The Last Orphans of Holy Cross
Although the boarding school closed in 1956, Oseira and Della Mae stayed on for over a year until they could be reunited with their mother. The last orphans at Holy Cross slept alone in the mission library, a lonely experience that still haunts Oseira.
Once their mother, Ruth, was located, church officials dropped the girls off on her doorstep in Seattle.
Ruth was living in a small inner city apartment with her two infant daughters and a new man. She and the man were drinking heavily and soon abandoned all four of the girls for several days. Hungry and afraid, Oseira now 16, sought help from neighbors who called the sheriff. She and Della Mae were placed in jail for several weeks until police could find homes for them.
The infants were returned to Ruth.
The sisters, however were placed in separate foster homes. Oseira’s foster parents were kind but Della Mae ended up with a family who used her as an unpaid servant. Della Mae became pregnant during her stay and was pressured by the foster parents to give them custody of her baby daughter.
Over the following years, Oseira lost track of Della Mae. Free at last of the nuns, she threw herself into life, even changing her name from Pauline to Kim. She blotted out her life at Holy Cross. Distancing herself further from her painful past, she moved often. Hard work and long hours kept the pain away. Married and divorced three times, she currently lives in Minneapolis near her two grown daughters.
“My daughters have complained that I was always married to my job. I didn’t really have any true knowledge of parenting skills,” she admits.
Recently, however, the sight of her 5 year-old grandson made the memories of Holy Cross especially poignant. As she tenderly watched him play during a family gathering, she realized she was the same age as the little boy when she was sent to Holy Cross.
“No child should ever be treated like we were treated,” she said chocking back tears.
Oseira is telling her story to ensure it never happens again and she tells it for Della Mae, always for Della Mae who now lives on the streets of Seattle a prisoner of addiction and mental illness.“For true healing to happen, Catholics and the church need to admit their mistakes,” she said.
The only way to survive at the orphanage was to lie, so the truth holds a special significance for Oseira.
“I’ve promised myself to always tell the truth; that is what God really wants from us, she said.
“Maybe now those who have suffered can rest in peace; maybe by gaining some understanding of what happened, they can heal,” she said.
Like that beautiful solitary tree from her childhood vision, Oseira stands tall, bravely sharing her memories.
“I know in my heart that God is with me every step of the way,” she said.
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