutions which traduce Catholic teaching as an official part of their curriculum. Delay and protests that maintain that faculties cannot be interfered with are inaccurate: the only thing holding up sanction is inordinate timidity and fear of alienating the popular academic culture.

In the meantime, a number of so-called “Catholic” universities are showing their disdain for Catholic teaching by co-sponsoring “Out There”. It will be held at DePaul on October 19-20, 2007 and will, according to their news release, “feature faculty, staff and students involved in LGBTQ issues on Catholic conferences. Say the sponsors: “We are calling for proposals for papers, roundtable presentation, panels and/or workshops that address issues of scholarship, curriculum, pedagogy, campus climate and support for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff and aim to build a program that addresses a wide range of issues…to build nuts-and-bolts organizing in student services to the place of Queer Studies at Catholic universities.”

Queer students, queer faculty, queer staff and queer nuts and queer bolts and queers of all varieties are invited to respond to Elizabeth A. Kelly, professor, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, DePaul University , Room 459, 2219 N. Kenmore, Chicago or phone her at (773)-325-1979. Her associate in queer studies at DePaul is Gary Cestaro, director LGBTQ Studies program, and can be reached at (773) 325-1870. With the university so dedicated to publicizing its queer role, one should mention that, believe it or not, you don’t have to be queer to attend DePaul…although I suspect that if you are, you will get preferential treatment. I was not when I attended its grad school and still am not: then the word meant eccentric and erratic.

Of course, it would not occur to DePaul to recommend the Catholic organization “Courage” to function on campus. “Courage” is composed of men and women who fight valiantly against their own same-sex attraction and reach out to others similarly attracted to do the same, believing that there is an obligation under the Judeo-Christian code to either conquer the tendency as one would an addiction (and there are many who have done so, have married and work with others)…or, failing this, live lives of sublime self-sacrifice, offering up their lives in spiritual penance which provides them a sanctity that is overwhelming. I have known men and women in both categories who are doing this—especially the latter…and are doing this daily… and they have my deepest admiration. They do not deserve the appellation “queer” which DePaul glorifies: instead, they go about their lives with a special holiness which is edifying.

There has been no move within DePaul to move in that direction. You see, that would be judgmental.


  1. Thanks for the information, our parish is running a wreath sale to benefit the Women’s Center this weekend. I'll be making a donation.

  2. John Thomas Mc GeeanNovember 27, 2006 at 4:21 AM


    I am sorry to say that the Schools you cite, do not teach the Truths of the Holy Catholic Faith. There was a famous "Land of Lakes" meeting in 1967 when most "Catholic Universities" declared their independence from the teaching majisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. This was done in the name of Academic Freedom. One of the few decenting schools was St. John's in Brooklyn. However some changes in administration in the last ten years have had them march along the perline path of Modernism.
    If I were a parent of a college age child and was committed to sending the child to A Catholic School, the options would be: Magdelyn College in New Hampshire, Acquinas College in California, Chrisendom College in Virginia, Ave Maria University in Naples Florida or the Franciscan University in Steubinville, Ohio.
    Respectfully Submitted