A Legion of Mary-run hostel was the only institution in the country before the 1970s that encouraged and facilitated mothers to keep their child, according to the mother and baby homes report.
Chapter 21 of the Report deals with the Regina Coeli hostel founded by the Legion of Mary. Before the 1970s, it says, “Regina Coeli was the only institution that assisted unmarried mothers to keep their infant”.
“Although the mothers who kept their babies were a minority until the 1970s, the proportion was undoubtedly much higher than for any other institution catering for unmarried mothers”.
It notes that children came to Regina Coeli with their mother, and remained with their mother; and “in a small number of cases a child might remain in Regina Coeli, while their mother was in hospital, prison or otherwise temporarily absent”.
It quotes a lengthy memorandum written in 1950 and submitted to the Department of Health by the founder of the Legion, Frank Duff. The document lays out the philosophy of the group, which was that mothers should be encouraged to keep their children permanently, a course that was “not hitherto possible to girls in their circumstances”.
While other institutions sought to separate mother and child, finding a job for one, and a foster home or industrial school for the other, in the case of the Regina Coeli, the mother was afforded every chance to grow in affection for the child, and become responsible for the child.
The Report notes that Duff “claimed that ‘As a result of the interaction of proper natural affection and the encouragement and facilities provided….a great proportion of the girls are not only prepared but determined to keep their child’.”
The Report also notes that Frank Duff was opposed to children being committed to industrial schools.