Subject: Family values Xtan style


Date: 3/17/95

Robert O'Brien's Story.

Excerpt from "Editor's Notes" from Freethought Today,

Newspaper of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The unforgettable story of Robert O'Brien and the hunt for his past fits no category, but begs to be shared, however belatedly.

The Omaha World Herald of July 1, 1992, reported that this man, told he was a Sioux Indian by the Benedictine nuns who raised him, finally found out who his mother was. An anonymous nun. He also found a tribe of relatives after learning that his father was a married tribal officer on the Elbowoods Reservation in North Dakota, where his mother the nun had worked.

He was born Robert Gdanietz on Feb. 28, 1931.

His name was deliberately changed to camouflage his identity before placement in a Catholic orphanage in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the age of 2.

He was never adopted but went to live, at age 11, with a couple who treated him like farm help. He had a family and successful career. In 1991 he impulsively asked for his records from Catholic Social Services during a visit to St. Paul. His continuing search revealed that his father Arthur Mandan was a college graduate, writer, interpreter and politician who had narrowly lost a bid for the U.S. Senate. He even found a picture of his look-alike dad meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt. He met his 3 half-sisters and a brother, and tragically learned that an older married sister had been refused the right when she tried to adopt him.

The Catholic diocese was pleased to let the embarrassing reminder of a nun's "fall" drift in limbo, familyless. In order to learn his mother's whereabouts, he was told by Catholic Charities of St. Paul to cough up $800. He refused.

In December, 1992, the World Herald ran a follow-up story.

Robert O'Brien hired an adoption activist for $180 to find out what had happened to the unnamed Benedictine nun. Marie Gdanietz was found quickly, at age 85, living in St. Paul. They had several reunions, and gradually she revealed her painful story.

She was 24 when she gave birth. She was told her son had been placed in a loving home. Ironically, he grew up in the same orphanage where she had been raised following the death of her own mother 20 years earlier. The religious order wanted Ms. Gdanietz declared "mentally feeble." She passed the competency test but somehow lost her freedom anyway. She was committed to a state institution, was sterilized against her will and several years later won her release. She was never given the letters Arthur Mandan wrote her in care of the church. She married in 1937, never revealing her story to anyone but her husband out of fear of retaliation.

Who could blame her? Most of these stories are, after all, successfully squelched. The Catholic Church certainly has a lot to answer for!

The writer is editor of Freethought Today and a staff member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.


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