When someone calls the confidential line for Project Rachel, Rosario Puello doesn’t have any specific words of wisdom ready to share. Her ministry is one of listening.
“I try not to talk too much. They need to talk. The only thing I say is my name, they don’t need to know my last name, I don’t need to know their last name; and just listen to them. And remind them that we are here, whatever they need,” Puello said.
On July 29, Puello was hired as the new Project Rachel coordinator. Former coordinator Helen Evans remains a volunteer.
Project Rachel is a nationwide ministry of the Church that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops calls “an integrated network of services, including pastoral counseling, support groups, retreats and referrals to licensed mental health professionals.”
This model is true for the Diocese of Little Rock, as respect life director Catherine Phillips said the ministry is not “one thing,” but a multi-faceted approach to helping women and men affected by abortion through various services, including counseling, support groups and weekend and daylong healing retreats.
“We are here just to walk with them through this journey of healing,” Puello said. “It’s not something that’s going to come night or day. It’s going to take a long time, but we need to start healing.”
Puello and husband of 31 years, Deacon Ricardo Puello, attend St. Mary Church in Paragould and help teach the diocesan diaconate formation program.
Two days a week, Puello works and stays at St. John Center before making the 2½ hour drive to her home. The Puello family emigrated from their native Dominican Republic in 1991.
“We were looking for a better life financially, but God has different plans for us. We got a better spiritual life,” she said. “When you are alone in one place, we just got each other and our kids.”
Deacon Ricardo Puello, a doctor in his native country, has worked the past year and half in pastoral care at St. Bernard Medical Center in Jonesboro and is a chaplain. She’s worked as a housekeeper.
Puello has volunteered at Project Rachel retreats since last year. Phillips said the ministry is always looking for volunteers.
“She is an answer to prayer. Not only because she’s bilingual but because God literally sent her,” Phillips said of Puello. “She’s the perfect complement to me and the ministry because she brings gifts and talents to the table that I certainly don’t have.”
Abortion touches every culture and Puello has found that most tend to wait years before seeking healing.
“The normal attitude is to forget; I don’t want to think about it, I want to pretend this never happened. And then when you look for healing, it’s passed so many years and the wound is very deep,” Puello said. “We all commit mistakes, nobody is perfect. But we have a God that is perfect and his love is perfect and his mercy is great so we don’t have to be afraid. He’s always there for us to forgive and to take us back whenever we want. He’s waiting.”
The value of life has always been at the heart of her Catholic faith and in her mind most recently after the loss of her son Ivan Puello, 21, on Feb. 8 from a car accident. She has five living children, including Father Alejandro Puello, pastor at St. Anne Church in North Little Rock.
“It’s been a hard time. You know I think I had a good faith and I know where my son is and I’m happy for him to be there already. Although we’re going to miss him forever, but I don’t think I would bring him back. It’s better for him to be there,” she said quietly.
She said she and Phillips have been able to share their grief, as Phillips’ son Daniel, a seminarian, died in a car accident at 19 years old on Dec. 18, 2012.
“She helped me, and I think I help her. It’s kind of pushing each other to keep going,” Puello said.
It’s her dream, she said, to make sure every parish in the diocese is aware of Project Rachel.
“We’re trying to make them feel comfortable, they can call, it’s OK,” she said, adding that she receives spiritual fulfillment from her new role. “You are helping someone every time and you try to do your best and so that makes me try to be better.”
Puello can be reached by email at or by calling or texting to the confidential helpline, (501) 663-0996.
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