Good Counsel Helps
Christopher Bell has been on the front lines of the pro-life movement for 25 years. He is the president of Good Counsel Homes, which offer shelter, child care and vocational training to homeless pregnant women who have been abandoned by family and friends.
Founded in 1985 with the help of Father Benedict Groeschel, the Franciscan Friar of the Renewal who is known for his many books and EWTN shows, Good Counsel has helped thousands of women and seen the birth of hundreds of babies.
Bell’s wife of 19 years, Joan Andrews Bell, was a pioneer in pro-life activism, blocking the doors of abortion clinics with Operation Rescue and spending many months in jail for her lifesaving witness.
The couple has one child born of their union – Mary, age 18 – and have adopted six other disabled or high-needs children: Emiliano, 21; Andrei, 15; Irina, 12; Philomena, 12; Valera, 12, and Theresa, 10.
Chris and Joan Bell with their children pose with Father Benedict Groeschel, who helped to found Good Counsel Homes
They live in New Jersey, where Good Counsel maintains its offices in a former Hoboken convent. There are four homes in New York, and one is set to be opened next year in New Jersey.
Fathers for Good spoke with Bell about his pro-life work and family life.
Fathers for Good: What is the Good Counsel mission?
Bell: Good Counsel is a family for abandoned single mothers before, during and after the birth of their baby. Good Counsel helps a mom take the next good step educationally, puts her on a vocational track and moves her toward self-sufficiency. Since 1985, Good Counsel has had more than 5,600 mothers and babies in our homes offering more than 520,000 nights of shelter and days of loving support.
We've seen about 800 babies born to moms in our homes.
Good Counsel has helped expand the services a maternity home could offer, taking in women who were pregnant and had other children; women who recently gave birth; older women; teens fleeing from abortion-demanding parents.
FFG: You work closely with Father Benedict Groeschel of EWTN fame. How did that association start?
Bell: After I began living in a lay prayer community in Times Square, serving at a center for homeless and runaway youth, this visiting priest came to celebrate Mass on the worst day I had at that center. Most visiting priests would call us volunteers saints, and this night I felt like dirt after one kid early in the morning took a swing at me. He missed, but what was worse is that he started fighting with other staff. This kid lost all hope of getting a job he would have had. A staff member got fired for fighting back. It was tragic all around.
Father Groeschel began his homily, saying, "People see pictures of St. John Bosco surrounded by little cherubs. Well, his kids were really like your kids. They were tough. They were street smart. They weren’t cherubs.”
I knew then that he understood our mission. He also gave us a talk on the spiritual life and it was the first time I heard of a Catholic spiritual life. We became friends shortly after that and then I asked him to be my spiritual director.
FFG: You and your wife Joan have taken a number of high-needs children into your family.
Bell: My wife and I discussed the possibility of adoption before we were married. We were an older couple and certainly there was no guarantee that we could have children. In fact, every couple of any age should discuss adoption because children are not a given just because one is young and appears healthy. We discussed that we were open to adoption and we’d specifically consider special needs children, although we didn’t have a specific description in mind.
We also talked and then spread the word to any pro-lifer we spoke with that they should tell the women going into the doors of an abortion clinic that we would adopt their baby. If any said, “Well my baby is going to be born deformed” or “has problems” or whatever, we wanted pro-lifers to say, “We know someone who will adopt your baby no matter what.” In reality, many of those babies are born healthy. Yet, Joan and I began to collect names of couples, many with children already and some with special needs children.
Children called special needs are certainly special, not so much for what they need, as my friend Bill McGurn says, but for what they give. Don’t children, or adults for that matter, offer us more than we can give? Isn’t that what Jesus teaches us each day?
FFG: How do you assess the pro-life movement today - polls show that a majority of Americans claim the “pro-life” title. Are there signs of hope?
Bell: Where there is life, there is hope. Whether polls proclaim a majority is calling itself pro-life or not, there is hope. We also have seen, in polls, that while a majority believe abortion stops a beating heart and kills a baby, as it does, a majority has not wanted to outlaw abortion as it once was.
Who can speak for the pro-life movement? You. Me. Anyone reading this.
We have to answer to God for what we are doing to help stop the legalized killing of innocent babies. We have to answer to God what we are doing about the killing of the elderly, the ill, the sick. It’s in our home, among our family, in each community, questions like: “Should this baby be born?” or “Should this person be given food and water; medication or an operation?”
All of us at some time will hear one or more of these questions. Are you prepared to answer? Are you prepared to then face God with your answer? Lord, help me. Lord, help us.
For more information about Christopher Bell and Good Counsel Homes, visit www.goodcounselhomes.org. Good Counsel maintains a 24-hour pregnancy hotline for any woman needing help: 1-800-723-8331.