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North Dakota maternity home for crisis pregnancies celebrates 20th anniversary with over 150 babies born

Fox News Digital spoke to Mary Pat Jahner, founder of the Saint Gianna & PIetro Molla Maternity Home in Warsaw, North Dakota, about her ministry, her children and her faith.

A maternity home in North Dakota is celebrating its 20th anniversary, as its founder reflects on the hundreds of women and children she has helped over the years.

Mary Pat Jahner of Warsaw, North Dakota, was working as a Catholic school teacher when she was inspired to change the course of her life dramatically — and change the lives of hundreds of others eventually as well. 

After each school year ended, Jahner would spend her summers volunteering with groups such as the Missionaries of Charity. One summer, after volunteering at the Missionaries of Charity's maternity home in California, Jahner "kind of fell in love with that work," she told Fox News Digital. 

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"And through a whole turn of events that really started in the Jubilee Year 2000, I decided, 'Why don't we have something like that here? You know, in North Dakota,'" she said in a phone interview. 

That began the process that would culminate in the opening of the St. Gianna & Pietro Molla Maternity Home in 2003. 

Built in a converted convent, the St. Gianna & Pietro Molla Maternity Home was initially named after the then-Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla. 

Molla was an Italian pediatrician who turned down doctors' advice to abort her child after she developed a complication during her pregnancy, said the Vatican's website. 

She died on April 28, 1962, a week after the safe delivery of her fourth child, also named Gianna. She was canonized in 2004 by St. Pope John Paul II

Molla is the patroness of doctors, mothers, wives, families and the unborn. 

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St. Gianna was "a model for my students," Jahner told Fox News Digital — as she was a modern woman, not a nun, who achieved sainthood. 

Molla "really sacrificed a lot for her child," she said. "And so does every mom who comes here, really."

Said Jahner, "They're sacrificing, they're making hard choices because, obviously, if they need to come to a maternity home, not everything is perfect in their life. And so she was the perfect patron here."

The name was changed to include Molla's husband, Pietro, who died in 2010. 

Pietro "was a beautiful example, not only as a husband and a dad, but also, he lived as a single parent for many, many years," said Jahner. 

The home celebrated its grand opening in late 2003, welcoming its first mother in 2004.

"Our first baby born just had her 19th birthday in October," Jahner told Fox News Digital. 

Since then, she estimates that there have been over 150 babies born at the Gianna Home. 

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Typically, about three to four women live at the home at a time. They come from all over the country, from all walks of life — and many are from a nearby Native American reservation. 

The youngest resident the home has had was 12 years old — the oldest, 39. There is no charge for any of the services.

"A lot of [the moms] are either really young or really have fallen on some hard times and are kind of alone in the world," said Jahner. 

Children who are younger than first grade are welcome to live in the home with their mothers as well. 

"We love the family setting and we take who God brings us," she said. 

As the nonprofit organization says on its website, "Pregnant? Need help? At Saint Gianna & Pietro Molla Maternity Home, we believe every unborn child is a gift from God and has a right to life, and every pregnant woman has the right to give birth with dignity."

In addition to prenatal care, the Gianna Home provides for the residents' emotional, educational and spiritual needs. Some residents are still in high school when they arrive; others opt to pursue professional certifications. 

Residents of any faith are welcome to live at the home, but Sunday Mass attendance is mandatory, as is evening prayer and prayer before meals. 

Jahner also works to set moms up for success after their children are born, offering assistance in finding a job, an apartment or both. 

"A lot of times, you pay that first month's rent for them," she said. 

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The connections to the home do not end when the baby is born. Each mother's stay at the Gianna Home after her child is born is different, depending on circumstances, but the moms can maintain a connection if they so desire. 

"We are also their family when they leave," said Jahner. "So many times, the people who come here are alone in this world, or they don't have functional family or people they can depend on. They're living couch to couch." 

It is not uncommon for former residents of the home and their children to return for Christmas, said Jahner. This year, three former residents will be coming for Christmas. 

Roughly a quarter of the women who live at the home opt to place their children up for adoption, Jahner said. 

The remainder choose to parent their children themselves.

A single woman, Jahner told Fox News Digital that she did not think she would have children of her own — although she considers herself the grandmother of the children born at the home. 

She is, however, a mom to three: Kassity, Geianna and Aubrey. 

Kassity moved into the Gianna Home as a one-year-old in 2004 with her pregnant mother. Her little sister, Geianna, was the first baby born at the home. 

"Their mom made heroic decisions, but had a really hard life growing up," Jahner said. 

Due to various struggles with mental illness and addiction, she was unable to parent Kassity and Geianna. 

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"She still wasn't able to parent, even though she loved them with her whole heart and soul," said Jahner. 

They have lived with Jahner for the last eight or nine years, both at the Gianna Home and in her own home. "I consider them my girls," she said. 

Aubrey, who is 7, was also born at the Gianna Home. Her birth mother arrived at the home at six months pregnant, and she, too, initially intended to parent her baby. 

But when the baby was just three months old, the social services team made a decision, indicated Jahner.

The team that was working with Aubrey's birth mom "had her [the mom] go get more help and treatment for different issues that she was having," said Jahner. 

"And I remember they made the decision and came to get her on a Thursday up here. And Aubrey was here a total of three months," she said. 

Jahner offered to keep Aubrey, assuming the state would "let us keep her until Monday or so." 

"We were just going to snuggle as much as we could over the weekend, and then she would go," she said. "But the reality is, Aubrey never left."

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Jahner said she worked to maintain a connection with the birth mom, including in-person visits and FaceTime chats. 

As time went on, the birth mom was not able to maintain a parental relationship with Aubrey, said Jahner. So Jahner asked the mom if she would consider placing Aubrey for adoption. 

"It has been a great joy in my life," said Jahner, who said that she maintains a relationship with Aubrey's birth mom and that they see each other in person at least three times a year. 

"It really is a great relationship," she said. "And I think Aubrey has benefited, you know, very much from that … She was able to keep that consistency." 

Jahner became emotional when she discussed how some of her former residents have grown since their time spent living at the Gianna Home. 

"I have some who are married, you know, and who are doing great," she said.

"We recently had a big adoption event, and this woman who [visited] — she was here as a 15-year-old and placed her little girl for adoption," said Jahner. 

That woman went on to share that she now has three other children and works as a director at a nursing home. "She's just doing amazing," Jahner said. 

She said it's "really beautiful" to see how her efforts have played out over the years and all the progress the moms have made.

"To be able to see that both sometimes when they're here, they're just trying to make it through the day, just those little first steps," said Jahner. 

"But when you see how it goes, it's really amazing what God does."

For more Lifestyle articles, visit www.foxnews.com/lifestyle.

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