PHILOMENA: A Mother’s Love Quest

Radio 2’s Good Morning Sunday program broadcast on Mother’s Day, contained an amazing interview by Clare Balding. She was speaking to Philomena Lee, an 80 year old Irish lady whose story of loss was turned into an award winning film, simply called “Philomena”. I watched that movie a few months ago in the cinema, and remember how incensed I was at this woman’s treatment at the hands of Irish nuns. Her “crime” was that of committing a “mortal sin” by having a child out of wedlock in 1950’s Ireland.

Philomena lost her son Anthony at the age of three, when she was forced by the nuns to put her son out for adoption. Philomena never forgot the little boy, and returned many times to the convent where she was confined with Anthony, seeking information about his whereabouts. Unbeknownst to Philomena, Anthony now named Michael Hess also returned to the place of his birth, seeking his mother. Neither of them gained the reconciliation they desperately wanted, because the nuns deliberately withheld information from them.

Irish Law to this day does not allow Irish adoptees to access their records, and so Michael (Anthony) was prevented from knowing anything about his early years. He was reliant on the nuns’ compassion over-ruling the law but that never happened, causing undoubted heartache for Michael (Anthony) and his birth mother. His dying wish was to be buried in his birth-place, just in case his natural mother was looking for him. Mercifully the nuns’ did grant Michael (Anthony) this courtesy but never told Philomena about it. It was by chance she discovered her long-lost son’s final resting place.

In the interview Philomena spoke movingly about her early life and the ordeal that scarred her forever. Her daughter Jane Libberton spoke of The Philomena Project, which has been set up to try and get Irish Law changed to allow adoptees access to their personal records. This project is Philomena’s love quest in memory of her son.

Michael (Anthony) was brought up in the USA, worked in Republican politics and was gay. In the film I got the distinct impression he was dying of an AIDS related condition. So I was surprised though relieved that his final wish was granted. I could easily imagine what the nun’s might have thought about Michael’s lifestyle choice!!

The film scene that got me so angry happened toward the end of the movie. An elderly nun when confronted with the “complicity of silence” allegation uttered the Catholic mantra I was expecting. The Sister’s face full of conviction condemned Philomena and her kind as “fallen women full of sin” who deserved to be eternally condemned, more or less. I was absolutely disgusted but not surprised. And I was reminded of the Sister’s complete belief that marriage and children are intertwined, the day before Philomena’s radio interview broadcast.

On Saturday March 29th 2014 Great Britain allowed gay marriage to become lawful. During news broadcasts reporting this event, I heard the idea that marriage is to allow people to have children without “any help from others”, and the notion that love didn’t come into it at all. Try telling that to anyone having gone through IVF, or those who can’t or decide not to have children. Are their marriages any less valid? The words love one another with a pure heart springs to mind. God created us from love, and however that love is expressed is a marriage between those who love and God.

The Philomena Project is testament to the memory of a child and a parent’s never ending love. Philomena has a purity of heart I’m sure will find God’s pleasure when she comes to be re-united with her Anthony.  AMEN.

Philomena meets Pope Francis to highlight The Philomena Project. Image credit Kate Bowe
Philomena meets Pope Francis to highlight The Philomena Project. Image credit Kate Bowe

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