The Real Philomena Lee


I hope you enjoyed my spotlight on the film Philomena and that you are able to watch it one day.

As I promised, I wanted to share with you a bit about the life of the real Philomena Lee. Why? Because sometimes it is good to be reminded on how blessed we are in our lives and also to be reminded that at the end of it all we can still rise above it.

Philomena Lee was an average girl of her time who was without the understanding or foreknowledge about relationships, romance, and sex. Before she knew it she was eighteen and pregnant and disowned by her own family. With nowhere to go she entered into the Sean Ross Abbey where Anthony Lee was born in 1952.

Philomena Lee
 Philomena before she became pregnant with Anthony
Anthony Lee
 Anthony Lee before his adoption-Sean Ross Abbey
Anthony Lee Philomena
 Anthony Lee with one of the nuns at the Abbey

Anthony Lee spent the first three years of his life at the Abbey with his mother, Philomena. She had to work for the Abbey cleaning laundry for four years to pay for her delivery of Anthony. Life at the Abbey was filled with silence and even more Penance for the nuns declared these girls and young women as "fallen". 

She was allowed to see her child for one hour a day and then one day her son was taken away. It was that easy and it happened that quickly. Can you imagine that? The nuns told her he was being placed in a good Catholic family and that is when Philomena's life changed forever.

Anthony Lee Philomena
 Anthony Lee after his adoption 
Anthony Lee Michael Hess

Michael Hess
 Michael Hess, formerly Anthony Lee

Anthony was adopted by an American family and his name changed to Michael Hess. It is said that his adoptive mother was kind and loving but that he never felt close to his father. He did receive a wonderful education and became a lawyer. He was quite successful at it and even worked for both President Reagen and President George Bush (Senior).

Philomena's worst fear was that she would never find her son or that he would never be interested in finding her. I am sure a worry many adoptive children and birth parents have.

She told her husband whom she married in 1959 but afterwards never spoke of Anthony until about 43 years later when she confessed it to her second child, Jane (she also has a second son named Kevin). It was Jane that helped Philomena begin her quest to find the son that was taken from her.

Michael Hess
 Michael Hess visiting the Abbey in search for his birth mother
Philomena Lee with her daughter
 Philomena Lee with her daughter, Jane
Philomena Lee

With the help of Jane and Martin Sixsmith, Philomena was able to find her son Anthony and also find closure. Her journey wasn't easy and the nuns repeatedly told her that they had no information.

Sadly, they also told Anthony that they had no information on his birth mother other than that she abandoned him. By then Anthony was dying from illnesses related to AIDS.

At the end of her journey Philomena found out that her son was a gay man who had a brilliant career, was loved by many, and had tragically died young at the age of 43 in 1995. His partner was able to gift Philomena with knowledge about her son and that he did search for her. His last wish was to be buried at the Sean Ross Abbey in the hopes that his mother would find him. And find him she did.

Philomena's story is bittersweet but at the end of it all she told her story to her family and to the world. And she did the impossible, she forgave the nuns for what they did and for keeping Anthony and Philomena apart by not divulging any information.

Her story hits home for me because I have a three year old son. I look at him and I think, what would my life be like without him in it?

Philomena's story should teach us that we should never feel shame for who we are or shame because of the poor choices we make in life. No ONE is perfect. And Philomena's forgiveness for the life altering wrong these religious women bestowed upon her is a testament to rising above the ugly of this world.

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  1. Wow. Thank you for taking the time to share the details of the real story. How heartbreaking! It breaks my heart to think of being away from my little ones.
    L A

  2. Thank you for reading it hun! Isn't it heartbreaking and in the end she forgave....amazing! xox


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