Christopher Bell founded Good Counsel Homes in 1985. Since then, his inspiring work on the front lines of the pro-life movement has helped more than 7,800 homeless women choose life and then along with their beloved children, move from a crisis situation to a brighter future.
Beyond his public work at Good Counsel Homes, Chris and his wife Joan have embraced the cause of life in their own family, as well. They have seven children, six of whom are adopted.
In my parish here in New York I am honored to often see Chris at daily Mass. His apostolic work is clearly rooted in prayer.
I approached him one day after Mass and he kindly agreed to answer a few questions for the readership of the CWR about himself and the organization he founded. His inspiring personal witness and work at Good Counsel Homes should inspire us all to be more devoted to the cause of life.
Fr. Seán Connolly for the CWR: What inspired you to begin Good Counsel Homes?
Christopher Bell: God gently pushed me. It wasn’t my idea. It did take time. God kept directing and then I could look back on many, many ways in which he spoke.
Right when I started living and working on 8th Avenue in Manhattan, with a lay prayer community, helping homeless and runaway kids, a young woman walked in the shelter with a baby.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“When I told my boyfriend, the father of my baby, I was pregnant, he told me to ‘get rid of that thing.’ I felt like I wanted to kill myself. But I knew I couldn’t hurt my baby. Then my mom said I had to be on my own, like she was when she was a mom.” She looked at me and said, “Will you help me?” Holding up her child she said, “Will you help us?” I quickly found out that there really was no place for a young woman who was almost 18, with a baby, to go. She wanted to go on to school, find a good job, give her baby a better life. There was no place like that for her. Her only options were public assistance—welfare—and a rat-infested, drug den called a welfare hotel.
I saw more and more pregnant and parenting women come into this shelter. I saw more moms on the street in need. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours, as we did in the prayer community, then, God spoke to me from Psalm 68: “God is father of the orphan, defender of the widow. God gives the lonely a home to dwell in.” Homeless moms may not be widows, but they are without husbands. Their children may not be orphans in the strict sense, but in Latin America children without fathers are considered orphaned.
The Lord made it very clear in many other ways. I finally talked with my spiritual director.
CWR: What was your relationship with Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.? What was his influence on the founding of Good Counsel Homes?
Christopher Bell: As a cradle Catholic, at the time 21 years old, Fr. Benedict was the first priest I ever heard speak about the spiritual life.
After celebrating Mass in our chapel on 8th Ave., across from porn theaters with drug pushers and prostitutes outside the door, he gave a talk about the spiritual life. As a teenager I sought after Transcendental Meditation seeking a deeper meaning. Hearing Fr. Benedict, I wanted to learn more and he gave talks and taught mostly through stories about the lives of the saints and other faith-filled men and women on how they related to God and their neighbor. Then I asked if he’d be my spiritual director.
He’s been the most influential priest in my life. He truly helped lead me on that path closer to the Lord. When I felt called to start a home for mothers and he said he’d help, it was like the voice of God confirming what I thought. Fr. Benedict has to be considered the co-founder of Good Counsel because without his guidance and support, I don’t think the doors would ever have opened. He became the first chairman of Good Counsel’s Board of Directors and remained there until the Lord called him home. He was always helpful in all practical as well as spiritual ways.
CWR: Detail all the different programs of Good Counsel Homes explaining why this apostolic work is more than just a mere women’s shelter?
Chris Bell: Good Counsel means being a family for mothers and babies in need. For a homeless pregnant mom or a mom who recently gave birth, Good Counsel is a home with hope.
At Good Counsel a mom can stay for a year or longer, return to school, or work or both. We have free babysitting in the home. At night one or two of the moms will cook dinner for everyone. We eat together and pray grace before meals. After clean up, there are usually Life Skill classes in parenting, child growth and development, spirituality and more.
Because I learned early how abortion hurts women, I’ve looked for post-abortion programs of healing and hope like Rachel’s Vineyard and Project Rachel. Then, Good Counsel developed its own program, Lumina, which means “light.” This program is not only for women, but also men and siblings affected by abortion.
We have a chapel with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and invite women to Mass. Most importantly we’re trying to share the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ even though most of our moms are not Catholic. These days few have any relationship with a church or denomination. We’ve seen babies and moms baptized or received into the Catholic faith. The Lord works in many ways. We pray to be open to help, like the Missionaries of Charity, to receive Christ and be witnesses of Christ.
Good Counsel’s Exodus program follows moms as they leave our home. Trying to be a “big sister” helping moms in transition and staying in touch.
CWR: How much has the work of Good Counsel Homes expanded since its foundation in 1985? How many homes do you currently operate?
Chris Bell: We opened one home in 1985, by 1987 we had three. Today Good Counsel is directly operating four in and around New York City and near Camden, NJ in the Diocese of Trenton. Along the way we’ve helped nine independent homes open in eight states. We’ve assisted many other homes with advice around the country. Good Counsel was also a founding member of the Pregnancy Services Network of Greater New York some 20 years ago which brought together nearly all the pro-life pregnancy centers and maternity homes in the region. It’s helped all of us better serve women in crisis pregnancies. Also, Good Counsel helped form the National Maternity Housing Coalition about seven years ago which includes more than 100 maternity homes throughout the nation today. This is another way to share best practices, to listen and share the struggles and joys in helping the Lord’s children with children. Jesus calls us to work together to help one another. We are truly one body with many parts.
CWR: You and your wife Joan have adopted six children together. What message do you have for parents considering adoption? What message do you have for a woman in a crisis pregnancy, hopefully considering adoption rather than the violence of abortion?
Chris Bell: First let me say that I beg priests preparing couples for marriage to have them talk about adoption. Every engaged couple should discuss the possibility of adoption. Many children are in need of a good home. No couple is assured they will be given a child by birth and it’s good to prepare. Even couples who have children naturally could consider sharing their love with children the Lord may be planning for them through adoption. After all, our Lord was certainly an adopted child by Joseph.
Joan and I see our children as planned by God to be in our home. Adopted children are planned, by the Lord, to be part of a family. Children, whether born into your family or adopted, can be just as challenging, difficult and fun-loving. Isn’t that what love is? God is love. Don’t we challenge God, make our lives difficult by not obeying?
Being in love and wanting to marry is an adventure. Do not be afraid—we’ve heard forcefully from the Great Saint John Paul.
Nearly all the women at Good Counsel want to parent yet we share, for their information and for them to share with others, the various options of adoption—meaning an open adoption where you could see your child frequently; a semi-open adoption where pictures are shared, there is regular communication and some visits; and a private adoption where you wish to remain anonymous.
For Joan and I, most of our adoptions were outside the U.S.A. and they were closed. One of our daughters’ mom we knew and that mom asked when her daughter by birth turned 18 if she would be in touch. They are in touch now and it’s been a wonderful relationship especially for our daughter by adoption finding out all the new blood relatives she has.
As early as you teach children to pray, parents should especially remember with their adopted children, to pray for the health, spiritual growth and protection of their birth parents and other relatives.
CWR: What do you recommend as the most effective way the reader at home can become more active in the cause of saving the lives of the unborn?
Chris Bell: Pray, fast and do something pro-life every day.
That could be as simple as using social media to share with everyone you know that “God can and does want to forgive those who’ve had an abortion.” Just sharing that information will have incalculable good effects for those suffering silently after an abortion or who have been involved in an abortion. Go to www.LuminaHope.org and share information you find there. Go to www.GoodCounselHomes.org and share that any pregnant mom in need can get help. You don’t know if that will be seen by someone who needs to know that today.
Since Good Counsel and nearly all pro-life organizations depend upon God’s people, please donate. There are literally hundreds of local and national pro-life groups. Support what the Lord calls you to.
I’m saying this last, and it seems like a big deal but it is not, but each week or at least each month, plan to pray near Calvary, that is at the doors of an abortionist. It could be a private office or Planned Parenthood. You can pray alone or with a group. You can find groups online or through the Respect Life Office of your diocese. It’s legal, simple and always, always has a powerful impact. I’ve know mothers who simply saw someone with a Rosary in hand, quietly across the street even from the place of abortion, drive by and not keep her appointment. That was the sign that woman needed to give birth. Pray at Calvary, in front of those abortion places. You may not only save the life of a baby, you will come closer to Jesus.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!