University of Mary student to graduate with toddler, supported by campus program for moms — By: Catholic News Agency

Katie Chihoski, a student at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, eats with her baby, Lucia, on her lap in the company of fellow students. Chihoski is among the first students to benefit from a new initiative at the Catholic college called the Saint Teresa of Calcutta Community for Mothers, which provides free babysitting and other material support for young mothers on campus. / Credit: Fabrizio Alberdi, EWTN News in Depth

CNA Staff, Apr 24, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A young mother will be the first to graduate from a Catholic school in North Dakota with the support of the school’s program that provides young student-mothers with child care, housing, and community. Katie Chihoski plans to walk across the stage to obtain her diploma with her 18-month-old daughter, Lucia, by her side. 

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2022 to overturn Roe v. Wade, supporting women with unplanned pregnancies has become an even greater priority for many groups and organizations. Planned Parenthood’s latest report reveals that the abortion giant performed its highest-ever number of abortions the year Roe v. Wade was overturned, numbering almost 400,000 abortions between Oct. 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2022. 

With the help of concerned donors, University of Mary, a Catholic liberal arts college in Bismarck, North Dakota, launched the Saint Teresa of Calcutta Community for Mothers in 2023. Known as “St. Teresa’s,” the program pledges to help single mothers by providing room, board, and child care — as well semesterly retreats and frequent “community nights.” 

The whole campus has stepped in to help, with students volunteering to help with child care and professors welcoming kids in class, while residence directors who live on campus — and are often recently married with young children — offer community and support to the St. Teresa’s moms. 

Katie Chihoski (on the right) with her baby, Lucia, and other moms with their children on the campus of University of Mary, which launched the Saint Teresa of Calcutta Community for Mothers in 2023 to help single mothers by providing room, board, and child care — as well semesterly retreats and frequent “community nights.” Credit: Photo courtesy of Katie Chihoski

A gift to campus: St. Teresa’s Community for Mothers 

“Katie and Lucia are beloved on campus,” said Vice President for Student Development Reed Ruggles, who oversees University of Mary’s program for mothers. 

Because of the program, Ruggles said that he, staff, and students on campus have been able to “see some of these children grow up.”

“Lucia, for example, was very little when she moved in with her mother, Katie,” he said. “To see her take her first steps, say her first words, and grow from carrier to highchair in our Crow’s Nest Restaurant on campus has been a gift to all of us.” 

Ruggles observed that Chihoski’s friends treat Lucia and Katie as “one of their own” and said they are “integral members of our campus.”

“Faculty and staff who know Katie are so supportive of her,” he continued. “From volunteering to babysit Lucia to holding Lucia during a meeting or Mass, we consider it a great joy to have Lucia and Katie on campus.”

Noting that the program is only in its third semester, Ruggles said that he is “excited” to celebrate “our first graduate.”

Lucia visits University of Mary’s grotto. “Lucia loves to visit the beautiful grotto on campus and talk to Mama Mary!” Lucia’s mom, Katie Chihoski, said. Credit: Photo courtesy of Katie Chihoski

Chihoski hopes to walk across the stage with Lucia, who will be wearing a toddler-sized cap and gown on graduation day. 

“I think she will walk across the stage with me, if I can figure out the logistics,” she said. “I would love to make that a tradition for future graduating mothers.”

Chihoski said that although she had some worries about attending school with a young daughter, Lucia has made things “twice as fun.”

“Coming to school, I expected to be seen as different, and somewhat outcast from the typical college life,” she explained. “I think it was difficult to get used to my tag-along when going to events on campus, but Lucia makes the world twice as much fun.” 

“Attending school with my daughter, Lucia, has been the most amazing thing to witness,” she said. “Children bring out the joy in people and offer a fuller sense of purpose.”

“Our students hear all the time about how they can give their life away in love,” Ruggles added. “This community shows students what that can look like from a practical perspective and gives students an opportunity to practice that by giving their time and love to these mothers and their children.”

“It has been wonderful having the community of mothers on campus,” Ruggles said. “We have students from as far away as Texas and Colorado and from right here in North Dakota. Supporting these mothers is truly a gift to us.”

Chihoski’s happily ever after

Chihoski was a sophomore studying abroad in Rome when she discovered she was pregnant. 

St. Teresa’s hadn’t begun at the time, but Chihoski said that her UMary classmates were supportive of her: checking in on her, encouraging her to stay at UMary, and helping her move back in. 

“It was the best day of the whole semester!” she said, recalling the day she announced her pregnancy to “the whole cohort” of study abroad students. 

Katie Chihoski with daughter Lucia, and fiance, Josh, visiting Estes Park in Colorado this past summer. Chihoski is originally from Golden, Colorado. Credit: Photo courtesy of Katie Chihoski

While pregnant with Lucia, Chihoski took online classes for a semester from her home in Golden, Colorado. She moved back to UMary junior year and stayed with a residence director until St. Teresa’s opened the next semester.

At St. Teresa’s, each mom has two rooms, one for her child and one for her, Chihoski explained. Mothers in the community are assigned a semester chore to focus on and babysit at least once a week. The moms go to fun events or eat dinner together, Chihoski said. Students volunteer to babysit so the moms can go to class and other campus events.

“I have seen [the student babysitters] make time for the kids and even bring them to classes if we are short on babysitters one week,” Chihoski said. “They come into our community willing to help in whatever way they can, and they do it so cheerfully!”

“One thing that has made the biggest difference for me returning to college was the mothers in the Bismarck community and residence directors [RDs] on campus,” she said. “Some of the RDs are mothers, and they are beautiful witnesses to living the role of a Catholic wife and mother well.”

Because of this, Lucia has several playmates her age. She’s also very popular on campus.

“Since Lucia was 4 months old, she was going to sports games, campus events, and meeting people,” Chihoski explained. “Because of that, she is the most social baby you will ever meet!”

Chihoski is now engaged and will marry her fiance, Josh, in October. They will move to his home state of Minnesota after graduation. Chihoski hopes to work in a school using her social work degree.

She and Josh began dating later on in her time at UMary. 

“I always say that Josh fell in love with Lucia before he fell in love with me, which I had always desired for my future since having Lucia,” she said. 

When asked what she would say to someone who found themselves unexpectedly pregnant, Chihoski encouraged moms to “not isolate yourself from your community.”

“Whether you’re living by yourself, with family, or are going to school, there is a community out there waiting to help,” she said. “You just have to ask.”

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