Families with Adopted and Foster Children – Part XXV

The radical charity shown by those who take in many children can be considered heroic



We have all known people, or have read of people, who have adopted children or served as foster parents, often as foster parents of large numbers of children. Have you heard the story of Catholic Ruthanne “Dolly” Donahue? She was a mother of three in the 1970s when a hungry neighbor boy would visit regularly. Then one day, the boy’s father left him with her and departed. She cared for the boy. Sometime later, she adopted six special-needs children. She kept expanding her home, “Dolly’s House,” in Osceola, Indiana, until it had 15 bedrooms and some 20 people would stay overnight. One person who helped out said, “First visits can be overwhelming. It would be hard to find such an array of potential human misery under the roof of any private residence. On any given day, there might be abandoned children, abused mothers, drug addicts and homeless families.” A long-time friend of Dolly’s said, “It is total self-donation to a heroic degree…She’s been the firewall for the caregivers that are established in the community. She’s always been there for the police, the hospitals, the homeless shelters, all the people in need” (Ken Bradford, “Dolly’s House,” Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 2016). Dolly Donahue died April 20, 2016, age 72, from brain cancer. She was survived by four sisters, a brother, and nine children.

In the United States, there are large numbers of adults who provide daily care to their grandchildren. They offer myriad examples of sacrificial love in family life.

Beth Laitkep was pregnant with her sixth child in 2014 when she found out she had breast cancer. When she was dying in 2015, she asked her high school friend, Stephanie Culley of Alton, Virginia, age 39, if Stephanie would “take her babies.” Stephanie and her husband, themselves the parents of three, answered yes (Lindsey Bever, “Dying Mother Begged a Friend, ‘Will You Take My Babies?’” Washington Post, June 7, 2016, p.B5).

About 15 years ago, I met a single woman, a Catholic in her 20’s. When her older sister, a single mother, was dying, she asked the woman I knew to take care of her five children. And she did.

Another example: Lacey Dunkin, a single and childless woman age 32, had been certified to become a foster parent. She waited for the first child she could help. A phone call came asking if she would help, on an emergency basis, several sisters. The eldest was in kindergarten. Eventually, Dunkin adopted all six sisters in 2013 (Micaiah Bilger, “Amazing Single Mom Opens Her Heart and Home to Adopt Six Sisters,” LifeNews.com, May 5, 2016).

Three more examples: Phyllis Wilson became a foster mother for the first time in her 50’s, around 2006. In the ten ensuing years, she cared for children too numerous to count (Ellen McCarthy, “To This Foster Mom, Every Child Who Enters Her Home Is ‘My Child,’” Washington Post, March 27, 2016). Sue and Hector Badeau adopted twenty children who needed a home (see Larissa MacFarquhar, “The Children of Strangers,” The New Yorker, Aug. 3, 2015). Shelly and Tim McDaniel adopted children, for a total of 25, and “the family contains almost the entire black population of Dietrich, Idaho” (see Rob Kunzia, “‘A Community on Edge’: Town Torn Apart by Sexual Assault Accusations Against Football Players,” Washington Post, May 30, 2016).

The radical charity expressed in caring for so many children can be considered heroic.


***Editor’s Note: For Part XXVI in this series, click here


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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