God speaks to us. Whether His words come through in a whisper, through events, or even through the beauty of nature, they are meant to capture our attention and draw us closer to Him.
One woman knows this better than many, as she felt God speaking to her through both words and images. In August 1990, Mildred “Midge” Elam was driving from Austin, Texas, to Corpus Christi to pray at an abortion facility. The prayer warriors who were supposed to travel with her that day had all backed out, so she made the trip alone. She could suddenly see in her mind the image of an outline she associated with a monstrance—the vessel that holds the consecrated body of Christ—and she heard Jesus ask her, “Will you build the monument?”
Unsure if God was really speaking to her or if it was her imagination, she began to pray about it, asking Him what He wanted.
Time went on, and not only did she feel the idea growing, but she felt the desire growing. She understood that God was planting an idea in her heart to build a place of healing dedicated to those who had lost a baby to miscarriage, to abortion, or in infancy. This would be a place where babies—from creation up to one year old—would be remembered and where families could gather to pray and feel at peace.
An accomplished artist, Midge drew a sketch of what she felt the monument and grounds should look like, and the image again revealed the shape of a monstrance. She placed the chapel in the middle of her sketch, with sidewalks fanning out in what would eventually house walls made of glass blocks etched with the names of babies who had died.
Building the monument
Designing a monument and actually building one are two very different ventures, but as Midge eventually found, God would guide her through each step and send amazing people to help her make this plan a reality.
Several years after seeing the image, Midge attended the funeral of a friend’s mother and told this friend about her vision for the monument. This woman immediately fell in love with the idea and drew up plans. Midge felt her excitement grow, and she realized that her dream was closer to becoming real. With the plan in place, she knew exactly where she would build it.
From her mother, she had inherited some land in Flatonia, Texas—a small town of about 1,800 people approximately halfway between San Antonio and Houston. Midge felt that Flatonia would be the perfect place to build this regional monument, especially as it was not too far from I-10 and an easy stop for travelers.
So she formed a board of directors and began to strategize about how to build this Monument to the Innocents—a place she would name Raphael’s Refuge.
Why Raphael’s Refuge? In Hebrew, the name Raphael means “God has healed.” And in the Old Testament’s book of Tobit, the archangel Raphael took human form and led Tobiah on a journey for his father, Tobit, to retrieve money that he had left in the land of Media. While on this journey, Tobiah met Sarah, who had lost seven husbands and who begged God for a husband who would live. Raphael not only safely led Tobiah to Media, but he brought Tobiah and Sarah together and helped them journey safely back to Tobit. Upon his return, Tobiah then healed his father’s blindness after following Raphael’s instructions.
With this story in mind, Midge knew that Raphael would hold these babies in his protective arms and help facilitate the healing of the families who had lost their precious children.
Building the Chapel of the Holy Innocents
Though the board met for the first time in 1998, plans moved slowly. Yet just as God sent Raphael to guide Tobias, He sent people to help Midge make her plan a reality.
In 2005, a priest who knew Midge pledged $5,000 of his own money to help start the construction. This allowed them to clear the land and wire the electricity.
Then, a short article in a local paper drew the attention of a philanthropist who contacted Midge and asked to see the land. She took him on a tour and explained her vision; his heart was so moved that he said he would pay for the foundation, the framing, and the roof of the chapel.
So in 2006, they poured the foundation. The basic structure of the monument was completed in just one week.
The monument officially opened in 2007.
The beauty inside
Today, visitors to Raphael’s Refuge can tour the monument any day of the week. They are welcome to stop at the house at the front of the property to talk with Midge and Therese Marcak—the office manager—and then drive down the road to see the monument. Alternately, if the women are available or if visitors schedule an appointment, the ladies will happily provide a guided tour.
The monument itself is a beautiful round building with a stunning 10-foot cross outside. Six benches surround the cross so that travelers can sit and pray or just enjoy the serene atmosphere.
In the spring, vibrant wildflowers cover the grass, small animals lazily roam the grounds, and birds sing. The outside world seems far away, and peace reigns. It’s a fitting place to remember and pray for the babies.
Inside the monument is the Chapel of the Holy Innocents. When visitors enter, their eyes are immediately drawn to a mural of the archangel Raphael looking lovingly upon the baby cradled in his arms. Surrounding this image is a list of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit—knowledge, counsel, piety, fear of the Lord, wisdom, understanding, and fortitude—reminding us of God’s blessings and how we should use them wisely. A dove hovers tranquilly over Raphael’s head. To Raphael’s right and left are scrolls that contain Bible verses illustrating the beauty of children. Below Raphael is the image of a bull shark—a species native to the Tigris River. Raphael wears a Jewish prayer shawl—a design idea given to Midge by a friend. Painted on a wall behind the altar, the entire image evokes a feeling of peace.
In the center aisle between four rows of benches is a small cross-shaped pool where visitors who have had an abortion can wade in and wash away their sorrows or anguish. This symbolic gesture allows them to leave their pain in the chapel with God as they work toward healing.
Ten panels of eight-by-eight-inch glass blocks fill the exterior walls of the chapel. In total, there are 840 glass blocks, each intended to hold the name and date of birth and/or death date of a baby. As of this writing, 564 blocks contain names and dates. Once these blocks are all engraved, more will be installed into walls that will span the walkways outside the chapel.
Midge painted this beautiful mural of Raphael and two additional images over the doors leading to a back room and a room sometimes used for counseling.
The first is a beautiful image of Christ’s Sacred Heart over the door on the north side. This illustrates that God and His love permeate the universe. On the south side, Midge painted the Immaculate Heart of Mary pierced by a sword.
After painting the image of Mary’s heart, and hoping to give it more depth, Midge dipped the brush into the paint, held it bluntly in her fist, and added a darker color. She then descended the ladder and spoke with a friend who had been praying in the chapel. The friend looked up at the heart and said she saw something in it. Now standing at a distance, Midge looked up and realized she saw the image of a baby. So she added a few more details, and now a stunning image of a baby resides in Mary’s heart!
In September 2023, Raphael’s Refuge celebrated the 25-year anniversary of its first board meeting. Today, it hosts holy hours once a month and Masses on the Feast of the Archangels and the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Visitors may contact the office to set up their own events or services and are welcome to just sit and pray in the chapel. Future plans include two retreat houses, a chaplain’s residence, a visitors’ center, and outside walls with additional glass blocks.
Raphael’s Refuge has become a place of healing and a place where families can gather and remember, pray, and feel God’s love and protection. This beautiful monument serves as a tangible reminder that these babies are not forgotten and that God holds every baby in the palm of His hand. It is truly a labor of love and proof that God’s angels are still faithfully guiding us to Him.
For more information or to purchase a block, visit raphaelsrefuge.org.