By Daniel Meloy | OSV News
Every time Mary Fuller steps into the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit, she reconnects with her roots.
It was 70 years ago when Fuller was found as a baby in the back pew of the cathedral by two nursing students, possibly left there by a mysterious man who asked where the rectory was and was never seen again, according to a Detroit News story from Jan. 27, 1953.
The two nurses took the baby to Detroit Receiving Hospital, giving her the name Mary Church as opposed to Jane Doe.
Through Catholic Social Services, Fuller was eventually adopted by Elizabeth and Leo Kraus, grew up alongside her three siblings in Our Lady of All Saints Parish in Fraser, a northern suburb of Detroit, and lived a prosperous life centered on family and the Catholic faith.
“I don’t even remember my parents sitting down and telling me I was adopted, we just always knew,” Fuller said during her most recent trip to the cathedral.
Fuller now lives in Florida but is sure to stop by the cathedral every time she comes back to Michigan to visit family.
“Along with my siblings, we always knew I was adopted,” she told the Detroit Catholic, the archdiocesan news outlet. “Now my three younger siblings look identical, just like my mom, red hair, freckles, green eyes. Then there was me with the blonde hair. I just didn’t have the same features. My dad would say I take after his side of the family.”
After high school, Fuller initially studied music at Wayne State University in Detroit, but switched to special education and started working with the Macomb Intermediate School District for 10 years. She earned a master’s in educational behavioral psychology, moved to Florida and began working as a behavioral specialist, earning another master’s in clinical counseling and finishing her doctoral studies at the University of South Florida.
Fuller frequently returned to Michigan with her younger brother Timothy, who is mildly disabled, to visit with family, particularly her sister, Lisa. Fuller and Lisa were very close, and Lisa was the backup caregiver for Tim.
And every trip back, she would make a journey to where it all started, the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, where the bundled-up newborn was discovered by two nursing students.
The visits took on a greater meaning in 2019 when Lisa unexpectedly died.
“It was December 2019 when my sister Lisa died unexpectedly of an aneurysm, and that was Dec. 20,” Fuller said. “So it was Christmas Mass, we came down here that morning with my niece and were pretty broken. After Mass, we prayed, and then the deacon and Father J.J. (Mech, the cathedral rector) came up to us and talked to us.”
Fuller told Father J.J. her story of how she was found as a baby in the cathedral and was very intrigued by it. Lisa’s death caused Fuller to think about tracking down her roots. As Tim’s primary caregiver, she wanted to know if there were any genetic diseases or patterns she should be aware of.
It was less about finding family, more about figuring out where she came from. Fuller submitted a “23 and Me” DNA test and waited.
What she got was way more — and much better — than a family medical history.
“It was March 6, my grandson’s birthday, that I got an email saying I had a sister, and her name is Kelly Bell,” Fuller said. “So, 73 days after losing my sister, Lisa, I found another sister, Kelly. Kelly and I started writing back and forth — this is all during the pandemic — and months later, we agreed to meet each other.”
Fuller learned that not only did she have a sister, but two brothers, David and Jack. Fuller’s biological mother, Barbara Braidwood, was a young girl who lived about six or seven blocks from the cathedral when she gave birth to Fuller.
“When I come into this church, I’m just thinking of my mom and what she went through,” Fuller said.
Fuller’s biological mom married and gave birth to Kelly, and the family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Fuller’s two half-brothers are musicians, a call back to Fuller first majoring in music at Wayne State. Curiously enough, when Fuller moved down to Florida in 1985, she was only an hour away from her siblings.
“Kelly and my brothers never knew I existed. For them, it was overwhelmingly shocking,” Fuller said. “My brothers at first thought it wasn’t true. Until they saw the picture of me and my biological mother, saying, ‘Oh my God, you look more like her than any of us.'”
Fuller learned that Braidwood was an entertainer who once sang with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and, by day, was a court reporter. Who Fuller’s father is remains a mystery.
“Kelly feels there was a time when she was 18 when Mom was trying to tell her something, but didn’t know how,” Fuller said. “She told me she remembers one night Mom was just sitting there, crying and crying, and it felt like she was carrying a burden. All three of my siblings tell me what a wonderful, kind and loving person she was.”
Braidwood died soon after this interaction with Kelly.
Fuller thinks all adopted children have a sense of longing for a connection to their birth parents, but she wouldn’t trade the life, the family, the faith in which she was raised.
“I know it was in the back of my head, wondering about my birth family, absolutely,” Fuller said. “I know every adoptive child has a different journey about that. In the back of my head, I can clearly tell you every birthday I would talk to her, saying things in my head like, ‘I hope you’re proud of me.'”
Fuller’s biological mother wasn’t Catholic, so she’s not so sure why she was left in the back pew of the cathedral, but it has created a lifelong connection between her and the church.
“I feel this deep sense of energy when I come to the cathedral; I feel my mom here, my biological mother here,” Fuller said. “I always said it feels like home here. This is my roots. Because I don’t have any other beginning, my beginning was right here in this church. So when I step in here, I walk and feel that energy of where I come from. It’s here. My connection to the Catholic Church is very deep, very profound because I was left here. I can’t imagine what my mom was going through, but I know in my heart I was meant to be here.”
Fuller’s visits to the cathedral have always been emotional affairs, knowing this is where her journey began, but they have taken on a deeper meaning ever since she got to know her birth family. She’s now connected to both families, the life she was meant to have all this time.
“I was able yesterday to sit in that pew over there with Kelly, and we talked about our mom, and she said, ‘You know Mary, I think Mom is looking down on us now,'” Fuller said. “She sees her two daughters together, and I think she is really happy. We sat there together and had that moment, and I really hope my biological mother and adoptive mother are holding hands.”
“My adoptive mom was a great mom. She lived to be 95, and she said her greatest fear would be that I would find my biological mom and she would lose me; that was never going to happen,” Fuller added. “I want the two of them to bond and know they played a role in my life. I hope my mom knows that as a devout Catholic, my life has been about service.”
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Daniel Meloy is a reporter at the Detroit Catholic, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Detroit.