Abba House was established by the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock in 1981 to offer a home to pregnant women and their children who have no place to go. It also serves as an emergency shelter for homeless women. The thirteen-bed facility in Little Rock (Pulaski County) provides shelter, food, and clothing for the women, who may stay two to six weeks after giving birth until they find a place to live. The emergency shelter is available to the homeless for up to three weeks. The Missionaries of Charity sisters, the religious order established by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, have run Abba House since 1983. Four of the sisters live in a convent next to the shelter on South Oak Street. The charity relies completely on donations.
Abba House was among the first ministries developed in the Little Rock diocese to give women an alternative to abortion after abortion was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973. The idea for Abba House came from Father Joseph Nielson, OCD, who had begun praying outside abortion clinics in Little Rock in the 1970s. Nielson began reaching out to women entering the clinic and realized that many of them did not have the resources to care for their babies and might not choose abortion if that were not the case. By May 1979, Nielson began bringing homeless pregnant women to the home of Patricia Grabher for shelter. Assisted by several volunteers, the women received care through their pregnancies and help finding a place to live after giving birth.
Before long, the ministry outgrew the small apartment, and Grabher and her husband James moved into a home in southwest Little Rock and continued to take in pregnant women. As Nielson brought more and more women to the home, the Grabhers and other volunteers realized that a larger facility was needed to serve them. The group found a rental house for sale at 1002 South Oak Street. Nielson and his volunteers approached Bishop Andrew J. McDonald about purchasing the property, and the diocese bought it on August 4, 1981, through a donation from the Wrape Family Foundation.
Abba House soon became more than the Grabhers could handle. In January 1982, the volunteers, led by Nielson, asked Bishop McDonald to write to Mother Teresa to ask for her sisters to take over the homeless shelter. In April 1982, Sister Priscilla, MC, of New York City, Mother Teresa’s representative in the United States, called and told him that Mother Teresa wanted to visit Little Rock to see Abba House herself before agreeing to send her sisters.
Accompanied by Sister Priscilla, Mother Teresa of Calcutta arrived in Little Rock on June 2, 1982, and stayed with the sisters of the Carmelite Monastery of St. Teresa of Jesus. The following day, Bishop McDonald took Mother Teresa to Abba House. After touring the shelter, she addressed the crowd outside, saying, “Gold and silver I have not. That which I have I will give you. I will send you my sisters. Together with you, we will make something beautiful for God.” Later that day, Bishop McDonald and Mother Teresa led a prayer service at Ray Winder Field. Addressing the 5,429 people at the event, Mother Teresa pleaded with pregnant women who were considering abortion to let the Missionaries of Charity take care of their children.
As promised, four Missionaries of Charity arrived in Little Rock to take over the ministry of Abba House in July 1983. As missionaries, the sisters are normally reassigned every three years, but there are always four Missionaries of Charity serving at Abba House at any given time.
For additional information:
Little, Tara. “Mother Teresa’s Sisters Bless Little Rock for 25 Years.” Arkansas Catholic. May 3, 2008, pp. 1, 3.
———. “Pro-Lifers Praise Father Nielson’s Contributions to Arkansas.” Arkansas Catholic. March 7, 2009, pp. 6–7.
Lockwood, Frank, and Alex Daniels. “Late Nun Is Getting First-class Stamp.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. January 16, 2010, pp. 4B–5B.
Woods, James M. Mission and Memory: A History of the Catholic Church in Arkansas. Little Rock: August House, 1993.
Diocese of Little Rock