Mary Peterson, co-founder and executive director of Maggie’s Place, gave more than 550 pregnant women a place to start anew during 13 years. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Mary Peterson, co-founder and executive director of Maggie’s Place, gave more than 550 pregnant women a place to start anew during 13 years. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Change is constant, especially for pregnant women. New mothers who come to Maggie’s Place can stay for up to 15 months — the full nine months of their pregnancy and the first six months as a parent.

Core members — who serve as live-in staff — commit to a year.

Mary Peterson has been the one constant face through it all. She devoted nearly 13 years of her life to ensuring that women who were pregnant and lacked a permanent place to stay — much less moral support for the journey — had a  loving home in which to start anew.

After much discernment, Peterson formally stepped down as co-founder and executive director of Maggie’s Place Feb. 1. A trio of Phoenix events marked “the end and the beginning” in the days following.

“I’m trying to live a life where I’m seeking God and to know and accept and trust that is OK to change,” Peterson told The Catholic Sun.

During a Feb. 4 interview on “The Bishop’s Hour” on 1310 AM (cue up the 42:35 mark), Peterson described her organization as the place where she poured out her heart.

It began as a place where five young women, who met through a tangled web of relationships, modeled sacrificial love. They shared a 400-square-foot apartment and gave half of their income back to the organization. Working Saturdays was a weekly event.

“Most of it was done with great love and minimal grumbling,” said Christy DeMuro, one of the co-founders.

“I thought it was amazing that a group of young women could commit to such a project,” said Mary Ann Lester, a former André House staff member who offered advice on community life and served three years on the Maggie’s Place board of directors. “They really had hearts for God and wanted to have a place for pregnant women to be protected and loved and supported.”

Maggie’s Place, though they had no long-term vision for it at the time, is now a network of four homes — one outside of Arizona — where pregnant women with no other children in custody, can live, secure regular support and experience private accountability meetings to carry their baby to term. Talks of opening another location in Arizona are well underway and the opening of an alumnae outreach center is in the home stretch.

Many moms ultimately choose to raise their children but some discern that adoption is a viable option. Maggie’s Place has become a place where more than 550 women have had the support to finish their education, celebrate sobriety and drug-free living, establish parenting skills and, more importantly, find love in the right places: from their babies, their housemates, and volunteers who support Maggie’s Place with supplies, in-home classes and “sweat equity.”

“It’s life. It’s good, bad, hard and wonderful, messy and exciting,” Peterson said. “You can try to put yourself out and give mom options, but a mom may not choose to run with them. You want so much for these women, but they’ve got to choose it for themselves.”

Dealing with the deaths of babies and staff members also brought heartache, as did a fire at the original Maggie’s Place home and tough financial times. Peterson said hardships have been coupled with the beautiful gift of life: watching moms transform their lives and the joy of expansion and opening a thrift shop to support its efforts.

“It’s so mind-blowing because we never thought about the long haul,” Peterson told The Catholic Sun. She said it needed to be that way.

“I don’t think I could have said ‘yes’ to the whole thing, but I could say ‘yes’ to that initial vision. I had to grow into the ‘yes’ of the bigger vision that God had. Sometimes that was painful. There was a lot of stretching there.”