The blessings, courage and unselfish love of adoption
Woman now works for agency through which she was adopted
By Jean Torkelson
November is National Adoption Awareness Month.
Lori Kennedy, a bank president for 22 years before retirement, was certainly at ease in the corporate world. But she had to struggle to keep a businesslike composure when, during her job interview with Catholic Charities of Denver last spring, she was faced with the classic conversation opener: “So, tell me a little about yourself.”
“I had to hold back the tears,” she recalled. “I think I told him in the first 10 sentences.”
The listener was Jonathan Reyes, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, and the background Kennedy was about to share with him was stunning indeed: Almost 54 years before, the woman now interviewing for a vice president’s position at Catholic Charities of Denver had been adopted as a baby, through Catholic Charities of Denver.
Reyes remembers the moment, too.
“She said to me later, ‘I can’t believe I almost cried during our first interview,’ and I told her,
‘But that’s why I hired you!’” Reyes said. “It’s a confirmation of her passion. I knew she would be able to represent us well. And she has.”
Today, Kennedy is vice president of development for Catholic Charities. From her new vantage point representing the Church’s foremost social service agency, she hopes to heighten people’s understanding that adoption can be a generous and courageous choice for birth parents and for adoptive families—and a lifelong blessing for the baby.
Yet, in recent decades, perhaps no social contract has been as misunderstood, or as controversial, as adoption.
“People think it’s like driving up to the window at a cleaners and they hand you a baby, but that’s simply not true,” she said.
In fact, the screening process is meticulous. Nor is adoption a rebuke to single mothers who keep their babies. For any given family, that choice may well be the right one. But adoption can be equally right, and blessed.
“There are people out there who would give anything to have a happy, healthy baby,” Kennedy said. “And if you are an adopted child, and feel like someone abandoned you, I would ask you to rethink and reconsider. For a woman to give up her child for adoption is an unselfish act.”
Kennedy, of course, speaks from experience.
A most unselfish act
“I was born a Christmas baby,” she said. The day was Dec. 28, 1958, and her birth mother was an unwed, 16-year-old girl.
“I think of my natural mother particularly on my birthday, and I know that if she is still alive, on that day she particularly thinks of me. And on that day I always pray she knows she did the right thing. I know it was the most unselfish act a person can do.”
The 16-year-old made a decision that forever changed the lives of two strangers, Jack and Dolores Corless, who had been unable to have children.
In fact, how the couple came to adopt Lori became part of family lore. They were driving through Denver when Dolores, a non-Catholic, made a sudden announcement: “I want to adopt a baby and turn Catholic.”
And she wanted to adopt specifically through Catholic Charities, an agency she instinctively believed was trustworthy and held the highest standards.
“My dad always referred to that day, lovingly, as the day he almost drove off the Valley Highway,” Kennedy said, with a laugh.
The adoption, a routine three-year process, had a happy outcome. Lori, the couple’s only child, came into the family at the age of 2 months.
“I went to a wonderful family who gave me morals, values, a sense of integrity, a Catholic education, and I was loved unconditionally,” she said. The happy, stable and close-knit family life she knew as a child was echoed in her marriage 15 years ago to Don Kennedy, a moving company owner.
“Definitely a God-inspired partnership,” she said. “It’s a good match, like my parents.”
Gratitude to go around
When people hear her story, one question invariably follows.
“A lot of people ask me why I have never pursued my biological family,” she said. She believes she could take steps to unseal her records, but other considerations come first.
“What worries me is, what if I’m somebody’s family secret? What if my birth mother went on to have more children, and they don’t know they have a sibling out there? If they pursued me, I would be open to it, but I don’t want to disrupt someone’s life when they have done so much for me.”
For now, she is content if her life story helps make others aware of adoption as a choice. Catholic Charities offers complete, and supportive, services for birth mothers who keep their babies as well as for those who, as Kennedy puts it, “are married couples who cannot have children and who suffer, and would be so grateful for a baby.”
In her new career, Kennedy is paying tribute to Catholic Charities and its adoption program, which has reflected, for generations, a commitment to faith and family—including her own.
“I just knew this was the place to be,” Kennedy said. “I had a great career and a wonderful life. My parents gave back in gratitude and in the serious way they raised me. Now I can give back, myself.”
Jean Torkelson: 203-715-3122; www.twitter.com/DCRegister
Catholic Charities offers a wide range of services and support for the expectant mother, prospective parents, and children. For more information on all the family services available, including pregnancy counseling, call 303-742-0828.