Hope and healing after abortion


“We know the suffering abortion causes and we want you to heal. God loves you and wants you to heal. We want to be instruments of God’s healing for you.”

Those words of Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone summarize our commitment to bring hope and healing to women, and to men, who have suffered the pain of abortion.

In the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the abortion healing ministry is confidential, retreat-based and offered at no cost. Most of the retreats are for women, and retreats for men are less frequently offered.

Father Vito Perrone, founder of the Contemplatives of St. Joseph, leads the retreats, which are served by a team that includes priests and the Daughters of Carmel who offer spiritual guidance, as well as mental health professionals.

Each retreat includes Holy Mass, eucharistic adoration and the opportunity for confession as well as time to speak individually to a counselor. Talks focus on the compassionate love and mercy of God and the possibility of finding healing and of seeing oneself as a loved child of God. The mental health professionals address the stresses, which may be causing pain and difficulty in moving forward.

Retreat teams cater to both English and Spanish speakers.

“I couldn’t have come at a better moment in my life,” said one woman after a retreat. “I’m thankful to everyone, and above all for the amount of love that they have for us.”

“This retreat, for me, was a time to revisit my feelings, a time of spiritual reflection and ‘sisterhood,’” said another.

Nationally, the Project Rachel ministry falls under the umbrella of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Each diocese or archdiocese uniquely builds the ministry to its own requirements.

In the Archdiocese of San Francisco, we were blessed to have Father Perrone assume spiritual leadership of the ministry after the longtime leader and founder of the ministry, Mary Ann Schwab, retired. He is assisted by Divine Word Father James Liebner and by the Daughters of Carmel. The ministry falls under the Office of Human Life & Dignity’s Respect Life ministry and is supported by a couple of faithful volunteers.

The overnight retreats began in 2018, but when the pandemic hit, overnight retreats were no longer possible. Enormous gratitude is due to the hospitality of one of the parishes, where we were welcomed to offer day retreats, outdoors, throughout the pandemic. Weekend retreats have now resumed, and we are beginning to build faith-sharing follow-up groups.

In his invitation to the retreats, Father Perrone says: “Come to an awareness that for you there is a possibility, and a calling from Jesus our Lord, to be healed, and therefore to be witnesses within our culture to life. To be witnesses of the truth that every human life is precious from the moment of conception until natural death.”

As one retreatant wrote in a comment after a retreat: “Thank you for giving me a respite, in the midst of chaos and a busy life, to reflect on the child I lost – which is important because my lost child should never be forgotten. … To also be able to ask Blessed Mary to care for my child on the retreat is a wonderful thing.”

Hope and healing after abortion retreats and ministry embody what we in the Catholic Church should be. To quote a volunteer, “The joy and beauty of the women on the Hope and Healing Retreats is a powerful witness to the presence of God among us.”

Let me conclude with the words of our archbishop: “God loves you. We do. Come to us and be healed. God bless you.”

If you are in need of healing because of abortion, please call (415) 614-5567 or email [email protected]

To learn more about Project Rachel: https://sfarch.org/rachel

Valerie Schmalz is the Director of Office of Human Life & Dignity