A man has learned the heart-breaking truth about how he was taken from his mother as a baby and sold to an American family for adoption.
Kevin Battle of South Portland has always known he was adopted. However, when he had previously tried to trace his birth mother to Ireland in 1978 he was told by nuns she had died.
Kevin’s mother fell pregnant with him outside of marriage, and was taken to a convent to give birth along with other women in the same position.
The Catholic Church intended to sell baby Kevin to an American couple for a donation of $1,000.
Kevin’s mother named him William and cared for him for more than a year before she knew she must escape the convent in order to keep him.
However, the nuns tracked down the young mother and baby to their family home in Co Limerick and forcibly took him.
The sale to the American couple was completed and baby William was raised as Kevin in New York.
The convent, Sean Ross Abbey, secretly exported 438 children in the same way according to records.
Fast forward to 2018, and Kevin Battle is now a retired police officer, who works as a harbour master and state legislator.
He told pressherald.com: “I thought I was an orphan, that she hadn’t wanted me and I’d never know why, but they lied.
“She did want me. The church stole me from her, like they did to a lot of unwed mothers, and sold me. And years later, when I came asking, they lied and slammed the door in my face.”
Kevin discovered he had a living first cousin after using a DNA kit that his wife had given him for Christmas. He was helped by the Maine Irish Heritage Center in Portland, which has a genealogy division that helps Mainers trace their Irish lineage.
He travelled to Wales to meet his relatives and was thrilled to discover he had five half brothers and sisters.
Kevin, 59, sat with his siblings in the pub where his mum used to sit, and he visited her grave.
He cried when he saw the gravestone had six yellow flowers carved into it, one for each of her children, including him.
Kevin said: “Maybe this is the closure I need. I get into things, I join things, but I never truly feel like I am part of it. I always feel like I’m on the fringe, left out. Even being a cop, a fireman. Yeah, I’m there, but I’m not. Maybe that’s part of my not having my own family roots. Maybe this will change a little of that.”
Although Kevin knew he had been adopted, he had a happy life growing up under the guidance of his adopted parents.
He revealed his first memory was meeting them aged two: “The door opened up, and there were these two people I would come to know as my mother and father standing in the apartment,” Battle recalls. “I remember they gave me a ball, a red ball. I don’t know that I’d ever had a ball before. I ran inside to play with it. That’s it. My first memory.”
However, he became curious about his true identity in high school when a fire department volunteer told him he would never be accepted because he wasn’t a US citizen.
Kevin began his search and found his New York City birth certificate and papers that revealed he was born at Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea in County Tipperary. His birth mother was listed as Kathleen Sheedy. It didn’t list an exact birth date, only July through September 1958.
Though he searched and searched, Kevin could not find details for a Kathleen Sheedy that matched the dates.
Eventually, he discovered that the Sacred Heart Adoption Society had docted his adoption paper and that his birth-mother’s name was in fact Catherine Sheedy.
Deb Sullivan Gellerson, of the Maine Irish Heritage Center, explained that the falsifying of these records was not uncommon as sometimes both the nuns and the young women would use fake names so the shame of having a child out of wedlock would not follow them around.
Gellerson said: “These young women became pregnant out of wedlock and due to the families being ‘strict Catholics’ they had to send them away to give birth,” she said. “Then, the very same religious order abuses, sells or even killed these children, yet these abbeys and orphanages continued to operate for generations.”
With his birth-mother’s actual name, Kevin travelled to Ireland to the abbey where he believed he had been born, but he was shocked by the response he got.
“I went up, knocked on the door, told the woman who answered who I was, that I’d come from America but that I’d been born there and could she tell me about my mother,” he recalled. “She told me, ‘You are not welcome here, go away,’ and slammed the door. I couldn’t believe it.”
Shocked Kevin went to have a drink in the local pub and was told by the barman that the convent had “a lot of bonfires”, which was the nuns burning the birth certificates and adoption records.
This was one of the truly tragic elements of Kevin’s story; if he had been given the correct details back in 1978, he could have tracked his birth-mother to Wales where she had married and settled with her other children.
She died in 2009.
However, she had told her husband Patrick Finnegan about Kevin’s, William to her, existence. They had tried to trace him together, but were told by the Church that he had been killed in a car crash in New York.
Catherine refused to believe that and asked Patrick to let her other children to be told about him after her death, in case he ever came looking for them.
After Catherine died, Patrick told their children about Kevin, and told them if they ever wanted to try and find him they should get a nosey aunt to “have an ask-about”.
Tony Finnegan, the oldest of the Kevin’s siblings, said: “I told my dad, ‘Well, Mum’s gone now, so it’s too late for them to give it a go, and it doesn’t really have anything to do with you, so let’s just leave it,’ and that’s what we did. We just figured he’d have found us if he’d wanted. We didn’t know about all the lies.”
The practice of forcing unmarried pregnant girls into converts to work and have their babies was revealed by a UK journalist in 2009.
The story was told in the 2013 film Philomena starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.
Tony’s wife thought that he must have been aware of the history in Ireland because they watched Philomena together.
He said: “My wife tells me I’ve seen it, but I can’t remember the story. You watch films like that and you feel sorry for everybody in it, but you don’t think it has anything to do with you. It’s not real, but 10 years on, you learn it was real, that it happened to your family. That’s your life in that film.”
Meanwhile, as the stories about mistreatment of young women and the selling of babies had been broken to the public, Kevin received a letter from the Church giving him the real name of his birth-mother.
He phoned the abbey and asked to speak to the nun who had been in charge for caring for mothers and babies.
He recalls what she told him: ‘Oh yes, I remember your mother. She was tall and thin, training to be a nurse’.
Kevin knew that he was being lied to, having spent years as a police officer. He wondered if he would ever find out the truth, given the efforts the church had put in to bury the histories of these women and babies.
Thankfully, a Christmas gift from his wife proved to the crucial element in Kevin’s search. Ancestry DNA matched his genes to a cousin living in Wales.
He learned about his brothers and sisters and arranged to come and visit them.
Kevin was picked up by the eldest of his siblings Tony at the airport, as he didn’t want him to have to make the four-hour drive himself after his flight.
Tony said: “I was sort of apprehensive. After all, I grew up thinking I was the first of five and then I’m learning that’s not so, that I am the second of six, but after talking to him for a half-hour, I could tell he was a good guy, and I wasn’t really worried anymore. He’ll always be welcome here.”
Kevin had a wonderful time with his siblings, learning of stories about his mum. His sister gave him a grainy black and white photograph of his mother holding him as a baby.
Kevin said: “Look at how she’s holding me. Look at her smile. She’s out of the convent, and she’s got me, and she’s happy. This must have been taken during the two or three weeks she was home with me before the nuns busted in and took me. She did want me, I see that now.”
He also hopes to one day find out more about his biological father, although his Finnegan siblings know nothing about that.
He said: “After so many years of bad information, dead ends, now it’s happening. I may finally get answers. It was not a happy beginning, that’s for sure, but it’s my story, and I want to know it.”
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