Michael A. Hess

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Michael A. Hess (b. July 5, 1952, Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Ireland; d. August 15, 1995, Washington D.C., USA) was a lawyer, deputy chief legal counsel and later chief legal counsel to the Republican National Committee (RNC) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was born Anthony Lee in Ireland and spent his first years of life in a convent before being adopted by Marge and Doc Hess of St Louis, Missouri.

The issues surrounding his adoption are controversial, as part of a program of forced adoptions practised by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland at the time, and his story was later told in British journalist Martin Sixsmith's book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee and subsequently a film, Philomena.[1]


He became deputy chief legal counsel to the Republican National Committee, eventually rising to chief legal counsel. He was an important figure in the redistricting battles of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and was admired for his integrity and pursuit of justice on this issue.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Hess grew up in the Midwest and was raised in a Catholic family.[3] He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1974 and subsequently earned a law degree at George Washington University.[4]

He made two visits to Ireland to try to find his mother, but was unsuccessful in persuading the nuns to divulge any information. He requested that his ashes be buried at the convent where he was born in the hope that his mother would eventually be able to find his grave.

He did not publicly acknowledge his homosexuality, particularly in his professional life. He died of AIDS, although this was not mentioned at the memorial service held for him.[5]


The program of forced adoptions by the Catholic Church in Ireland and elsewhere during the 1950s has raised considerable debate,[6] and the Michael Hess case has further highlighted this. Much of the paperwork relating to this program was later destroyed, and the Church does not allow access to adoption archives.[7]


A film portraying Hess's adoption and his mother's later search for him was released in 2013. Philomena, directed by Stephen Frears and based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, starred Judi Dench as his mother and Sean Mahon as Hess.


  1. ^ The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and a Fifty Year Search, Martin Sixsmith.
  2. ^ Race and Redistricting in the 1990s, ed. by Bernard Grofman, Algora Publishing, 2003.
  3. ^ Bernstein, Jacob (January 10, 2014). "Searching for Philomena’s Real Son". The New York Times. Retrieved January 16, 2014. 
  4. ^ Fosmoe, Margaret (15 January 2014). "Lost boy in 'Philomena' was 1974 ND graduate". South Bend Tribune. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  5. ^ Sixmith, Martin (26 September 2009). "Stolen from his mother - and sold to the highest bidder". Daily Mail. Retrieved 1 December 2013. 
  6. ^ "Magdalene laundries support scheme unveiled". BBC News Online. 26 June 2013. Retrieved 2014-02-14. 
  7. ^ Daley, Suzanne; Dalby, Douglas (29 November 2013). "A Forced Adoption, a Lifetime Quest and a Longing That Never Waned". New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2013. 

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