‘Angels’ lead struggling mom from darkness to light
By Lidia Wasowicz
Lidia Wasowicz is a former UPI science reporter and long time freelance writer for Catholic San Francisco.
Meagan Montanari’s wild ride to redemption has taken her from troubled teen to mature mom, from the abyss of suffering, strife and sorrow to the apex of healing, harmony and hope.
Having survived addictions, homelessness, depression and other torments from the age of 13, Montanari, now a sober 36-year-old single parent, looks forward to graduating with a Theology degree in the fall and her son’s first Communion next May.
She attributes her transformative turnaround to God’s guidance toward earthly “angels” who took her under their wing at the Missionaries of Charity’s Queen of Peace Shelter for pregnant women and at the local Gabriel Project, a parish based ministry dedicated to supporting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of struggling moms-to-be by connecting them with “angels” within parishes.
“Without all the help I received in those first few years, none of this would be possible,” said Montanari, who earned nearly simultaneous bachelor and master degrees at Christendom College in Virginia in May and July and now aims for the Sacred Theology doctorate at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.
“God uses us all as instruments of His grace — what an incredible gift this is!”
She remembers clearly the day she first glimpsed the gift.
It was May 2014. Hooked on heroin, penniless, pregnant, without a place to stay, she was considering another attempt at suicide when she felt a pull to a Protestant church she was passing in downtown San Francisco.
She entered and asked for help.
Queen of Peace Shelter topped the local resource options she obtained.
“I would have called — and ultimately gone to —whichever shelter was listed first,” she recalled, “so I know God directed me to the Missionaries of Charity.”
Those who welcomed her also recognized signs of divine intervention.
“Our foundress Mother Teresa taught us to seek and find Jesus in His ‘distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor,’” said Sister John Marie, a member of the congregation for 26 years. “We come to learn through experiences such as Meagan’s that there is no such thing as a ‘hopeless case.’”
Montanari stood out among the 66 women and children Queen of Peace Shelter served that year. She arrived as “one who was sincerely searching for and open to being helped with her issues of homelessness and addiction,” Sister John Marie said.
Montanari similarly impressed Rose Lo, logistics coordinator for the Gabriel Project at the Archdiocese of San Francisco and at Holy Name of Jesus Parish, one of 18 parishes in the archdiocese participating in the program.
“Meagan had an exceptionally strong belief in faith and trusted that God would lead her … in her pregnancy journey,” said Lo, a liaison to the Queen of Peace Shelter and trained as a Gabriel “angel.” “At the initial meeting with her, she indicated that God referred her to call.”
Reasons for the referral started to reveal themselves over the next four months.
As Montanari attended daily afternoon prayers, cleaned and prepared and served meals with the sisters, she witnessed and wished for their “simplicity and joy.”
As she received maternity outfits, baby clothes, newborn supplies and even some luxuries from Gabriel angels, she began to experience and emulate their unconditional love.
“The sisters at the Missionaries of Charity and Gabriel Project volunteers played a big role in Meagan’s life at that time,” Lo related. “We were her family that she could trust and rely on.”
Curious about the faith underlying the ongoing outreach, Montanari expressed an interest in learning more.
The sisters invited her to Mass and, when she was ready, introduced her to a Queen of Peace Shelter and Gabriel Project volunteer who facilitated her conversion.
Angela Testani, a Holy Name parishioner, drove her to Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) classes for catechetical instruction at St. Brendan Church in San Francisco, delved into discussions on Catholic teachings and traditions and stayed by her side even as a relapse led to rehab.
“Prior to meeting Meagan, I had zero contact with a homeless, pregnant woman,” said Testani, who became godmother to both Montanari and her son Judah at their respective formal entries into the Church.
“Yet, there was something about her, when I looked into her eyes and heard her story from her, that (showed) she is for sure one of God’s chosen ones.”
Montanari believes her plunge into the darkness of drug and alcohol abuse, pornography, promiscuity, occult practices, felony convictions, a near-fatal overdose and even demonic visions served a holy purpose that brought her to the Light of Christ.
“I cannot be certain why God has tested me in such a severe way, but I think for some of us, it takes an immense amount of suffering to break our self-will so that God’s grace can be allowed to enter,” she surmised.
By September 2014, she realized her suffering had not quite ended. She asked Sister John Marie to place her in a drug treatment plan.
“I told her I needed help, and I couldn’t stop on my own,” Montanari said.
The “angels” continued to watch over her as she recovered at the Mount St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth Epiphany Center. The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul, who operate the residential facility, set up a crib in anticipation of Judah’s arrival. In addition, Lo and fellow Gabriel volunteer Eloisa Andres, brought bundles of donations for the bundle of joy who arrived at San Francisco General Hospital Nov. 18, 2014. And Testani paid weekly visits to catechize and prepare the catechumen for her full integration into the Catholic fold at the Easter Vigil in 2015 at St. Brendan parish.
Montanari received the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil in 2015 at St. Brendan parish with the Missionaries of Charity and other “angels” in attendance. Her reception into the Catholic Church finally brought Montanari the healing that she had long sought.
Despite the valiant efforts of her parents, teachers, counselors and friends, she shared, “without the transformation that only Christ Himself can bring, I quickly lost it all. God has written His law on my heart and given my life meaning. He has done this through the sacraments.”
She is not certain where she will end up pursuing her dream of teaching theology at the collegiate level, “but wherever God wants me is where I will go.”
“My life,” she vowed, “is at the service of the Church.”
More information about the Gabriel Project is available at sfarch.org/gabrielproject.
The Gabriel Project
The Gabriel Project is a confidential and compassionate outreach to pregnant women. Women can call or text the Gabriel Project number 1-800-910-2848.
Based in local parishes, Gabriel Project works with “angels” (those who volunteer to participate in this ministry) within the local community to support women spiritually, emotionally and materially. These angels may work with women directly, walking with them through their pregnancy and beyond, or volunteer to support the women through various means including transportation, translating services, or running a “closet” or facility that gives out donated items to women in need.
The Gabriel Project is an active ministry within the Archdiocese of San Francisco. There are seven parishes in San Francisco, four parishes in Marin County and 12 parishes participating in San Mateo County. The number of angels per parish varies. Many angels speak Spanish.
Gabriel Project advertising traditionally includes permanent signs outside parishes, in church vestibules and notices in church bulletins. That outreach stepped up exponentially in June when the Gabriel Project launched a billboard, bus ad and social media advertising campaign within the archdiocese. The campaign was designed by a group of advertising professionals via Random Acts of Catholics who donated their talents. They obtained free ad space and negotiated a social media campaign. The campaign includes 300 ads on San Francisco Muni buses, digital ads in view of highways US 101 and 280 and ads and swipe to text ads on the social media platforms of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The costs of the printing and other production costs were paid by another generous grant from a local family trust.
Interested in helping? Find more information by emailing [email protected].
If you are a pregnant woman who is interested in finding help and support through the Gabriel Project, the phone number to text or call is 1-800-910-2848.
For more information
Queen of Peace Shelter for pregnant women, call 415-586-3449.
Epiphany Center, visit www.theepiphanycenter.org/ or call 415-567-8370.
Gabriel Project in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, visit sfarch.org/gabrielproject.