Special to The B.C. Catholic

With contractors working quietly on jobs outside and furniture still waiting to be arranged inside, the Talitha Koum Society’s new Gianna House in Coquitlam was the scene of a moving and memorable blessing ceremony.

The Talitha Koum Society is a non-profit organization empowering women with addictions to lead healthy and fulfilling lives by providing a home for them and their young children, a nurturing community, 12-step programming and life-skills training. Spiritual healing and growth are an integral part of the society’s vision. Gianna House is named after St. Gianna Beretta Molla, the patron saint of the society.

Two dozen board members, volunteers, staff, and clients of the society’s already-existing Coquitlam recovery home, called Starr House (in memory of Talitha Koum’s founder, Starr Peardon), stood in a circle around the perimeter of the new home’s freshly painted living room, joined hands, and listened reverently as Father Garry LaBoucane, OMI, led a ceremony that combined rich Catholic tradition with that of First Nations.

Father LaBoucane prayed to the Virgin Mary and then, speaking directly to the many women in the circle, described their unique role. “Women,” he said, “you are like the Creator. You bring life into the world.”

He also distributed Holy Mother-themed gifts for the home, “so that wherever people go throughout the house they will remember the power that you, as women, have.”

He continued the blessing ceremony as he moved throughout the house. “Gracious and beloved one, Creator of the Universe, come and bless this house,” Father LaBoucane intoned, as Wendy Charbonneau, an Elder of the Squamish Nation who is also an Associate of the Child Jesus, beat softly on a ceremonial First Nations drum. “Surround it with your spirit. Encompass all our sides – the north, the south, the east, and the west – with the power of your protection so that no evil nor harm will come near.”

Doreen Kostynuik, Father Garry LaBoucane, and Squamish Elder Wendy Charbonneau take part in the blessing of the new Gianna House in Coquitlam.

He sprinkled holy water throughout the house and led an aboriginal smudging ceremony.

Also participating was Sister Denece Billesberger, the longest-serving Talitha Koum board member, and Doreen Kostynuik, a therapist and part-time Byzantine hermit.

Two other significant participants, representing the financial support that allowed Talitha Koum to purchase and renovate the 60-year-old Coquitlam Gianna House, were also on hand. One was philanthropist Sissy von Dehn, the owner of the original Gianna House in east Vancouver that, for two decades, was used as a refuge for pro-life demonstrators.

Von Dehn allowed Talitha Koum to transform the house into a recovery home from 2007 onwards, and in 2014 gave legal ownership of the property to the society. Talitha Koum sold the home soon afterward, devoting most of the proceeds to the purchase of the new Gianna House in Coquitlam.

“It’s a day of great relief, to see that the legacy of Gianna House has come into its own and that Talitha Koum has the same commitment to looking after women and children as we did when we founded the original home,” said von Dehn, who was accompanied to the ceremony by her children, Marion and Ted. “It’s a life-giving house, and I always had the feeling that it was well protected under St. Gianna.”

Mary Boucher, immediate past-president of Talitha Koum, responded, “We are so blessed that Sissy saw the kind of work we were doing and supported us so generously over the years. Sissy has been part of the pro-life movement for as long as I’ve known her, and I have been impressed that she sees the big picture of pro-life – from womb to tomb.”

Also taking part was Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, who leads a City Council that voted unanimously to share in the purchase and ownership of the new home by way of a $600,000 grant from the city’s Affordable Housing Fund. Council later voted to provide up to a further $200,000 for renovations and, more recently, to give the home a property-tax exemption.

“If Talitha Koum is grateful for receiving the city’s support, we are even more grateful for the outstanding service that this extraordinary non-profit society is giving to our community,” Stewart said. “I can’t imagine a better use for our affordable-housing dollars, and I know that all council shares in this belief.”

Society president Mary O’Neill said that, while it was by God’s grace that the “little miracle” of the new Gianna House came to be, it is also true that the home came into existence only because of the generosity of von Dehn and the support of the City of Coquitlam. “Our gratitude is boundless,” O’Neill said. “And our appreciation endless. Thank you.”

The new Gianna House is expected to welcome its first client before the end of October.