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‘I was a stolen baby’ – New York nun on finding her Irish birth mother after being sold to the US from a Mother and Baby Home in Ireland

(Picture: The Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus)

A MISSIONARY nun has told The Irish Post how she was sold from a Mother and Baby home in Ireland to an American family – only to be finally reunited with her birth mother five years ago. 

Sister Brigid O’Mahony, who is now based with the Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus in New York, says her American parents bought her from the Sisters at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in 1954.

“As soon as I could think, my American parents told me I was from Ireland, from a work home,” she told The Irish Post in an exclusive interview.

“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,” she added.

Sr Brigid’s parents were living in Texas and, as they were of an older age and couldn’t adopt through an American scheme, an Irish priest in their Texan parish arranged for them to adopt Brigid and her brother from Bessborough in Cork.

“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.”

According to Brigid’s adopted mother, the parents had to pay ‘quite a hefty sum’ to the Sisters to adopt a child.

“I asked how much was it and she said it was a good bit but never gave me an actual amount that the Sisters charged but almost made it sound like there was a range, a lower range and an upper range depending on how cute the kid was, – and she would say to me, ‘And you were cute!'”

While her American father died early in her life and she didn’t have a close bond with her American mother, Sr Brigid says she never looked for her Irish mother.

“As I got older I realised that the Irish mothers that babies out of wedlock were ashamed, and normally hid it from families so I thought there’s no way I’m going to try to find some dear poor woman and potentially wreck her life,” she said.

And then, as Sr Brigid says, “something happened.”

“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.”

“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.

With Sr Brigid’s consent, the lady sent her contact details to the Health Service Executive in Ireland and was sent a box containing the items relating to her from her time at Bessborough, however, the significant details were blacked out.

“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.”

Sister Brigid was sent a box containing the items relating to her from her time at Bessborough, however, the significant details were blacked out. (Picture: file image/iStock)

The nuns said they couldn’t help her, but Sr Brigid was spurred into action.

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

While all the significant information had been redacted there was one piece in the letter that indicated Sr Brigid’s birth mother was originally from Tipperary.

She wrote a letter to the editor of The Tipperary Star trying to find me and was later contacted by a relative of her mother, who had since moved to Co. Limerick.

“That was the end of 2012 and we’ve been connected ever since.”

Sr Brigid discovered her mother had entered Bessborough Home at the age of 19, and stayed for almost two years when they Sisters swiftly discharged her after her child went 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 kind of 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, there was no protection or safety. They worked them constantly.”

“I was concerned that would be traumatising for her, to have been treated the way she has been 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.”

When it was time for Brigid’s mother to give birth, the Sisters laid her down in a tub and left her on her own, with her first baby and no help.

“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.”

Sister Brigid admits she was concerned meeting her mother for the first time as she was now a nun herself. (Picture: file image/iStock)

“I was concerned that would be traumatising for her, to have been treated the way she has been 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.”

However, Sr Brigid’s mother is “perfectly fine” with the Church and nuns which she says is “a mystery” to her.

On their first meeting at Shannon Airport, Sr Brigid was greeted by her 13 brothers and sisters, and her mother who, she says, is identical to her.

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

“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.”

As for what Sr Brigid thinks of the home she was born in, and the people who ran it, she says “it’s horrifying.”

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

“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.”

If you would like to share your story please contact Erica at The Irish Post on 0208 900 4354, [email protected] or write a letter to Erica Doyle Higgins, c/o The Irish Post, 88 Fenchurch Street, London, EC3M 4BY. 

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Erica Doyle Higgins is a Digital Reporter with The Irish Post. You can follow her on Twitter @EDoyleHiggins

One comment on “‘I was a stolen baby’ – New York nun on finding her Irish birth mother after being sold to the US from a Mother and Baby Home in Ireland”

  1. Leo Cullen

    Brought a tear to my eye.

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