Ann Wilson, the new director of Toronto’s Aid to Women, a crisis pregnancy centre, is, while soft-spoken and gentle-mannered, nevertheless one tough cookie.
In July, Wilson assumed the difficult role of persuading women “in crisis” not to seek an abortion. Her task as director is daunting, considering she’s relatively new to work in the pro-life field and though she has kept up her reading on all the issues. She joined the centre on the heels of the retirement of her predecessor, Joanne Dieleman, a pro-life pioneer with hundreds of success stories and the pictures of smiling saved infants on the walls of the centre to show for it.
Aid to Women is purposely set up next door to an abortion facility, the Cabbagetown Women’s Clinic, in a low-income, inner-city location. Robert Hinchey is her co-worker at the centre, a sidewalk counsellor who had worked with Dieleman for 14 years. When Hinchey phoned Wilson this spring to ask if she would assume directorship of the centre, Wilson had major reservations. She already had a full life, juggling three or four jobs and twice that many apostolates – supply teaching with the Catholic School Board, Saint Vincent de Paul work with the inner-city poor, writing and tutoring immigrants. “I was very involved with organizing the Call to Holiness Conference. I did a lot of research and writing on new Catholic movements and communities, including some travel and research.”
This was all work she loved doing and it also afforded the time to have a full prayer life and attend daily Mass. She also did a little counselling in the evenings when Hinchey needed a hand. While Wilson had her plate full, Hinchey’s invitation was surprisingly an answer to her prayers. She recalls how, beginning in the summer of 2003, after attending daily Mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral, she was daily led to pray before the image of Our Lady of Fatima at the church entrance. One plea would always come from her heart: “Dear Mary, what can I do for the pro-life movement?” What a surprise that this year she got the invitation to join Aid to Women. “Not at all what I expected,” she told The Interim. Her hesitancy notwithstanding, the native of Orillia, Ont., who moved to Toronto five years ago, felt that this was her calling. She had worked with children and young families for 20 years, mostly in Saskatoon, before she arrived in Toronto to complete her Masters of Divinity Degree at Saint Augustine’s Seminary. Wilson notes how God does have a sense of one’s needs: “I missed working with children very much, and told him so. And I must chuckle at the work He’s given me now – working with unborn children.”
What is her day at Aid to Women like? “We need to be very, very flexible. That’s why I find I’m at ease here. Some people like a steady routine. I don’t. I’d wither and die!” she laughs. “You need to be disciplined and organized to get what needs to be done. On the other hand, you need to be ready to drop everything, and to be totally present to whoever comes in or phones. You need to be adept at meeting people from all different racial and social backgrounds, all different ages and life situations, assess all different kinds of needs and crises and to meet people where they are at.” Early on in her stint as director of Aid to Women, Wilson had one “beautiful” success story, which banished all her apprehensions about taking on the job. “God wanted to encourage me – I wouldn’t have started the job if I didn’t feel confident. But what if I don’t save any babies? What if they (women) don’t listen to me and change their mind?”
“Robert was away and he told me to check the numbers from call answer and call back anyone new. I was sitting there with a pile of things to do in the new job, and my whole being was saying, ‘I don’t want to do that!’ But something in me said, ‘You have to do this.’ So I did. I left a message with some very pleasant people and later got a return call from a woman who was concerned about having an abortion.” Wilson counselled her for an hour on the phone. “She cancelled her abortion for the next day.
“Later on, during a visit when we showed her a picture of an aborted fetus, she cried out, ‘You saved my baby!’ That will stay with me the rest of my life.”