Nobody's Child is the title of a remarkable new autobiography. Written by Fr Michael Seed, it is the true dark story of abandonment, abuse, confusion and courage.
Launched last week at Westminster, Nobody's Child has the rare ability to distress, shock, inspire and, in Fr Michael,s own inimitable way, to amuse its readers as well. He thought long and hard about whether to go into print about such deeply personal experiences but concluded that it would help others facing brutality and rejection. It was a brave decision and the right one.
From his very birth Michael's childhood was blighted by what he describes as pitiless savagery. At eight years of age his mother jumped from a railway bridge and killed herself. In the middle of the school playground a teacher casually took him to one side to tell him about this life-shattering event. There followed taunts and bullying by laughing classmates.
Anyone familiar with the fiction of William Golding knows how vindictively cruel young children can be towards one another. In Nobody's Child merciless fiction becomes fact.
Michael's father, a warder at Manchester's Strangeways Prison, was a brutal sadist who first drove his despairing wife to take her life and physically and sexually assaulted his little son. Michael's grandmother was not much better.
Throughout these tormented years Michael wrestled with thoughts of taking his own life: "The temptation of death was ever-present in those years. I spent countless hours standing on the railway bridge from which my mother had jumped, waiting for a train to come so I could throw myself in its path.
"Twice I lay on the track with my neck on the rail. Both times I leapt out of the way at the last moment as vibrations from the oncoming train surged through the line. Something inside, more powerful than my determination to die, held me back."
At 12 he was sent to a school for disturbed children in Rochdale and after yet more brutal experiences he finally met an inspirational teacher, Stanley Thomas, who taught the young man how to think.
At 17, after the death of Joe Seed, the father who had abused and hated him, Michael was to learn a truth that altered the whole direction of his life. He learnt that these monsters were not his family at all.
His real mother - an Irish girl called Marie Godwin - was a 16-year-old who had come to England to have her baby. She had given up her child to the Catholic Children,s Society in Salford, believing he would be loved and cared for by his adoptive parents. His mother stayed in touch with the Society for 18 months but after that they never heard from Marie again. If she is still alive I hope she reads his book and takes pride in the priest her son has become.
Learning his true identity allowed Michael to free himself of his past and to move on. Nobody',s Child chronicles the pilgrimage that would lead him to the Franciscan habit, committing himself, as he puts it "to a life of service to God." He writes generously of the men he has worked for - notably Basil Hume and Cormac Murphy-O'Connor - and amusingly about his translation from special school to academic life - triumphantly culminating in three university degrees, two doctorates, and his own highly idiosyncratic but effective ministry.
Those cruel early years fashion Michael into the singular man that he is today. He's not perfect, and doesn't claim to be and therein lies his strength.
Whether you are the Prime Minister or a rough sleeper on London's Victoria Street, given a bed for the night at Westminster's Passage Shelter for the homeless, Michael's kindness, compassion, and quirky sense of humour may well have touched your life. Kipling's famous poem 'If' written in 1895, fits Michael perfectly - "walk with kings" but don't lose the common touch" treat "triumph and disaster" "those two imposers" just the same. Triumphs, disasters and many 'what ifs? ' litter this moving book.
The Irish say that "where there is no pain, there's no gain." Michael's own pain has given him a healer's touch and a special sensitivity to other people's hurts. When he buried my late mother he brought tenderness and hope, when he baptised my youngest son, he brought celebration and joy. Just as any good priest should.
Fr Michael's story is entirely devoid of self pity. His experiences have not incapacitated him for the rest of his life. Anyone who has been hurt or traumatised will draw real strength from this account.
Ann Widdecombe - who was received by Fr Michael into the Church - observes that: "nothing could have prepared me for this story" and she rightly remarks: "That Michael emerged clever, sensitive, kind and sane is a genuine miracle and we should all thank God for this man's resurrection from hell. Read on and wonder."
Nobody's Child was published by Metro on 14 June
first posted LONDON - 18 June 2007 - 856 words
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