HAYS — With no referrals to house unwed mothers in 2019, the Mary Elizabeth Maternity Home, 204 W. Seventh in Hays, closed its doors at the end of the year, the organization announced in a news release Monday.
The home had operated as an independent nonprofit organization for 22 years and served 332 girls through their pregnancies, according to the release.
The home could house up to six mothers through their pregnancies and up to a month after giving birth. It was founded by a group of women in the Legion of Mary prayer group to offer an alternative to abortion.
The lack of referrals last year is possibly a sign of the times, its former executive director, Christin Nunnery, told The Hays Daily News. Most of the girls who stayed in the home were referred from state foster care agencies. It had probably been 10 years since the home saw its last self-referral from a family, Nunnery said.
“We’ve kind of seen the numbers decrease over the years. The state made some budget cuts quite a few years ago, and it really affected us then. And just different agencies weren’t pulling girls out of homes,” she said.
The Mary Elizabeth Maternity home as a nonprofit group was also dissolved at the end of the year, and the property donated to another organization, Nunnery said. She declined to name the organization, saying it will make its own announcement.
Records with the Ellis County Appraiser’s office as of Monday list the owner of the property as the Diocese of Salina. A spokesperson with the diocese confirmed Monday the diocese has taken possession of the property and is evaluating how to use it.
Community support was always strong for the home, Nunnery and founding board member Shirley Dinkel said.
“I praise God for the kindness of the people in this community. I never, never … had a ‘no’” when asking for assistance, Dinkel said. She served on the board of directors through 2005.
The two-story, six-bedroom 1889 Victorian home was donated by Elizabeth Marcotte, then a widow with two young children.
The group raised $175,000 to renovate the home to meet state regulations, Dinkel said. And often, when the home was in need of repairs or other work, other organizations would come through, she said.
“Just when we were thinking the windows need washing, the phone would ring and some sponsor would say, ‘I have a service group, could we come over?’ This is almost surreal,” Dinkel said.