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Project Rachel unites all who mourn the lost promise of a life

06 8.31.17_ProjectRachel4 PAGEEllen Kelly Daley holds a photograph of her son Seamus, who died during his delivery on Sept. 18, 2008. The St. Charles parishioner is a trained mentor for the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Project Rachel ministry, which is hosting a Healing Mass on Sept. 16 at Holy Cross Cemetery in memory of babies who died before, at or after their birth. (Photo by Christina Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

August 31, 2017
Christina Gray

Ellen Kelly Daley’s only son Seamus was born and died on Sept. 18, 2008. It’s a date Daley’s family, which now includes 7-year-old Patsy, marks each year in true birthday fashion, with cupcakes, a dinner out and Mass.

“No one should have to plan for the birth and death of their baby at the same time, but that’s what we did,” said Daley, who held Seamus’ funeral four days after his birth at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, her family’s parish at the time.

Daley will be among other women and families mourning the loss of a child at a special Mass at Holy Cross Cemetery Sept. 16. Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone will celebrate the Mass in the cemetery’s mausoleum at 11 a.m.

The Project Rachel Mass and healing liturgy is sponsored every two years by the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Project Rachel Ministry to remember babies who have died before, at or after birth.

The event welcomes anyone mourning a life interrupted by abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth as well as other tragedies such as accidents, disease or crib death. As part of the healing liturgy, mourners walk together up to a windy bluff at the Colma cemetery and memorialize their lost children by dropping a leaf into a small open-earth grave at the Rachel Shrine.

The shrine recalls the mourning of the Old Testament’s Rachel for her children who died as described in Jeremiah 31:15-17.

Project Rachel was founded almost 35 years ago specifically to offer peace, reconciliation and healing to those suffering post-abortion anguish. The archdiocesan ministry provides a network of specially trained priests, religious, counselors and laypersons who provide a team response to those suffering in the aftermath of abortion, including the hope of sacramental reconciliation.

According to longtime San Francisco Project Rachel coordinator Mary Ann Schwab, the lost promise of a child can leave a “hole in the soul” that is difficult to recover from no matter what the cause.

“We come together to pray whatever the circumstances of our loss,” said Schwab.

Four months into her pregnancy Daley learned that Seamus had a serious chromosomal disorder that virtually ensured a very short life if he survived the full term.

Despite the fatal diagnosis, termination was “not an option at all,” said Daley, so she hung her hopes on a different set of dreams.

“My prayer was to just be able to go to full term, to go into labor naturally, to hold him in my arms and to have him baptized,” she said. “I feel very blessed that all those things occurred.”

The pastor of St. Ignatius Parish had given the couple some baptismal water, and Seamus, who was delivered stillborn after his heart stopped beating during labor, was immediately “baptized.”

Seamus doesn’t have a baptismal certificate, “but in my heart he is baptized,” said Daley, a lifelong Catholic.

The days, months and years that followed were “some of the saddest and darkest days” of her life, but Daley said that her faith helped her bear five months of pregnancy with the knowledge her child would not live.

She went to daily Mass before Seamus was born and continued to after he died.

“Receiving the Eucharist really sustained me and it was that nourishing food I needed to continue another day,” she said.

Daley has a Masters in Counseling and works at the University of San Francisco counseling students how to prepare for success after graduation. Years before Seamus’ birth and death, she trained to become a mentor with the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Project Rachel Ministry.

She couldn’t have known then that she too one day would suffer the unbearable loss of a child.

“No one really knows what it is like to lose a baby until it’s happened to you,” she said.

The Project Rachel Mass brings together a community bound together by loss, support and healing. It’s a community that no one would choose to be in, said Daley. “But if you have to be in it, you are darn glad there are these loving people there beside you.”

Contact the Project Rachel Ministry at (415) 717-4428 or masfs11@gmail.com.

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