GATLINBURG, Tenn. (BP) – Michael Catt is highly opinionated. He loves movies and attends The Masters every year in Augusta. His library held 10,000 books when he retired last year as pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.
For most of his life he had no idea there was a woman living in the same state sharing his DNA and those characteristics. She gave birth to him in 1952. He didn’t know she existed until he was 38 years old.
“My mother-in-law owned a flower shop and was talking to a customer,” Catt told Baptist Press. “During the conversation the customer asked who her daughter had married and when she said my name, the lady recognized it as the first adoption she had handled as a social worker.”
That talk led to a slew of emotions and discoveries for Catt, at the time in his second of 32 years as pastor at Sherwood after 15 years in student ministry.
His parents at the time were older and in bad health. He and his wife, Terri, decided that such a heavy conversation with them wasn’t necessary at that point in the relationship.
Contacting others brought up another discovery.
“Everyone thought I knew I was adopted,” he said. “I called my relatives and cousins, the family doctor who delivered me. They all assumed I was aware of it. I talked to my youth minister from the church I had attended since I was 4. He said everyone knew about it and thought I did too.
“That has to be the only Baptist church to keep a secret like that.”
Even as some questions appeared, others were answered. Catt is thankful that his parents raised him in church, but he also felt like he didn’t quite fit in with his family. His mother had experienced a miscarriage eight years before he was born. He was an only child and sees how insecurities plagued his mother.
“She was fearful that I would find out I was adopted,” he said.
When she entered a diabetic coma, Catt walked into her hospital room alone. He stood at the bed and thanked her for raising him in a Christian home, for loving him and supporting him. He told her he hated that she had lived most of her adult life afraid he would learn about his adoption.
Both she and his father died in the mid-90s from separate health issues.
Catt learned other details of his past. His mother gave birth to him in her early 20s and then lived with an older friend in Pascagoula, Miss., never telling her own parents or the birth father – whom she considered unfit – about the little boy she had placed for adoption.
Her friend vowed secrecy as well. It so happened that the friend owned a shop beside the doctor’s office where Catt was born. Beside that was a drug store where his adoptive father was a pharmacist.
Some 40 years later, after Catt found out about his adoption, he wrote a letter to his birth mother, which was received by the woman with whom she lived in Pascagoula. He wanted to communicate that he was doing well, that he was happily married with two little girls and in the ministry.
The letter was returned unopened. She had no intention of breaking her promise of secrecy to Catt’s mother.
“It was a closed door,” he said.
In January 2018 a random Facebook post caught Terri Catt’s attention. They connected with the woman who posted it, a friend of the woman who had returned Catt’s letter.
“She knew the whole story and had wanted to talk to me her entire life,” he said. “She had never promised anyone she would keep it secret and felt I had a right to know.”
Catt learned his mother’s name and where she lived after moving from Pascagoula. He also learned that she had died a few years earlier. Later, he shared the revelation at Sherwood’s evening service.
“I told them, ‘Good news is not good news unless it gets there on time,’” he said.
A few weeks later Catt received another phone call. It was from the woman who had refused to pass along his letter. She was in the hospital and didn’t want to die without asking him to forgive her. She gave details about Catt’s mother along with a note she had written on an old Easter card and some photos.
It was the first time he had seen her face – one picture taken two years before he was born, the other a couple of months after.
That information led to a small town in south Georgia, then the name of a church she had attended, then the pastor of that church who was now retired and lived north of Atlanta. Catt and his family met the pastor and his wife at an IHOP in Woodstock, where they connected threads of an unknown history for two hours.
“They were close friends, and he didn’t know anything about me,” Catt said. “He assured me she knew the Lord. I found out I had half-siblings. She and I were so much alike that describing her was like describing me.”
She was quick to tell others how she felt, recalled her pastor. She was a fan of the cinema and loved to read. And, every year she would go to The Masters and claim a spot in the gallery near the eighth green.
Yes, with both of them regular attendees it’s all but certain that Catt, who has a highly-coveted patron badge, and his birth mother at least came into close proximity. “I probably walked by her a dozen times,” he said.
What’s more, in 2008 the pastor took her and others from their church to watch a screening of “Fireproof”, one of the movies by Sherwood Pictures, the production company established out of Catt’s church. Sitting in the audience the night, she may have had no idea that the striking beauty playing the female lead was Erin Bethea, Catt’s daughter and her granddaughter.
They also learned where she was buried. Michael, Terri and their daughters Erin and Haley made the trip to the town. They went by her house and took flowers to her grave.
“I stood there and thanked her for choosing life instead of a back-alley abortion,” Catt told BP over the phone, pausing from emotion. That decision, his daughter Haley pointed out to him, led to a ministry where numerous souls came to a saving knowledge of Christ.
Later, they detoured on a surprise trip to Hilton Head, S.C., for Terri’s 65th birthday. It was a clear, sunny day in the springtime of April. They brought flowers again, as it was close to Mother’s Day.
That’s the trip where Catt noticed his maternal grandmother was buried nearby.
“This has been like peeling an onion,” he said. “God is sovereign, and knew when I could handle something new. It’s occurred to me that had I not been adopted, I probably wouldn’t have met my wife. I might not have been saved when the Jesus Movement came to my home church.
“A friend of mine told me once, ‘Michael, God must love you. You’re in the family of God and had a family who raised you in church. You’ve been twice adopted.’”