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Flames of love and commitment burn on after war

Posted on December 8, 2021, by Loretto Community

Standing with the adoptees … now grown

By Mary Louise Denny SL

There is often a deeply rooted need for a sense of belonging. Susan Carol McDonald SL knew this and made every effort to connect adoptees throughout the world. She encouraged us to share our feelings and experiences. Sometimes the connections were brief, but there is comfort in knowing others like me are out there.

There is much documented about the Vietnam War and the conditions of the country. Sister Susan made it personal, helping us to understand the sacrifices our birth parents made by trying to give us a better life.

Amy Oakes, known at New Haven Nursery as Simone Weil

When Susan Carol McDonald SL returned from Vietnam in 1975, she knew her life had changed. She knew that the work she felt privileged to do in Vietnam with abandoned children would be a path she would take for the rest of her life. And so it was.

She kept in touch with many of the adoptive parents as they began to raise the infant they had welcomed into their families. She answered questions, told stories, shared memories of each child and their known beginnings with adoptive parents worldwide.

Susan Carol [McDonald SL] had the first memories of me. She had the first pictures of me. She was the only other person who could tell me what I was like before my mom got me. She was that to so many others and had the heart to want to share that with us.

Christy Holman, known at New Haven Nursery as Minuet
Christy Holman, center, brings her daughter to visit Susan Carol McDonald SL, left, and Mary Louise Denny SL, right.
Photo courtesy of Christy Holman

As the children became adults they had questions about the Vietnam they left, about their beginnings, where they were found and why. Some had misgivings about their birth mothers, some had been told things about their lives that simply were not true. They knew they would hear the truth from Susan. All they had to do was ask. Some found the truth comforting and others did not.

Three women sit together looking at old papers.
Susan Carol McDonald SL, right, shares information and stories with an adoptee and her adoptive mother.
Photo by Mary Louise Denny SL

She wanted each adult adoptee to know they were loved, to know they are special and a gift to the world. She wanted them to know each other, to know they had brothers and sisters all over the world. To know they were not alone.

Some brought their own children to Susan. One woman said, “You held me when I was eight months old, I want you to hold my daughter, too.” Susan welcomed each phone call, each email, each visit. She continued doing this until her death in Sept. 2020.

She often said how grateful she was that she was able to do this work, have this blessing in her life, experience such love.

Now it’s up to each of us … pass it on.

None of the experiences that have shaped, molded, and allowed me to evolve into the person I am today would have been possible without you.

Briant Happ, in a letter to Susan Carold McDonald SL for her memorial book compiled after her death.

Returning to Vietnam

By Mary Nelle Gage SL

Two women, one Vietnamese and one White, embrace and smile for the camera.
Mary Nelle Gage SL, right, with adoptee Tobi Garrett, Easter 2020.
Photo by Cathy Mueller SL

Motherland Tours began in 1996 and have continued through the last 20 years. Susan Carol McDonald SL and I each escorted large and small groups of adoptees, often accompanied by parents, spouses, their own children, back to Vietnam. Mary Louise Denny SL and Ruth Routten CoL have accompanied us.

Arriving at the airport from which they departed as babies or toddlers, we visit the sites important to each one: the nursery and orphanage where they received care, the adoption office, the embassy building where their entry visa was granted, the former South Vietnamese Ministry buildings where they were granted passports and exit visas.

We visit the places of historic interest, including the former Vietnamese Presidential Palace and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The beauty of Vietnam is enjoyed in boat excursions on Halong Bay, at China Beach, in the rice fields of the Delta, in the fishing village of Hoi An.

Meeting childcare workers and provincial orphanage directors is a highlight for the workers and sisters who are so happy to see and embrace their children again. While many of the pre-communist records were destroyed, some remain and a few adoptees have found personal background information. Some, through the miracle of DNA testing, have met blood relatives and learned more of their personal history. Each visit, on April 4, we gather for a memorial service near the crash site of the C-5A transport plane, speaking aloud the names of the 76 children and six volunteers who perished.

In the adoptees’ words…

A Vietnamese toddler girl smiles for the camera.
Eleanor smiles for the camera at the nursery where she lived prior to adoption by a family in the U.S.

From what I know about my history, I was found on the side of a road injured by a landmine and brought to medical care. I was then moved through three orphanages in the span of six months until I was finally adopted in early 1975 to a single mother in Washington, D.C.

Many of the sisters organized reunions for Vietnamese adoptees from my childhood to the present, including motherland tours guided by Mary Nelle Gage SL. She even took an excursion with me to my hometown, which was a short plane ride away from the rest of the tour. Once I stepped off the plane into Qui Nhon, I actually recognized the sweet smell of rice, and some memories instantly returned. It really was amazing to go back after decades and hear firsthand accounts from those who were there taking care of us in the 1970s.

Eleanor Marindin
A man and woman affectionately pose together.
Eleanor enjoys outdoor time with husband Dan. Eleanor and Dan are hoping to adopt a child.

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