Finding A Child A Home For The Holidays

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Sister Mary DeSalles Collins recorded her story in Yonkers, N.Y.

Sister Mary DeSalles Collins recorded her story in Yonkers, N.Y. StoryCorps hide caption

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Sister Mary DeSalles Collins worked for more than 50 years at New York Foundling, one of the oldest adoption agencies in New York City. She found homes for hundreds of children.

These days, Sister Collins is retired, living at the Convent of Mary the Queen in Yonkers, N.Y. But one adoption case stands out in her memory.

It was during the holidays, just after World War II.

"I had an adoption, a little baby boy," Sister Collins said. "It was an extramarital relationship — her husband was off at war and she became pregnant by someone else."

But for the adoption to go through, the law required that the woman's husband be notified and sign a form of surrender.

So on a Saturday morning, Sister Collins set out to visit the family's tenement house in what she remembers as "not a good section of Manhattan."

But the husband was not there; he was at work at a bar and grill. And that's where Sister Collins went — dressed in a full nun's habit, with a black hat and cape.

"And I was only 98 pounds," Sister Collins said.

But it was only four days before Christmas.

"I was going to get this boy placed in his adoptive home before Christmas," she said.

Her arrival at the bar on a Saturday morning made the bartender nervous, Sister Collins recalls.He asked, "And what kind of a drink would you like, Miss?"

After explaining herself, Sister Collins went to the back of the bar, where the husband was working.

"Well, he was a little surprised, I guess," Sister Collins said. "But he said, 'All right, I'll sign it.'"

There was just one more step: finding a witness to sign the form along with the husband. The bartender was drafted for that job.

With her work done, Sister Collins left.

"I went out to the corner, and I looked up and down," she said. "I didn't want anyone to see me coming out of a bar and grill at 9 in the morning."

"But, I felt it was my vocation in life, to place a child with a good home. Knowing that these children would get what they really need and deserve."

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