Chicago Family Law attorney James M. Quigley clings to the hope that he will one day find the brother he has never met.
He believes it will happen as Quigley, who was adopted at 4 months, already has reconnected with his biological mother and father, thanks to a remarkable set of circumstances and the sheer will and determination that led him to becoming a partner at one of Illinois’ largest family law firms.
“To this day, I wonder if I will by some act of God meet my biological, full-blooded brother,” said Quigley, 50, a Divorce and Family Law Partner at Beermann Pritikin Mirabelli Swerdlove LLP.
Quigley was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1966, the son of Barbara Magnuson and Frank Balistreri. The couple had planned to marry, but Magnuson’s parents disallowed it, and she was sent to live with nuns through Catholic Charities, where Quigley – who was given the name Frank Anthony when he was born – would be placed for adoption.
“The heartbreak can’t even be described,” Balistreri said.
Four months after Quigley’s birth, Mike and Mary Quigley adopted James through Catholic Charities of Green Bay, WI. The Quigleys had two biological children and had adopted a baby girl 18 months before adopting James after Mary Quigley had complications following the birth of her second biological child.
“What a cutie … blond hair, big brown eyes and a fantastic smile,” Mary Quigley said. “Now our family was complete. We were blessed with two biological children but then also truly blessed with our two adopted children.”
Throughout his childhood, Quigley said he and sister, Maggie, knew they were adopted. But as he progressed from Holy Angels Catholic School to West Bend East High School to University of Wisconsin-Madison and DePaul Law School, Quigley never gave the thought of meeting his biological parents much chance.
That changed in 1996 after he married his wife, Charisse, an OBGYN physician, and they started to have children of their own. Their first child, Michael Jabari, was born in 1998, and two years later, they adopted Giovani. The adoption transfer was completed in a parking lot of a Denny’s restaurant near Woodfield Mall as Quigley did not want his new son remaining in foster care — as he had as an infant — any longer than necessary, and wanted Giovani to immediately be part of his growing family.
A few months after adopting Giovani, Charisse took a leave from her OBGYN practice and spent significant time trying to find her husband’s biological family. Over the next five years, she contacted numerous sources, including investigators, who eventually provided a lead back to Catholic Charities in Green Bay where the journey first began.
When Quigley followed up with Catholic Charities, he received social worker reports where all identifying information had been redacted, but there was accidentally one part of the report that hadn’t been removed: a reference and address for Quigley’s biological paternal grandmother, Katherine Balistreri. Quigley sent a letter to Balistreri on a Friday and the following Monday afternoon, his biological father, Frank, called him.
“Tons of thousands of prayers later, James and I were reunited,” Frank Balistreri said.
“We talked for over a half hour as if we had known each other forever,” Quigley said.
During the conversation, Quigley said his father told him he had ultimately married and had five children. Quigley told Frank the social workers’ reports stated that Quigley’s biological mother, Barbara, became pregnant a second time and gave birth to a second child, a boy – Quigley’s full brother – who was born about a year and a half after Quigley’s birth. That child also was adopted, but Quigley’s biological father had no information where the boy had ended up.
Quigley, through Catholic Charities of Green Bay, also learned the identity of his biological mother, Barbara Magnuson. They talked a handful of times over the phone and met one time for several hours shortly before her death in a Las Vegas nursing home in 2015. Quigley’s biological father and Quigley’s wife and children made the journey to Las Vegas with him. Frank Balistreri described the day as a “dreamlike experience.”
“I will never forget the one day I met and spent with my biological father and biological mother,” said Quigley, who noted his mom was wearing a yellow Green Bay Packers T-shirt and Chuck Taylor high-tops with yellow and green laces. “Barbara learned of my life and upbringing and the joy and blessings that I have had in my life, as well as some of the accomplishments I had achieved in my personal life.”
Sadly, Quigley said his biological mother also had no specifics about his biological brother. He said Magnuson was unable to effectuate any of the formal paperwork or affidavits required by Catholic Charities that would have allowed them to release information if his brother had contacted Catholic Charities to try and gain information about his biological parents.
Quigley, who has grown close with his biological father and his half-siblings – many of whom live near his Wisconsin roots – still quests to discover his biological brother. When he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the mid-to-late 1980s, Quigley’s friends routinely said they would see a “fake Quigs” many times on campus. At the time, Quigley would laugh about it, but he now wonders if it is possible the person could have been his actual brother.
Regardless, Quigley, a Libertyville resident, said being adopted has greatly helped his ability to be a family law lawyer and fight for his clients.
“I always viewed myself as the underdog, and I feed that into my own narrative,” said Quigley, who had his own thriving law firm before joining Beermann as a partner in 2005. “I try not to pick fights, but I have a hard time backing away from them. What I do for a living is fitting.”
Charisse Quigley said her husband’s adoption also has factored into his “keen sense of loyalty.”
“I believe his prioritization of family over all else stems from a strong sense of having been adopted into a family that loved him unconditionally and provided him with the same conditions and opportunities that were afforded the biological children,” she said. “James’ value of and commitment to his own family, and the family unit in general, has been influenced by the blessing of having been adopted himself and also by his having chosen to be an adoptive parent as well.”
For the last 14 years, Quigley said he has “enjoyed a wonderful and much larger extended family.” One day, he truly hopes that number grows by one more.