Three tries unites adopted woman with family
As Mark LeRiger was about to leave for work one day last March, he thumbed through the previous day’s mail, which included a letter from Catholic Charities.
Assuming it to be a fundraising letter, he set it aside and thought no more about it until his brother, Chad, having also received a letter, called him at work and inquired about how much he knew about their mother’s background. After a brief conversation, Chad said, "Well, I’ll just tell you – we have a half-sister."
That letter, also sent to a third brother, Darin, led to their meeting and developing a relationship with an older half-sister, Diane Barton, who was adopted through Catholic Charities in 1962.
Arranged through Catholic Charities’ family services specialist Shannon Parish, a luncheon meeting drew the long-separated siblings together like old friends.
"When we all met for lunch, they did not miss a beat and you would never have known that they had just met each other," Parish said.
"It was like seeing one of your old, really good friends that you haven’t seen for a while, we just so instantly connected," said Darin, a member of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion.
For Diane, 54, a retired Omaha police officer and now part-time school resource officer at two Millard Public Schools, the meeting culminated a 30-year search for her birth mother – with the help of Catholic Charities – that began in her early 20s.
Her quest became a story of perseverance, patience and faith.
"I thought, it would be nice to lay eyes on this woman who gave me up and thank her for being so selfless and to tell her, ‘I have a great life,’" said Diane, a member of Christ the King Parish in Omaha.
But a letter came back from Catholic Charities saying she had to be 25 years old to make contact, and it provided very limited information about her mother.
Years later, Diane tried again. And Catholic Charities sent a letter to her birth mother, who declined to meet because of the impact the situation could have on her husband’s poor health.
But in March, Diane tried one more time, and was connected with Parish.
"Shannon made things happen pretty quickly," Diane said, soon finding out that her birth mother had died, but that she had three half-brothers living in Omaha.
She also found out that her birth mother had become pregnant at age 23. But the father ended the relationship and her parents recommended she give up the child to adoption.
Chad was the first to respond to the letter, Parish said. "He was so excited and said they had always wanted a sister."
"But my first thought was that this must have been a mistake," Chad, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn, told the Catholic Voice. "I had never seen our mom do anything that would compromise her honesty, and then to find out that she had this secret that for her own reasons she wasn’t able to share."
After the necessary disclosure forms were signed by all parties, information was exchanged, a meeting was arranged and bonds began to form.
"It took a couple months for all this to sink in," said Mark, a member of Mary Our Queen Parish in Omaha. "It’s such a treat to finally have a sister."
The next big encounter was a huge family reunion where Diane, her husband Doug, and their 16-year-old twin daughters met dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins for the first time and were warmly welcomed into the family. A 25-year-old son was unable to attend.
"To never look like anyone in your family is hard," she said, "and to meet all these cousins who look like you … it was nice."
Diane said she is grateful that terms of her adoption placement required that her adoptive parents be Catholic.
And her adoptive family was a blessing, Diane said. Growing up in then-St. Richard and St. Robert Bellarmine parishes in Omaha, she, and an adopted brother and sister, Tom and Barbara, received a Catholic education through high school, and her adoptive parents, Marilyn and the late Don Matthews, always set a good example of faith and hard work, she said.
"Because of my Catholic upbringing, I always had faith that good things would happen to me," Diane said. "I always knew that if I was supposed to find my birth family, it would happen."