Archdiocese Local Ministries

‘Mary’s choice’

Dr. Melissa Colbern thought there might be something providential about the statue of a pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary that her mother gave her.  Now, she sees it as a sign for her to help women who might seek abortions. By Joe Bollig.

Dr. Melissa Colbern thought there might be something providential about the statue of a pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary that her mother gave her. Now, she sees it as a sign for her to help women who might seek abortions. By Joe Bollig.

Topeka clinic to help women say ‘yes’ to life

by Joe Bollig

TOPEKA — You could call it an inspiration, or maybe a sign from God. Whatever it was, it caught Dr. Melissa Colbern’s attention.

Colbern, a member of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka, was meditating during eucharistic adoration in June when a thought came to her: “Mary’s choice.”

There is a rich theology behind the Blessed Virgin’s fiat or consent to the message of the angel Gabriel during the annunciation, but that didn’t seem to be what this “Mary’s choice” was about.

It reminded Colbern instead of a statue of a visibly pregnant Blessed Virgin, known as “Our Lady of Hope,” that Colbern’s mother had given her a week earlier.

“Why are you giving me this?” asked Colbern, who ceased delivering babies a couple of years earlier.

“I don’t know,” said her mother.

Another sign? An additional inspiration? These two — whatever they were — prompted Colbern to brainstorm with her pastor, Father Bill Bruning.  It seemed that she was being called to do something for pregnant women who needed hope. A crisis pregnancy clinic, perhaps?

Father Bruning discussed the matter with Father Jon Hullinger, pastor of Mater Dei Parish in Topeka, and Ron Kelsey, archdiocesan pro-life consultant. They agreed that the idea had merit, and it was presented at a meeting of Topeka Pastoral Region priests on Oct. 5.

The idea won strong support at the meeting, and the first steps were taken to make it happen. Hopefully sometime next year, the Mary’s Choice Pregnancy Clinic will open on the second floor of the former Mater Dei/Assumption School, just across S.W. 8th from the state Capitol. The building currently houses — and will continue to house — a food ministry to the homeless and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Two other crisis pregnancy organizations already exist in Shawnee County, but there’s room for another, said Kelsey.

“It’s definitely needed,” he said. “There are 370 abortions per year [performed on Shawnee County residents]. It’s a very common reply, if you ask a woman why she had an abortion, that ‘I had no choice. There was no one there to support me.’”

The establishment of a crisis pregnancy clinic in Topeka would be another foundation stone in building a culture of life, and the second personal pro-life initiative undertaken by Colbern, a family practice doctor who practices at St. Francis Health Center in Topeka.

Both initiatives came out of a decision Colbern made in 2009, when she realized that she could no longer in good conscience prescribe artificial birth control to her patients.

“I knew I needed to provide something else for my patients, so I went to the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Nebraska,” she said.

“[I] trained as a medical consultant and fertility care practitioner,” she continued, “so I could teach natural family planning and treat all the gynecological conditions that I would have [previously] treated with birth control pills.”

With the support and encouragement of Father Bruning, she began the Mother Teresa Fertility Care Center at the parish. There, she teaches natural family planning on Monday and Thursday nights.

“She is an amazing person to have as a resource,” said Father Bruning. “She has a solid Catholic faith that she incorporates into her medical practice.”

The parish is currently conducting a capital campaign to build a family resource center, and Father Bruning hopes that Colbern will soon have a dedicated space to conduct her NFP education outreach.

When the Mary’s Choice Pregnancy Clinic opens up sometime down the road, it will feature one large room for baby clothes, diapers and personal hygiene items. It will also have three counseling rooms, a sonogram room, a small kitchen, offices, a toy room and bathrooms. In order to receive the clothes and other items, participating mothers will have to “learn to earn” points they’ll use to “buy” items.  In the beginning at least, the clinic will be a satellite of the Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic in Kansas City, Kan.

In order for the clinic to get off the ground, volunteers will be needed for all aspects, from running the clinic to getting it ready.

To this end, Colbern has asked Topeka pastors to recruit members for a steering committee and to identify potential donors.

Eventually, she hopes to acquire a sonogram machine.

For more information or to make a contribution, contact Kelsey at (913) 647-0350, or send him an email at:


About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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