Two Families United by Adoption and One Dominican Nun

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By Shawn M. Donovan

The following Catholic Charities story was submitted by Shawn M. Donovan, a supporter of Catholic Charities New York, and the adoptive father of a daughter adopted through the Catholic Guardian Society and Home Bureau. His daughter Sarah, now 27 years old, recently met her birth mother along with Donovan and her adoptive family. She is considering a career in social work. Share your own Catholic Charities story. Two Families

Twenty-seven years ago in June, 1984, a special event happened. A beautiful daughter was born to a young woman, Susan, who grew up in NY and became pregnant during college. Realizing she was in no position to give the care needed for her daughter, Susan made the very hard decision to give her new baby up for adoption. Approaching the Catholic Guardian Society and Home Bureau, an agency of Catholic Charities, Susan’s daughter was placed within days of her birth in the care of my wife Margaret and I. We also had a five-year old son, Elias Daniel, adopted through the Catholic Home Bureau and now had the complete family we wanted. We named our new daughter Sarah Rose.

As a condition for giving her daughter up for adoption, Susan asked that hers be an ‘open adoption’ which the Catholic Home Bureau did not permit at the time. As an alternative, the opening of a communication channel was suggested between Susan, Shawn and Margaret via the Catholic Home Bureau so that news about Sarah could be received periodically. And so began an unusual story of two families united by adoption and a relationship mediated by Sister Una McCormack, the now-retired executive director of the Catholic Home Bureau. Sr. Una was dedicated to helping us communicate via mail and first names only: Susan, Sarah, Shawn, Margaret and Elias.

For more than twenty-years, I sent periodic letters to Sr. Una to be passed on to Susan.  Enclosed in those letters were photographs of Sarah and Elias growing up, along with artwork drawn by Sarah. In return, Susan faithfully sent birthday gifts and Christmas presents not only to Sarah, but Elias as well. This went on from 1984 and continued even after Sister Una retired. Along the way, the individual relationship we all had with Sr. Una deepened as well. Eventually, Sarah became a young woman and expressed interest in knowing Susan and perhaps one day meeting her birth mother.

About six years ago Susan and Sarah (then 21 years of age) established direct contact via email and later cell phone. Eventually, I was in direct contact with Susan as well. Five years ago, Susan visited Sarah, Margaret and I in New Hampshire. Though brief, the visit changed our relationship in wonderful ways.

This past summer, in July 2011, Susan, along with her own mother and daughter, visited again, and stayed for a longer time. Sarah’s extended family went to a barbecue dinner in Woodstock, Vermont, and the next day spent a morning walking around the Dartmouth College campus and then took a woods walk along the Connecticut River together. One evening, Sarah and her boyfriend played miniature golf with Susan and her family. 

After 27 years, Sarah now has a new grandmother and a new half-sister and a deepening relationship with her birth mother, Susan.  And Susan, Margaret and I completed a journey together that was started by Sr. Una and Catholic Charities in the summer of 1984. 

Sarah graduated from the University of New Hampshire four years ago, recently graduated with her MBA from Franklin Pierce University, and is interested in a career in social work. Elias graduated from Brown University and works in New York City.

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