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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

122116 wray retiresCHARLOTTE — “It’s a marvelous gift.” That’s how Jeannie Wray describes the past 10 years she’s spent as executive director of MiraVia, a ministry devoted to helping women in crisis pregnancies.

Wray joined MiraVia (then called Room at the Inn) in 2006 at the invitation of former director Cindy Brown. The ministry needed a fundraiser and Wray, who was working at a museum at the time, was intrigued by the opportunity.

“I just happened to run into Cindy at a restaurant in Rock Hill. I happened to mention to Cindy that I was retiring in a year and if she knew of anyone who needed a good fundraiser to let me know. She said, ‘Well, I do! At least, we will in a year.’ So that’s where it started.”

Wray succeeded Brown as executive director in 2007.

In 2007, Wray led a capital campaign to build the first maternity home for college student mothers, a particularly vulnerable population that often feels they have to choose between their college educations or their unborn children.

The Benedictine monks of Belmont Abbey agreed to lease MiraVia four acres needed for the ambitious project to help college-aged pregnant women to choose life and build independent, healthy lives for themselves and their children, without having to drop out of college.

“We could not have done that project without that gift,” Wray said.

Opened in 2012, the 10,000-square-foot maternity home next to Belmont Abbey College can house up to 15 young women with an unplanned pregnancy who want to complete their college education and care for their babies. To date, MiraVia has housed 13 mothers and 10 children on the campus of Belmont Abbey College, free of charge. And since its founding in 1994, MiraVia has helped nearly 7,000 women and their children.

Wray recalls some of her greatest challenges with MiraVia came during the fundraising, development and building of the MiraVia home.

“Navigating state requirements and working with architects was a huge undertaking,” she said. “We raised $2.3 million in basically a recession. We reached out to our supporters, who were wonderfully generous. There were a couple of donors who passed away and left us a gift in their wills.”

She is thankful for the community support, especially the Knights of Columbus, who raised $500,000, and the parishes across the diocese who made gifts to MiraVia.

“The Lord provided!” she exclaimed.

One of her fondest memories is of a Mass celebrated on the first Lent they were in the maternity home, in the small chapel at MiraVia. Benedictine Abbot Placid Solari, chancellor of Belmont Abbey College, and some of MiraVia’s donors joined Wray, MiraVia staff and the young women and their babies to thank God for His blessing of the new facility.

“It was incredibly moving,” Wray recalled. “That was a wonderful experience. I will never forget that.”

Wray also remembers fondly the milestones the babies have achieved during their time in her care.

“I remember when each of the babies came home, their first steps…and the first time they called me by name,” she said with emotion welling up in her voice.

“I’m really proud of every one of our young women who completed their degrees,” she said. “They work hard to be good mothers. In the face of all of their difficulties, they understood the gift (of MiraVia) and worked hard to achieve their goals.”

She says she is a much stronger Catholic thanks to her work with the pro-life ministry. “I am much more prayerful. There is so much power in prayer! Every turn, every difficulty – our prayers have been answered. I know the Lord has an enormous army of angels watching over MiraVia. I feel so protected by the Divine here.”

Wray said she wants MiraVia’s success to inspire others.

“I hope it is a standard that others hope to achieve. I think it’s a ground-breaking program. I hope MiraVia inspires other places to find the resources to duplicate the program. I would like to see one next to every Catholic college in the country.”

People from more than six states have inquired about the program, she noted, and there has also been international interest.

Her plan is to remain with MiraVia through March, to help guide the next executive director and assist with the state re-licensing review that will take place in early 2017.

After she retires, Wray said, she plans to spend time with her family and do some gardening. “I’m going to sleep and go to daily Mass,” she laughed.

“I know people talk about ‘once in a lifetime experiences,’” Wray said. “I know with every step (in my life) that the Lord was preparing me to work with MiraVia to develop this program. It has been an honor to give back to the community.”

— SueAnn Howell, Senior reporter