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A secret, at last, unraveled

DNA test reveals family connection

Carla Latty spent more than six months searching for scientific evidence that her father was a white Catholic priest from Foxborough who had an affair with her African-American mother. Now, thanks to a DNA test, she has it.

Latty's saga, detailed by the Globe in November, began when she learned at age 30 that she was adopted. After a quarter-century quest, Latty, a 54-year-old lawyer who lives in New Jersey, discovered that her mother was Anna Maria "Ria" Franklin Senna, a church organist from the South who later moved to Roxbury. From Senna's two sons, she learned that her father was probably the Rev. Francis E. Ryan, the now-deceased Josephite priest who befriended Ria Senna in Alabama. The sons remembered Ryan's visits to their late mother's bedroom, and Latty had a physical description of her father that matched the priest's looks and age. Latty was born during the time their mother temporarily placed her older children in an orphanage in Alabama.

Until the Globe story appeared, the only relative of Ryan known to the Sennas was a nephew who refused to provide DNA for a so-called Y-chromosome test that traces relationships through the male bloodline. Other DNA tests, meanwhile, showed that Latty and Adrian Senna, 61, a semiretired actor in British Columbia, are full siblings. Carl Senna, 62, a former Providence Journal columnist and father of Boston-bred novelist Danzy Senna , is her half-brother. Another sister refused to be tested.

After reading about Latty in the Globe, an 85-year-old retired auto dealer from Foxborough named Edward Devine contacted her: His mother was the sister of Ryan's father. "You can't have a dirty closet forever," Devine told the Globe during a phone call last November. "At some point, somebody has to clean it out."

What Latty needed, however, was a paternal relative. When she and Carl Senna visited Devine in December, he steered them to Charles Ryan, a 75-year-old retired engineer in Norton whose father was Father Ryan's brother. Ryan gave them a saliva sample, and last Friday the results arrived: Adrian Senna and Charles Ryan are related. A Y-chromosome test does not determine paternity; instead it shows that two men are related through their fathers. In this case, Father Ryan is the only known link between the two families.

"I almost felt like crying. I can relax finally. All the pieces are together," Latty said yesterday. "As an attorney, I'm very empirically oriented. I just wanted to get the scientific evidence even though everything was pointing to this conclusion."

"What can I do?" Adrian Senna asked yesterday. "I pretty much just want to go on with my life."

The Rev. Edward Chiffriller -- head of the St. Joseph's Society of the Sacred Heart, Father Ryan's order -- covered the $500 cost of DNA testing, according to Carl Senna. Chiffriller could not be reached for comment.

Senna gave Ryan's nephews the news over the weekend. "I'm not surprised. It looked very suspicious," Devine said yesterday. "My wife and I had connections with seven or eight adoptive children. They all had reasons for knowing or not knowing their parents. If I'm sitting here and can help somebody, why not?"

Charles Ryan was also pleased. "I'm glad it came out positive for her," he said. "Now she can go ahead with the direction she's going in."

Meanwhile, Latty knows that Devine celebrates a birthday soon. "I'm going to send him a little present and a nice card," she said, "just to thank him for being so cooperative and forthcoming and just sensitive."