Three individuals share their personal stories of faith, healing after abortion, and work to build a culture of life
By Katherine Long | Editor
‘If I can save one baby and save one mom from doing what I did, I feel as though that’s what I’m meant to do’
“Almost immediately I knew I did the wrong thing,” Kitty Spinelli said of her first abortion. “I suppressed it…. I just felt sick for so long.”
Spinelli was a young woman then, and felt she had no one to turn to.
“Somehow, on some level, I knew I let God down…. Instead of looking for forgiveness, I kept going deeper and deeper into the spiral,” she said. She later had a second abortion.
“By the grace of God, I married a wonderful man, I’ve had a great life, I have two beautiful children… but the ones that I left behind, the ones that I chose not to give life to, they’re the ones that I’ve thought about constantly,” she said.
For years, Spinelli said she lived “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” full of fear and disgust with herself.
It was her friend, a friend who had a light about her, something different, who changed her course.
“I wanted what she had,” Spinelli said. “And I knew she had God.”
Spinelli decided she had to go to confession.
“I went down to the Cathedral,” she recalled. “The first day I went, there was no confession.” The second time, she “chickened out” and the third time, she waited in line, trying to be the last one. She finally entered the confessional and “cried my eyes out for 25 minutes.” The priest told her, “‘You have suffered enough all of these years. I absolve you of your sins,’ and he blessed me,” Spinelli said. “And it made me cry more, because I felt so unworthy.”
That confession was the beginning of her transformation, Spinelli recalled, but “it didn’t get me back to the Church the way it should have.” Referencing the Gospel parable of the sower and the seed falling on rocky soil, Spinelli said, “I needed to be pruned a little bit more and tilled a little bit more. My son’s accident did that.”
Several years after that confession, Spinelli’s son was in an accident. Doctors didn’t give him much hope for survival, Spinelli said.
She picked up her rosary beads and said, “I’ll do whatever you ask me to do if only you give me back my son,” she recalled, praying to Our Lady “because I was too ashamed to go to Jesus.” Spinelli said she felt immense consolation from the Blessed Mother and became confident in her support.
“Those rosaries and prayers that I said for my son were answered,” she said.
As Spinelli helped her son on the long road to recovery, she spent many hours in the kitchen cooking for him — and watching EWTN, another step in her total conversion. She started attending daily Mass. “I just let God know I’d be there to do whatever He wanted me to do,” she said.
A few years later, Spinelli had “a vivid dream that made me realize I had to pray at Planned Parenthood,” she said. On March 19, St. Joseph’s Feast Day, she went, and though she was initially “afraid to get out the car” and “drove around the block like 14 times,” when she started to pray the rosary on the sidewalk, “I couldn’t get myself to leave…. I knew I was exactly where God wanted me to be, I knew it was exactly what He wanted me to do, I knew unequivocally that He had forgiven me.”
From that day on, Spinelli would return as many times a week as she could. Her routine was morning Mass, praying on the sidewalk, Adoration at a local church, then Wegmans for organic produce for her son.
One year later, on March 19, during Adoration, “I was given the inspiration for Joseph’s House…. I didn’t believe it could happen, but I had read enough of [EWTN founder] Mother Angelica’s history and her story to understand that God works with weak links to get things done.”
And on March 19, 2014, with the help and inspiration of many, Joseph’s House, a home for homeless moms and babies in need, officially opened in Syracuse.
“The reason that I’ve been allowed to do this is because of my past,” Spinelli said. “It’s because I offered myself to God to use in whatever way He wanted in reparation for my sins so other people didn’t make the same horrible decisions I made…. If I can save one baby and save one mom from doing what I did, I feel as though that’s what I’m meant to do.”
Whereas Spinelli said she long thought of herself as a victim of her past, the moms at Joseph’s House are shown they have a choice to be a victim or a survivor. “When you choose to be a survivor, you have the capacity to change the future for a lot of other people, including yourself. That’s what I want to do in thanksgiving to God,” Spinelli said.
She also cites the diocese’s Project Rachel post-abortion ministry as an important part of her healing process.
“It’s important for people to know that God is mercy, God is forgiveness, God would die on the cross for just you alone. He wants you to be with Him for eternity in heaven, and you will be if you surrender yourself to Him.”
Joseph’s House promotes “the sanctity of life and the dignity of women by providing a nurturing home for mothers facing an unplanned pregnancy or homelessness” and provides “access to educational, occupational, and spiritual resources informed by the Catholic tradition, giving them the opportunity to achieve their God-given potential.” For more information, call (315) 701-4981 or visit jhfw.org.
‘Jesus has this longing for you to accept His love’
When Lucienne Henneberry found out she was pregnant, “it was sheer and utter panic,” she recalled.
She was young, the pregnancy represented a future she didn’t want, and the fear of telling her parents was “paralyzing, absolutely paralyzing,” she explained.
“I’ve heard it described by somebody and it really resonated with me — when I found out I was pregnant, the decision to have an abortion, it was like an animal caught in a trap that gnaws off its own foot to get out. That’s the level of desperation that I was feeling,” Henneberry said.
Years after the abortion, “I decided to reconnect with my faith,” she recalled. “Then this thing that I had done was staring me in the face full-force.”
“I really thought that I had done the one unforgivable thing,” she said.
“The level of condemnation that you put on yourself…. This realization comes over you and you can’t imagine that you’ve done this thing.”
“Thankfully, I made an appointment with a very good priest and went to him and said, ‘I’ve done the one thing that I can’t be forgiven for.’ By the grace of God he was understanding, compassionate, and told me that wasn’t true and offered me forgiveness through the Church.”
“When I left that meeting-slash-confessional, I thought I might fly home,” she remembered. “I mean, I was set free…. The realization that I not only could be forgiven, but was forgiven.”
“I was in that space of faith and hope and forgiveness for quite some time,” Henneberry said. “It was a huge leap for me into my faith, and I then felt free to continue to explore my faith.”
She met the man who would become her husband and they began “a beautiful, faith-filled marriage.” They now have two adult children.
Sadly, “I lost our first child in miscarriage because of a faulty [or] injured cervix, as a result — at least in my thinking — as a result of the abortion,” she said. “The consequences of what I had done began to weigh on me at that point. That was pretty intense — that not only had I lost this child, I had lost my husband’s child — my husband was perfectly innocent, he’d done nothing to cause this, I had. That was the beginning of me seeking a new level of healing,” Henneberry recalled.
She saw notes in her parish’s bulletin about an upcoming talk on pro-life issues. Henneberry went and decided some type of pro-life work “would be something I really needed to do.” At first she thought she might be able to take some small initial steps and serve behind the scenes at a nearby pregnancy center, but ultimately found she could not volunteer there.
Not long after, a fellow parishioner approached Henneberry in the dairy section of the grocery store, so excited because the parish was going to open its own pregnancy center ministry.
“On the outside I was smiling. On the inside I was freaking out. This was not behind the scenes, this was not anonymous, this was not secret,” she said. “I held it together and seemed enthusiastic… but I couldn’t believe it.”
As the group began to plan, Henneberry was asked to serve on the board. “I opened up and told my board members that I was post-abortive. They were very supportive of me, and as we opened up our pregnancy center, I became that counselor. If somebody was abortion-minded, I got the phone call.”
Henneberry also participated in a program called Rachel’s Vineyard, a post-abortion ministry similar to the diocese’s Project Rachel ministry.
“Serious and profound healing began before I closed the door behind me” at the retreat, she said. A distraught woman was brought in by a friend, and Henneberry remembers “thinking to myself, ‘God does not want this for her. He does not want this pain and shame and guilt and brokenness for her.’ I immediately realized that if He doesn’t want it for her, He doesn’t want it for me. It was a profound glimpse into how I needed to move forward.”
Henneberry calls her years of work and ministry with New Life Pregnancy Center, and now with Project Rachel, “a continual healing process.”
She used to sit in front of a picture window in her house during prayer time. “I would envision myself in the yard out back, dragging a huge, huge heavy cross on my back… back and forth, making these deep furrows in the ground because that cross was so heavy. I used to think how good that would feel, somehow feeling the weight of the sin and carrying it around — how appropriate it would be, maybe?
“And through the healing process, through being with other post-abortive women, through a great deal of prayer, and through reading the diary of St. Faustina, where Jesus tells her that the most sinful are the ones that are the best recipients of His mercy, the more sins you’ve committed, the more mercy you deserve…. I began to realize that Jesus has this longing for you to accept His love.
“The more we protest, the more we turn our back on it, the happier the devil is. Jesus is not pleased by our beating ourselves up, He is not pleased by us hanging on to our guilt. What He truly wants is for us to lay that at the cross.”
New Life Pregnancy Center, 3349 Main St., Mexico, N.Y., is a ministry of St. Anne, Mother of Mary Catholic Church and offers free pregnancy tests, counseling, classes, and material assistance. For more information, call (315) 963-2273 or visit nlpregnancy.org.
‘God is more than willing to forgive, and I think He even wants to take that a step further and use those who are forgiven to reach out to others’
The memories remain with Paul Marshall. As a young man, he lost two children to abortions, he explained.
The experience “stuck with me for a long time — it still does. It still affects my life,” he said.
A line in a book began his process of healing nearly 20 years ago.
“I had been reading a book on spiritual growth and development. For the life of me, I’m not sure which one it was,” he recalled. “But I read one line in that book that just hit me like a ton of bricks. It said something to the effect of, ‘God will often use our greatest pain to serve His greater purpose’…. Then it asked the question, ‘What is your greatest pain?’ And I knew immediately.”
Within a few weeks, Marshall said, he was introduced to Care Net Pregnancy Center of Central New York, an organization of pregnancy care centers in the region. He went to a fundraising banquet knowing little more than that the organization offered help to unwed mothers. “But then when I found out they were all about saving lives from abortion, that was it for me. I’ve been part of the organization ever since.” He currently serves as the organization’s executive director.
Marshall started as a volunteer with Care Net’s men’s ministry, however. As part of the volunteer training, “anybody that had lost a child to abortion [was required] to go to one of the healing programs that they had.” Marshall participated in an 18-week, Bible-based program called “Healing a Father’s Heart.”
“It was the beginning of peeling back layers and layers of protectiveness… kind of like an onion skin,” Marshall said.
Through his personal experience and his work, Marshall has learned that men who experience an abortion with a partner can have “a lot of the symptoms that women have — the depression, the anger, the feeling like you’re all alone in this world, that nobody knows you for who you really are because you’ve got this awful thing hidden in your past…. Most of them never talk about it because they don’t want anybody else to know.”
He encourages those men to take advantage of the programs that “give people the tools that they need to cope with it better…. And then to reexamine what their own skills and giftings are and to use some of it to help other men and women either not make the same mistake and choose to make a better choice if they’re experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, or to be able to get out there and help people recover.”
“The impact stays with people for a long time and the message needs to be clear that God is more than willing to forgive, and I think he even wants to take that a step further and use those who are forgiven to reach out to others.”
Care Net Pregnancy Center of Central New York has locations in Liverpool, Morrisville, Oneida, Camden, Rome, Herkimer, and Utica. The centers offer free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, STD screenings and treatment, and parenting classes. For more information about Care Net services and sites, visit carenetcares.com.
The Diocese of Syracuse’s Office of Family/Respect Life Ministry offers Project Rachel Ministry, the Church’s program for post abortion-healing. Project Rachel provides an integrated approach to healing involving experienced team members and referrals to priests and licensed mental health professionals. Support is provided one-to-one or in a group setting, depending on an individual’s needs. To privately and confidentially contact Project Rachel Ministry, call 855-364-0076 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.