Alaska parish outreach offers hope to single parents

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Ann Marie Mabry, a parishioner of St. Andrew Church in Eagle River, heads up the Single Parent Fellowship at the parish. With her own marriage annulled and a civil divorce granted, she emphasizes that while divorce is often a factor in what leads parishioners to seek support from this group, there are other paths as well.

“Many have found themselves on this journey through being widowed or divorced, but not all of them,” she explained.

Crisis pregnancies and adoption are among the reasons she continues her outreach, in hopes that Catholic hearts will be opened to a fuller definition of pro-life ministry.

“This saves lives, in the literal sense, as well as the theological sense,” she said.

Mabry sees the landscape of hostility to single parenthood being softened and dissolved over the past 40 years, which she describes as a lessening of the stigma surrounding difficult circumstances.

Initially moving to Alaska with the military more than 20 years ago, Mabry is a born evangelizer. Self-employed over the years and always drawn to outreach and planning in her professional life, the ministry is a natural fit.

“People need help, it doesn’t matter what led them to this journey,” Mabry emphasized when describing her work. “This group was not my idea, but it was quickly embraced by myself and others needing to focus on our new reality.”

The parish group, begun around 2004 and led by her predecessor, does not hold formal meetings — another sign of its responsiveness to the reality of life in a single parent household.

“When I joined, there were 10 participants, and nine of us were working two jobs,” she said.

Long work hours and home responsibilities made coordination of regular meetings unrealistic, but Mabry sees the effectiveness of being a resource and a quiet advocate for those in need. Logistical challenges such as moving from one household to another, navigating health insurance questions or efficiently sussing out legal aid are among the chief solutions she has been able to offer her fellows.

Compared to years past, Mabry sees a growing sensitivity towards single parenthood.

“The stigma has been largely dissolved, and our church has come so far in assisting people who are working on a goal, and helping them to feel that their goal was worthwhile in accomplishing,” she noted.

She explained that to be heard, supported and welcomed in the Church is immensely valuable. The group doesn’t share devotions or mandate a formulaic prayer life, recognizing that the personal grief of their transitions are best handled within the sacraments.

Mabry noted that when someone’s home life is no longer safe, in cases of domestic abuse, the church must respond and provide shelter for those in need.

“Divorce is often about a horrible, horrible choice,” she reflected. “Our home is intended as our personal sanctuary, and when you face aggression and dissonance there, the resilience needs to come from somewhere.”

She cited economic pressures as the primary stressor for many she encounters through the parish ministry.

“When you’re moving from two incomes and shared health insurance to a new budget based on a single income, these demands can almost overwhelm someone,” she said.

Mabry wonders whether other parishes may have similar fellowships, but believes there is certainly a need for disseminating resources. She is working on a phone list and general guide to assist men and women in need, and encourages interested parties throughout the archdiocese to contact her through St. Andrew Church’s parish office.


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