Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New York nun's amazing story of adoption from Bessborough and reunification with mother

A US-based nun has revealed how she was ’sold’ by the Bessborough mother-and -baby home to an American family in an organised adoption in 1954 and how she was reunited with her birth mother over 50 years later.

In an exclusive interview with the Irish Post, Sr Brigid O’Mahony, who now lives with the Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus in New York, says she was "bought" from the Sisters at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in 1954 by a Texan family when an Irish priest arranged for them to adopt her from Ireland.

“As soon as I could think, my American parents told me I was from Ireland, from a work home," she told the London-based Irish Post.

“They explained to me that babies were sold to American parents and that I was lucky enough to be sold to them as many of the children in these homes never got out,”
“I was adopted first, I came over just before I was two years old, and then went back to Bessborough and got my brother Gerard who was five at the time.”

In the interview with reporter, Erica Doyle Higgins, Sr Brigid speaks about how she never looked for her Irish mother because unmarried women "normally hid it from families" if they fell pregnant out of wedlock, and didn’t want to "wreck her life" by finding her.

But this was soon to change.

“In 2011, a letter came to my house from another child who had been in Bessborough, and she told me the law had changed, and she found her mother, and asked if I wanted to find mine.”

She said the lady passed Sr Brigid’s information onto the HSE who sent a box containing items from Bessborough, but she said any significant details were scratched out but did indicate that her birth mother was from Tipperary.

“Every single marker for how you would identify your family was redacted. The nuns had given the information, but all names, addresses, phone numbers, everything had been blacked out.

“Except there was this one letter in the box from my mother that she had written with one of my biological sisters to the Sisters in 2002, looking for me.

“When I saw the letter, I said oh my God, this woman is looking for me. I need to respond.”

Sr Brigid said in the interview that she wrote a letter to the Tipperary Star newspaper and was contacted by a relative of her mother.

She learned that her mother, who has since moved to Limerick, was admitted to Bessborough at the age of 19, where she stayed for two years.

She was discharged from the home as soon as her child was sent to America.

“Her memory of Bessborough is that it was an intense amount of work,” she said.

“They worked those girls to death including, when it was time to cut the grass outside, they would go outside in any weather on their hands and knees and pull the grass by hand for hours, do laundry and wash windows three or four stories high.

“Anyone of those girls could have fallen out, and there was no protection or safety. They worked them constantly.”


In the interview, Sr Brigid described the ordeal her mother went through when it came time for her to give birth. She said that her mother was laid down in a tub by the nuns and was left on her own.

“She said she screamed and screamed for hours as she was in so much pain and no one helped her. Finally, I plopped out.

“I just thought, dear God in Heaven, what are they thinking? I can’t imagine what she went through – and she doesn’t have one iota of resentment.”

“I was concerned that would be traumatising for her, to have been treated the way she has being treated, and to have had her child stolen by nuns and to find out her child was a nun.

“I said I’ll come incognito; I won’t wear my habit, I will not put her through that.”

In 2012 she arrived at Shannon Airport to be greeted by her mother and 13 brothers and sisters.

She described the meeting as a ’warm and loving’ one.

“I looked at her and said, ‘I’m looking at myself," she said.

“I was frightened but she said ‘it’s like you went away for a little while and now you’re back,’ she picked up our relationship from the moment I left all those years ago.

“The family was so warm and accepting and loving,” she said, “in their minds, I was coming home, in my mind I was visiting.”


When asked about what she thought of the home and the people who ran it at the time she said it was "horrifying."

“If you come at this as just a human being, it’s horrifying. It’s absolutely horrifying," she said.

“What they did to the young girls, and what they did to the babies and children, it’s inhumane and there are no words for how human beings could treat each other this way.

“That intensifies when you think these were nuns. It renders me speechless that anyone could treat people that way, and anyone who supposedly represents God. It’s mystifying.”

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