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Mary's Shelter growing again
Shelter for pregnant women in crisis dedicates new rental home in memory of baby who lived only three minutes

 Paul and Kristen Sowa cradle their baby son, Paul.
Rosanne Rainville/Rose Photography
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Date published: 4/16/2010


A local shelter that helps pregnant women in crisis will dedicate a new facility tomorrow in memory of a baby whose time on earth lasted only three minutes.

But the brief life of "Baby Paul" Sowa spoke volumes to the volunteers at Mary's Shelter in downtown Fredericksburg.

"His story is a true testament to how beautiful each and every baby is," said Kathleen Wilson, one of three friends who founded the shelter in 2007.

Baby Paul, whose full name was Paul Thomas Rocky Sowa, was born last summer to Paul and Kristen Sowa of Spotsylvania County.

Halfway through the pregnancy, the couple discovered the baby had a birth defect called trisomy 18. The condition causes an extra chromosome and severely affects every organ in the body.

The defect occurs once in about 3,000 births and typically causes babies, especially boys, to be stillborn.

The Sowas were told they could end the pregnancy, but the couple and their two children decided they would treasure any fleeting moments they were given.

"For me, there was no decision," said Kristen Sowa in a story published last September in The Free Lance-Star. "Whatever time we had, we would definitely look forward to."

Wilson believes it's appropriate to dedicate the new shelter in Baby Paul's honor because "our homes are all about women who choose life."

About 60 pregnant women who have been victims of domestic violence or faced homelessness or other hardships have come through the shelter in three years.

Not all stay.

Some can't deal with the shelter's rules about attending GED classes, finding jobs or doing volunteer work and learning skills that will help them become independent.

Wilson guesses she and others, including co-founders Theresa Rousseau and Chris Taraschke--have witnessed the births of about 40 babies.

The shelter houses women age 18 and older in rental houses and relies on donations from churches and other groups. It doesn't get any grant or government money or formal funding from the Diocese of Arlington.

However, Catholic churches within the association, from Northern Virginia to Culpeper and many in the Fredericksburg area, give to the shelter regularly. So do other denominations and groups.

With a third home, the shelter can house 10 women and their children at a time.

The newest rental is beautiful, Wilson said, and parts of it aren't new at all. The original portion of the house dates to the 1700s and includes a brick wall peppered with Civil War bullet holes.

Otis Light, a downtown landlord and builder, already was renting one home to Mary's Shelter as he worked on restoring the older house. When he finished, he offered it to the shelter.

Wilson told him the group couldn't possibly afford it.

He let them rent the four-bedroom home, which also has space for offices and a central meeting area, for the same price they were paying for a small two-bedroom home.

"It's mostly a gift from Otis and his wife, Rebecca," Wilson said. "I can't believe their generosity."

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
Email: cdyson@freelancestar.com

Mary's Shelter, a facility for pregnant women in crisis, relies on donations from churches and individuals. The shelter rents three houses in downtown Fredericksburg, where up to 10 women and their children can live.

For more information:

BY PHONE: 540/623-5778. BY E-MAIL: info@marysshelter va.org. BY MAIL: Mary's Shelter, 309 Hawke St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401.