Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, Ireland announced this weekend his shock when a commission of investigation discovered the remains of “796 children who died at [a home for unwed mothers] over more than three decades.” According to the New York Times, between “1925 to 1961, the St. Mary’s home was run by the Sisters of Bon Secours, a Roman Catholic order, but was financed by the Irish government.” The home sheltered unwed mothers who needed a place to care for their children since at the time “a child outside of marriage was considered both sinful and shameful, and unmarried mothers and their children often suffered discrimination and abuse.”
The commission’s report stated that they analyzed a structure in the building that “appears to be related to the treatment/containment of sewage and/or waste water…In this second structure, significant quantities of human remains have been discovered in at least 17 of the 20 underground chambers which were examined. A small number of remains were recovered for the purpose of analysis. These remains involved a number of individuals with age-at-death ranges from approximately 35 foetal weeks to 2-3 years.” It is believed that the children died from various causes, such as malnutrition, measles, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis and pneumonia.
After receiving the results of the investigation, Archbishop Neary said during his weekend homily, “I am horrified and saddened to hear, through the Commission’s interim statement of 3 March 2017, that quite a large quantity of human remains were discovered on this site which, on analysis, matches the timescale of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. This points to a time of great suffering and pain for the little ones and their mothers.”
Archbishop Neary went on further to say, “As the Archdiocese did not have any involvement in the running of the home in Tuam, I have no specific information on the manner of interment of remains, but any material we have which is even remotely related to the investigation, has been handed over in full to the Commission….Today, however, those who have suffered are uppermost in our minds and at the very heart of our prayers.”
The Bon Secours order also released a statement that they have promised “continued cooperation with and support for the work of the commission in seeking the truth about the home.”
Additionally, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Simon Coveney, explained that the State needs to answer questions, “I mean people shouldn’t only talk here about the Bon Secours Sisters, although obviously they have questions to answer, but this was a site that was owned by the State and it’s a site that’s still owned by Galway County Council, so there’s a significant responsibility on the State here, as well as the Bon Secours Sisters.”
The investigation was ordered after this story, when an Irish woman, Catherine Corless obtained records for the nearly 800 children who had died at the home, using her own money to fund her research. “If I didn’t do it,” she told the Irish Times at that time, “no one else would have.” Nevertheless, she remarked that some of the headlines concerning her findings were sensationalized “out of proportion” to her own report, requiring corrections from members of the press.
In the end it is a tragic story, one that must never be repeated. Going forward these suffering mothers should receive all the prayers and support the world can give them. As Archbishop Neary prayed in his homily, “May the Lord’s infinite mercy console all those mothers whose children died in the Mother and Baby Home, their families, and all who are affected by and upset by the news which came as a body-blow to us all, and may Mary, the Mother of God, who witnessed the death of her only child on the cross be our comfort and consolation now.”