- Associated Press - Sunday, May 29, 2016

BRADLEY, Ill. (AP) - It was a hot day, almost reaching 100 degrees, when 17-year-old Theresa Benoit Ciaccio walked herself into St. Vincent’s Hospital for Unwed Mothers in the summer of 1945.

Now 88, the Bourbonnais resident still recalls that being pregnant and unmarried from a large Catholic family meant keeping her baby was not an option.

Ciaccio and the father of her unborn child tried to marry; they even made it to the church before her brother and father stopped the ceremony.

“We were kids, I was a kid,” Ciaccio recalled. “No job and too young, they said. I did the best I could. I didn’t have a husband so I didn’t think I could raise him.”

After the almost-wedding, she was whisked off to live with her aunt in Chicago and spent her summer there, working as a housekeeper for a nearby family.

At seven months pregnant, she was sent to St. Vincent’s, an orphanage and hospital where girls often put their babies up for adoption in those days.

Her dad drove with her, but wouldn’t go in.

“I walked into the hospital myself with my suitcase,” Ciaccio said. “Just walked in. Kind of crazy. Kind of scary.”

She endured two months of little privacy and the judgment of the staff. “I was petrified,” Ciaccio said. “It was like you were a criminal because you were pregnant and single.”

In September, she gave birth to a son and only saw him once, sneaking back to the nursery to get a glimpse. She named him Dennis James, but knew he’d be given a new name by his adoptive parents.

Ciaccio came back to her parents’ house, got her high school diploma and no one said a word about the pregnancy. Eventually, she began working, married and had two daughters.

Ciaccio didn’t know 60 years later the son she gave up would find her.

At the same age as when his mother gave him up for adoption, George Robbins, of Yorkville, Ill., began looking for his biological parents. Growing up an only child, he said his most important life goal was to find his mother and father, and know his father was a success.

He didn’t get a break until his 60s - adoption records during World War II are almost impossible to track down, Robbins said.

“I thought about him often,” Ciaccio said, adding that she frequently prayed for him.

She kept an angel statue with a September birthstone in it, which Ciaccio’s children couldn’t understand. “It was for him,” said Ciaccio’s daughter, Sue Palmateer.

Then, in 2006, Robbins hired a private investigator, who gave him a name.

“My wife was a nervous wreck when I called,” Robbins remembered. “I said, ‘Is your name Theresa Benoit?’

“I asked her all these questions and she said, ‘Why are you asking me this?’” Robbins said. “She began crying and said, ‘I’ll call you back in a few minutes.’ She did and now we talk every day.”

With that phone call, Robbins was no longer an only child: He found out he had two sisters, as well as nieces and nephews. He later learned his biological father, who died in 1996, had six children as well - and the siblings have become a family, centered around the woman they compare to Mother Teresa.

“My mother would go without, so somebody else could have,” Robbins said. “And I’ve only known her 10 short years, but she is always thinking of other people before herself.”

“Sassy, fun, giving, beautiful and never gave up on her faith,” Amy Ciaccio-Jarvis said of her mother.

Throughout the last 10 years, they’ve filled in some of the details. Robbins, as a young child, lived for two years just 10 minutes away, in Kankakee with his adopted aunt.

Robbins’ biological father once tried to reunite with Ciaccio. He told Robbins’ brother, “I want to introduce you to the only woman I ever loved,” but Ciaccio’s sister told him she wasn’t around anymore.

No matter the circumstances, or how long it took, it’s easy to see Ciaccio and Robbins are cherishing the time they have now. She still calls him DJ, initials for the name she gave him at the hospital.

“It fills a void in your heart,” Robbins said. “I sleep better. My wife would tell you that. I’m really happy I found her.”

The first Mother’s Day after they were reunited, Robbins and Ciaccio attended church together. They sat on the front pew and the priest asked if anyone wanted to speak.

Robbins was one of the first ones up.

“I’m thankful I found my mother,” he said.


Source: The (Kankakee) Daily Journal, https://bit.ly/1qa2MDF


Information from: The Daily Journal, https://www.daily-journal.com

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