Seeking a new direction in her life, Eileen Ward of Glenburn came to the St. Andre Home of Bangor nearly 40 years ago. In the decades since, she has helped hundreds of single mothers and their children to find different paths as well.
The St. Andre Home in Bangor houses five women and their children. Since arriving at St. Andre’s 39 years ago, the 78-year-old Ward has served as counselor to these women while handling the paperwork endemic to such a group home.
She’s getting done at the end of July, and an open house was held in her honor July 25 at the Bangor home.
Supervisor Sharon Belanger and the rest of the St. Andre’s staff are going to miss all that Ward brought to her calling.
“She is the program,” stressed Belanger. “She’s seen so many women and children come and go, and she’s given them lots of compassion, stability, and guidance. She’s very dedicated to the mission of keeping moms and their babies together whenever possible. Without Eileen, there’s no pulse for the agency.”
Ward came from New York to enter the religious community of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec. She has seen St. Andre’s evolve through the years.
When St. Andre’s began in the 1940s, back in what Ward referred to as “the dark ages,” it was “a place for women who were pregnant to go when they didn’t want their pregnancy disclosed. They would have their child and either go home with it, or find a home for it with a relative or put it in up for adoption,” she recalled.
In 1974, when the Bangor group home opened, “the young women moving in were most likely to keep their child. They would go to school or get a job, but could walk down the street without having to worry about having stones thrown at them,” Ward said.
At that time, the women couldn’t keep their babies with them, the logic being that it would be harder for them to give up their children for adoption if they did. That didn’t last long, Ward said, and soon pregnant women considering adoption would live side by side with women with children seeking a more stable environment.
Since 1987, St. Andre’s has exclusively housed women and their children. “They may be fleeing from an abusive situation or be someone who doesn’t feel that she could live alone with a child,” Ward said. Originally, anyone who called could live there, but now it’s strictly women referred by the Department of Human Services.
“There’s been a lot of changes from the beginning,” Ward said. “The intent was to meet the needs of the day and to adjust to the changes in society.”
Parts of the mission haven’t changed. St. Andre’s is about building up these young women and giving the skills they need to flourish in life, Ward said.
“A lot of times, they don’t have much self-esteem,” she said. “We help them to see themselves in a better light. They’re learning the skills need to be successful parents and to lead a successful life.”
After leaving St. Andre’s, which she said “has been a great ride,” Ward isn’t sure what she’ll do next.
“I keep waiting for the Lord to tell me what’s next, to show me where there’s a need that I can help meet,” she said.