When Edward Hayes exclusively revealed to the Daily Express he was systematically sexually abused by the nun from the age of 12, he never thought telling his story would lead him to finding his long-lost child.
The 76-year-old had pleaded with the Catholic Church to let him know basic details about the child he fathered in the 1950s.
He said if he could find out if it was a boy or a girl and that they had lived a good life he would be able to “die happy”.
In spite of direct pleas to the Vatican, officials failed to offer any help. He said: “I thought the circumstances were too unusual. I didn’t think a child, who was born after rape, would ever know their true beginnings so would never come forward. The best I could hope for was to keep appealing for help from the Catholic Church and I didn’t hold out much hope for that.
“I didn’t in a million years think they would ever want to meet me. I just wanted to know the child was OK and what had happened to them.”
But Edward, who was sexually abused by the nun between the ages of 12 and 14, could not believe it when the Daily Express story led his daughter to him.
Incredibly Edward, his 62-year-old daughter and her four children – Edward’s grandchildren – are now looking forward to forging a future together. They met for the first time in London on Sunday.
Edward said: “It was the day I dared never believe would happen. This is it now, now that we have found each other. My twilight years are going to be good ones.”
Edward’s daughter, said: “It was a day of pure joy for me and my family. After 20 years of looking for my father, I have finally found him at the age of 62. And my children now have a grandfather.”
Edward’s ordeal occurred at the former John Reynolds Home in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, run by The Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph. He fell victim to then 27-year-old Irish nun Sister Mary Conleth, real name Bessie Veronica Lawler.
When she fell pregnant she was sent away in disgrace. Edward was sent to a hostel in Carlisle believing the nun had returned to Ireland. But she had been sent to Guildford, Surrey, to give birth to the daughter before she was adopted.
She then returned to Lytham – her family now believe in a desperate attempt to find Edward with whom she was infatuated. When she couldn’t find him she returned to Ireland to live with her sister before building a new life, marrying and having two more sons and two daughters.
She died in 2002. It was those children who discovered their mother’s first child when they began researching their family tree around a decade ago. That meant Edward’s daughter was already in touch with her biological mother’s family but had no knowledge about her father despite frequent attempts to find him.
Following the Daily Express story last month, the nun’s family recognised their mother’s name and told the daughter that it must be her. Edward said: “Of course it is a massive blow for her family. They are struggling to come to terms with being told their mother was a rapist. I don’t think they believe it, that she was capable of that.”
Because of this, Edward’s daughter does not wish to be named or pictured to protect her identity and that of her family. Edward added: “She feels guilty that, while we are very happy they are going through an awful lot. She feels a lot for her other family and doesn’t want to rub it in. It is so lovely to find out my daughter had been trying to find me too.
I was always scared to even face people but I am no longer afraid
“Since speaking to the Daily Express it has been such a whirlwind. I have come from a dark place to seeing things completely differently.
“Knowing part of the family history has allowed me to come to terms with what happened in my past. I have forgiven Sister Mary Conleth. The more I think about it, the more I think she did what she did out of love for me.
“To find out she had come back to Lytham, I think possibly to find me, and also to discover she put my name on our daughter’s birth certificate, suggests in some way she loved me.
“I have also come to realise how much it has helped me to speak out. I have had nothing but compassion from people who I’ve met and seen what I have been through.
“I was always scared to even face people but I am no longer afraid.”
But, he said, the biggest achievement was to meet his daughter. He added: “I was so nervous. But when we saw each other we hugged straight away. She said ‘hello dad, it’s about time’. We must have shared around 800 cuddles.
“It was fantastic, spot on, we even look alike. We have the same eyes and nose.
“She has my sense of humour and likes a joke, just like me.”
My sexual abuse has lasted a lifetime
EDWARD Hayes has spent decades fighting for answers from the Catholic church claiming the suffering inflicted on him by childhood sexual abuse has lasted his lifetime.
He was aged just 10 and known as Billy when he was put in the home after being neglected by his parents. Initially he had viewed his new home as a blessing but life turned sour when Sister Mary Conleth arrived two years later and requested he work alongside her.
Edward said: “I had barely started work there when it happened. I was still 12.
“I hated doing it but she said she’d tell on me if I didn’t, that I’d been a bad boy and I’d be punished. She’d talk dirty to me. I would not let her kiss me. I thought babies were made by men kissing women.”
By the time Edward was 14 he was allocated his own bedroom where the nun started paying him night visits. In April 1956 the nun became pregnant and he was adopted by a family before a chaotic adult life, marred by alcoholism. He married and had two children but it failed because he was unable to build “normal relationships”.
The letter offering compensation
He attempted Army life, signing up with the Royal Artillery but was medically discharged after five years in 1969. It was only in 1998 that Edward decided to confront his past but struggled to find anyone to listen, having initially tried the police, a social worker, his MP and, years later, Catholic charity Caritas Care.
His life changed when he met Noel Chardon, a retired English history teacher and trained psychologist volunteering at Macsas (Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors), a support group.
In 2012 he was granted legal aid to make the Church accountable in court but it took until 2016 to win £20,000 compensation.
However Edward believes he has not received proper acknowledgment from the Church. A spokesman for The Sisters of the Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph said: “We are aware that a reunion between Mr Hayes and his daughter have taken place.
“We will be offering appropriate support via a third party. As this is a private matter we will not be offering further comment.”
“The Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph have offered our sincere and unreserved apology for the abuse Mr Hayes suffered whilst resident at the John Reynolds Home and all the subsequent pain and trauma which followed the actual abuse.
“There is no place for abuse in the Church and along with every other agency caring for children and vulnerable adults we now have stringent safeguarding policies which aim to prevent any possible recurrence of what happened to Mr Hayes.”
‘I had no idea how it would go. It was fabulous’
EDWARD and his daughter have spoken “every single day” since they met for the first time six days ago. Having spoken on the phone the meeting was carefully arranged for last Sunday – with the pair expecting a short awkward rendezvous.
But instead of enduring stilted conversation they ended up spending seven hours together, chatting about their past, filling in gaps in each other’s knowledge about their lives and most importantly – planning for the future together.
That includes the daughter taking her four children north to Carlisle to meet their grandfather for the first time next month and then Edward making a visit to Surrey to introduce his two sons to their new half-sister.
Edward revealed: “I was very nervous and had no idea how the meeting would go but it was just fabulous.
“The time just flew by. We had some photo albums so we were able to show each other pictures and tell each other about our lives.”
“We have spoken on the phone every day since meeting and have already planned to meet up.
“She is going to come to Carlisle, hopefully in June, and I will get to meet all my new grandchildren.
“And then the following month I am going to go down south for a weekend and hopefully my sons will be able to come with me too.
“It is very exciting and more than I could ever have hoped for. “The Catholic church has given me no help but telling my story in the Daily Express has transformed my life. “I can’t wait for the future now.”
HEART-STOPPING MOMENT EDWARD MET HIS DAUGHTER
Struggling to speak, Edward said: ‘Oh gosh (he says her name), my daughter at last.’
Daughter: ‘Dad, dad, dad.’
The pair then burst into tears and embraced, sobbing for several minutes unable to speak.
Finally they took a step back, looked at each other and briefly spoke again before more tears flowed.
Daughter: ‘Hello Dad, it’a about time. Dad, oh dad. I have got your blue eyes, your nose and your jawline.’
Edward: ‘I couldn’t get to my life’s end without knowing my wee bairn had survived.’
Daughter: ‘Oh dad.’”