Thursday, February 20, 2014

Magdalene Laundries and the Movie "Philomena"

I'm a latecomer to this issue--Yesterday I read an interesting article from the New York Times (published January 10, 2014) on the movie Philomena and the real people and stories behind the movie. Philomena was an unwed mother who was given a kind of refuge in a convent, Sean Ross Abbey, in Rosscrea, Ireland. Philomena gave birth to a son and her boy was renamed when he was adopted out to an American family, Marge and Doc Hess of St. Louis, Missouri. Anthony Lee then became Michael Hess. Michael was raised a Catholic and later attend the University of Notre Dame, 1970-'74. He arrived on campus three months after I graduated from Notre Dame. Hess became an attorney and worked for the Reagan and Bush administrations. He was, apparently, a semi-closeted gay man. He tried on multiple occasions to find his birth mother in Ireland, but apparently had no cooperation from the convent and "Magdalene Laundry" where he was born and where his mother went because of the great scandal and shame in Ireland of the early 1950s of being an unwed mother. Michael Hess died of AIDS in 1995 at age 43. He asked that his ashes be buried at the convent school in Ireland so that his mother might some day find out about him. and that is what happened. She never saw her son alive after the adoption, but she was able to visit his grave. Convents like Sean Ross were often termed "Magdalene Laundries" or Magdalene Asylums. Here is a link to Wikipedia's article on them: Magdalene Laundries article

Joni Mitchell wrote a song about these so-called Magdalene Laundries. Here are the lyrics:

Magdalene Laundries
By Joni Mitchell

I was an unmarried girl
I'd just turned twenty-seven
When they sent me to the sisters
For the way men looked at me
Branded as a jezebel
I knew I was not bound for Heaven
I'd be cast in shame
Into the Magdalene laundries

Most girls come here pregnant
Some by their own fathers
Bridget got that belly
By her parish priest
We're trying to get things white as snow
All of us woe-begotten-daughters
In the steaming stains
Of the Magdalene laundries

Prostitutes and destitutes
And temptresses like me--
Fallen women--
Sentenced into dreamless drudgery ...
Why do they call this heartless place
Our Lady of Charity?
Oh charity!

These bloodless brides of Jesus
If they had just once glimpsed their groom
Then they'd know, and they'd drop those stones
Concealed behind their rosaries
They wilt the grass they walk upon
They leech the light out of a room
They'd like to drive us down the drain
At the Magdalene laundries

Peg O'Connell died today
She was a cheeky girl
A flirt
They just stuffed her in a hole!
Surely to God you'd think at least some bells should ring!
One day I'm going to die here too
And they'll plant me in the dirt
Like some lame bulb
That never blooms come any spring
Not any spring
No, not any spring
Not any spring

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