Colleen Brady was a novice living in Ireland. She was studying to become a nun, but had not taken her final vows yet. She met Santo DiMera when he came into the church with an injury. Colleen nursed him back to health. He immediately was drawn to her and started courting her. Initially, she rejected his advances, but slowly she started allowing her brother, Shawn, to spend time with Santo's son, Stefano, which meant that Colleen spent time with Santo. Santo told Colleen that his wife had died. Santo eventually proposed marriage and Colleen accepted. But, when Colleen's father found out that she was leaving the church, he threatened to disown her. Colleen was still determined to marry Santo. But then, Shawn told Colleen that he learned from Stefano that Santo's wife was still alive and living in Italy. Colleen was crushed and left Santo. Determined to make amends with her family, Colleen took her final vows to become a nun. But Santo appeared during the ceremony to make one last plea for Colleen. She ran out of the church, to a cliff side, and left her habit on the top of the cliff. No one heard from her for years. Her family and a heartbroken Santo assumed that she was dead.
Colleen was not dead. But, she was pregnant. She fled to Argentina to get away from Santo and to save her family from the embarrassment of the stigma that bearing a child out of wedlock would bring at the time. In Argentina, she gave birth to a baby boy and named him Ryan. She found work as a seamstress, but she could not make enough money to support herself and Ryan. So, she found an orphanage that would take Ryan and allow her to visit on the weekends. One weekend, she came to visit, and Ryan was gone. He'd been adopted by the Alamain family. Convinced that he would have a better life without her, Colleen did not try to contact Ryan. She continued her work as a seamstress and eventually parlayed those skills into a career as a fashion designer of sorts, for the middle- and lower-class working families.
Decades later, an elderly Colleen learned that Stefano DiMera had blamed her for his miserable childhood. Apparently, after Colleen ran away, Santo became an angry and vindictive father. Stefano tortured the Bradys in retaliation. Colleen set out to save her family, starting with her immediate family first. She could not risk contacting her family because she was not sure if Stefano knew that she was still alive. So, she sent people to kidnap her family.
Believing that John Black was her son, she started with her great-granddaughter Claire. When Claire disappeared, Shawn, Belle, Bo, Hope, Philip, and Chloe all traveled to Ireland to search for Claire. John, Marlena, Steve, Kayla, and Grandpa Shawn traveled to Ireland, as well. Once there, they all met Colleen and learned the truth about her life: her affair with Santo, her "fake" death, and her long-lost son, who she believed grew up and was living under the name John Black.
However, years later John went to investiage more about his past. The workers at the orphanage told him that Colleen's son, Ryan, actually died years earlier as a child. Colleen was to desperate to find her son again that the people at the orphanage told her that John was her son.