Memory is an essential tool for mapping out one’s past, but as we age the little details of our early days begin to grow fuzzy and unclear. Luckily, certain facts–such as our birthday and place of birth–keep us from completely losing ourselves in the passage of time. But what happens to our sense of identity when these defining facts turn out to be lies?
When one Portland, Maine man began delving into the truth behind his mysterious past, he uncovered a secret that shook him to the core. Not only did this unbelievable discovery change his life, but it also changed the history of a nation forever.
When Portland harbormaster and retired cop Kevin Battle was adopted in 1960, his birth parents weren’t exactly sure about his origins. But despite the uncertainty about Kevin’s past, his family made sure to provide him with a loving and supportive home.
As a teenager, it was Kevin’s dream to become a volunteer fireman at his local fire station. However, when Kevin was denied due to his identification papers being incomplete, he discovered a startling truth: he wasn’t born a U.S. citizen.
It didn’t take long for Kevin to locate his New York birth certificate, but it was the papers that he discovered alongside it that unlocked the mystery of his birth. Kevin had actually been born in County Tipperary, Ireland. This discovery only created a dozen more.
According to the documents, Kevin’s birthplace was Sean Ross Abbey, a convent run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. But when Kevin tried to contact the sisters to learn more about his birth mother–whose name on the documents was listed as Kathleen Sheedy–they had never heard of her.
Kevin was discouraged by the news, but something in his gut told him that there was much more to this story than the nuns were letting on…
Determined to find the truth, Kevin journeyed to Sean Ross Abbey in 1978 to confront the nuns himself. The sisters immediately turned him away and refused to speak with him. It would be almost three decades before he finally got his answers.
A series of shocking exposés soon published around the turn of the century revealing the shady adoption practices of and mistreatment of unwed mothers by Irish nuns. Stories like Kevin’s dominated international headlines and put convents like Sean Ross Abbey in the spotlight.
On one fateful day, a letter from the convent arrived at Kevin’s home in Portland, Maine. For just $130, the nuns of Sean Ross Abbey were willing to release Kevin’s original birth certificate and everything they had on his mother. Kevin was skeptical at first, but in the end, he agreed.
Kevin received these new documents a few weeks later and was pleasantly surprised to find his mother’s real name printed atop them. Kevin reached out to the convent again, but the sisters were quick to tell him that his birth mother had died several years prior. Given his history with these nuns, Kevin wasn’t buying it.
Seeing that Sean Ross Abbey still wouldn’t cooperate, Kevin’s wife decided to buy him a DNA test in the hope of aiding their search. As luck would have it, the test revealed that Kevin had a first cousin in Great Britain (below), who he contacted immediately. Her response floored him.
“We’ve been looking for you.” No sooner did Kevin read this message that he was off to the U.K. once again, his sights now set on London. Despite the years of difficulties, Kevin felt in his heart that the truth about his past was finally within reach.
At the airport, Kevin was greeted by a 59-year-old man named Tony (below), who shook his hand and smiled warmly at him. “Hey there,” said Tony. “I’m your brother.”
On the drive back to Tony’s house, a stunned Kevin sat and listened as his long-lost brother filled in the blanks of his mysterious past. Not only did Kevin have an entire family he never knew about, but his name also wasn’t even Kevin. It was William. William Sheehy.
According to Tony, the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts forcibly took Kevin from his mother, Catherine Sheehy, after he was born out of wedlock and sent him to the U.S. to be adopted. The nuns then forced Kevin’s mother to perform hard labor in and around the convent in order to “atone for her sins”.
After her time at Sean Ross Abbey, Kevin’s mother changed her name in order to avoid the stigma that came with having a child while unmarried. This was common practice among young women who gave birth out of wedlock at the time.
But the most heartbreaking part of Tony’s story was what he revealed about Kevin’s trip in 1978. Not only had his mother been alive at the time, but she had been looking for him too.
Despite giving him up as an infant, Catherine had always held onto the hope that Kevin was still alive. However, to Catherine’s dismay, the nuns told her that Kevin had been killed in a car accident in New York shortly after being adopted.
Guilt-ridden over having given up Kevin in the first place, Catherine had kept his birth a secret for decades. On her deathbed, however, she asked Kevin’s birth father to tell her children the truth.
As Tony’s car pulled to a stop, he revealed that he had not taken Kevin to his home, but rather to that of their mother. Stepping inside for the first time, Kevin spotted a blurry picture of Catherine on the mantle. There, cradled in her arms, was baby William.
“Look at her smile, look at how she’s holding me,” said Kevin as he held the picture in his hands. “She did want me. I see that now.”
Though Kevin’s journey to discover his past was a long and difficult one, he now has a brand new family to show for it!