By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Cathryn B. Stanley’s 20-year search for her biological parents began with sketchy adoption records, DNA technology and a mystery filled with emotional twists and turns. 


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Pictured with Cathryn B. Stanley, second from left, are from left, her maternal siblings and uncle Clyde Folse Jr., Hubert Zeller Jr. (uncle), Marie Folse Romero and Mike Folse.   Photos provided by Cathryn B. Stanley 


Through faith and God’s grace, she ended up in the arms of doting blood relatives in the Mississippi River and bayou regions area. Stanley spoke about her journey at a Cross Wise meeting at St. Patrick Church in Baton Rouge on Nov. 13.   

Stanley, of St. Amant, was born in 1960 in New Orleans and was about four months old when Clifford and Ida Bonaventure adopted her through Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans from a local orphanage, St. Vincent’s, which was run by the Sisters of Charity.  

“My parents told me I was adopted. I can remember sitting in my dad’s lap and he said ‘You were given up for adoption because your birth mother loved you so much she wanted you to have a good life and she couldn’t give that to you. So she selflessly gave you up for adoption, and we were so blessed to be able to adopt you.’ ”  

The Bonaventures raised Stanley in a loving environment in north Baton Rouge. She attended St. Gerard Elementary School and graduated from Redemptorist High School in 1978. Her father died the following year.  

When she was 37, Bonaventure, who was secure in the love she had for her adoptive parents, followed her desire to know her birth parents in order to know about her and her children’s medical history, as well as to know her family roots.  

She wrote to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, which gave her some non-identifying information about her birth parents.  

Expecting to receive news about a family history of illnesses, such as cancer, etc., she learned there was history of tragic deaths, such as train, car and bus accidents, etc. 

She thought, “I don’t think I want to know anymore. One thing this accomplished was that it made me so thankful for my life with my adoptive parents.”  

Determined to push on, Stanley investigated accidents seeking a connection. Not getting anywhere, she focused on genealogy research on her adoptive parents, which gave her “a lot of experience for the future.”  

In 2016, Stanley’s oldest son, Jordon Soileau, died from drug addiction.  

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Cathryn B. Stanley, front row, center and her paternal relatives.  


“I had the peace that surpasses all understanding in knowing that he accepted the Lord,” said Stanley, who has grandchildren through him.  

To cope, Stanley resumed her search for her biological family.  

She sent out messages to distant cousins whose names had come up through an online ancestry DNA program. A few months later a connection was made with a second biological cousin from Thibodaux, which led to her to establish her paternal line of the family.  

Finding the link to her maternal family was much more difficult.  

 “Instead of leading me to my birth mother it led me to mystery involving my grandmother,” Stanley said. “That mystery was like a brick wall.”  

She determined that her maternal grandmother had abandoned her husband and two daughters in Indiana and moved  to Louisiana with a son while pregnant with a child. Because she had changed her name, no one knew where she was.  

 “I had worked and searched for 20 years, turning over every stone. I said, ‘God, I’m giving this to you. If it’s meant to be, you are going to have to make it happen,’ ” Stanley said.  

Her “miracle” happened in July 2018 when she learned she had a DNA match with Hubert Zeller Jr., of Thibodaux, a half-sibling of her mother, Virginia, who had died in 1993.    Stanley and her uncle had a mutual friend, who also knew her mother and her grandmother, albeit by a different name, who had remarried and settled in Vacherie. The friend helped Stanley and her uncle connect.   

“At the end of the day the phone rang. I answered the phone, and he said ‘This is your Uncle Hubert. I have thought about you my whole life. I was six years old when you were born and all my life I wondered what happened to you,’ ” Stanley said, her voice trembling.  

She further learned that her siblings had begun extensively searching for her before she began searching for them.  

“It was a wonderful way to begin a relationship,” said Stanley.  

The family also began putting together the “puzzle pieces” of her grandmother’s life.  

Stanley went from being “an only child” to having family members who have quickly made up for the lost years through close-knit bonds. Her adoptive mother, now 96, who looked strikingly like her mother in side by side photos, welcomed her birth family.  

“She has met all of my family, and we have included her in family activities and they call her ‘Mom,’ ” said Stanley. 

She also spoke about the powerful spiritual elements of her journey.  

“God protected my heart through all this because I never experienced rejection. Everyone was willing to help me find my answers,” Stanley said.  “I always felt I had God’s favor.” 

Stanley’s book, “A Twenty Year Journey: An Adoptee’s Search for Answers,” contains information about genealogy, researching family connections through DNA as well as a message of hope for those wanting to know more about their own roots.  For more information, visit or


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Cathryn B. Stanley and her paternal brother, Addis Landry Sr.