Here’s a recent comment from Martin, from my ‘About’ page, in response to a thread about St Joseph’s College, Ipswich. I think he makes some interesting points. I decided our exchange deserved its own blog status, so here it is.
I was at St Joe’s for many years. I remember them , Bros Cecil, James, Hugh, Damien, Owen, Gerard, Soloman, Denis Robert, Gregory, Benet, Cuthman, Peter, Terrence and others. They seemed all to have some sort of attitude or psychological problem or were perverts. Having spoken to others over the years about this it does seem that all the Del a Salle Schools and Catholic Schools were all the same. I am quite sure all the stories are pretty much true. The film Catholic Boys captures it pretty well. I’m in contact with a number of people from the 60s and early 70s from St Joe’s, I think some have tried to give details to the police. Interestingly and rather oddly one of the number listed above is still around and his partner (female) works for the police in relation to child abuse. Talk about poacher turned game-keeper! He waxes lyrical now about abuse saying ‘it only takes good men to do nothing etc etc’. He knew what was going on when he was at St Joe’s and did nothing. The pious hypocrite.
Great to hear from you and thank you for making some truly excellent observations. As you say, the film Catholic Boys captures the tone of St J’s very well. Although I think it was actually worse in my time there in the 1960s.
As you say, hypocrisy is the thing that bothers us. Thus, I once looked up Brother James on the web. At first I thought it was a truly monstrous De La Salle headmaster named Brother James currently doing a long prison stretch for his crimes. But he turned out to be a different De La Salle Brother. The Brother James from St J’s has died and was described in his obituary as a shy and timid character. This is far from the truth and whoever wrote that obituary must have known it. I witnessed him explode with demented rage and violence when he attacked a classmate and his psychotic behavior still preys on my mind to this day. But despite his reputation for violence and rage, he was also a great maths teacher who knew how to reach kids like me who were hopeless at the subject.
Similarly, Brother Solomon who – confirmed by the tragic poetry of one his victims at Beulah Hill – abused many children. Yet I know I owe my deep love of classical music to him. He, too, is dead.
And I think their excellence as teachers combined with their perversions sets up confusion and cognitive dissonance in many pupils who thus try and block it from their minds, and that’s how so many Brothers have largely got away their crimes.
I do believe St J’s and the Order itself both owe Survivors a collective apology. It’s no good putting the blame on individual Brothers – there are just too many of them to use the ‘one rotten apple’ defence. It’s the College and the Order itself that is clearly responsible. Thus Brother Solomon was suddenly transferred from Birkfield because of abuse (and given a glowing tribute by Brother James in the school magazine), then sacked from Beulah Hill and returned – in the 1980s – to Birkfield as a lay teacher. Once again he was dismissed following allegations of abuse – but he should never have been reinstated.
One thing I find offensive is the caption on the school gates of St J’s today: “In the Lasallian tradition”. Although the College today seems to have distanced itself from the Brothers per se, nevertheless the uniforms, the motto, the history, the traditions, and the legacy are still proudly confirmed in those words. According to the College’s website, the caption pertains – with some dexterous semantics – to St Jean Baptise de La Salle, but significantly not to the Order of Brothers he founded. Whatever the intention, in practice, “In the Lasallian tradition” means the promise of an excellent Christian education but also that it has not disassociated itself from the De La Salle Brothers. So for many old boys up to relatively recent times those words stand for something terrible and dark. Only an acknowledgement of this really makes that caption acceptable in today’s world.
Thus I don’t agree with one famous St J’s old boy, who told me recently how different the school is today: it’s unisex, the Brothers have gone, and it’s properly run etc. I’m sure he is right but I took the subtext of his comments to be that the past is the past and everyone really needs to forget about it and move on. But in my opinion, closure is not possible until the successors to the Brothers have acknowledged what happened or until justice is done.
So I wish our fellow old boys well in pursuing the Brothers responsible for harming them before they are too old and infirm to be charged. I have a St. J’s old boy police detective contact who specializes in investigating crimes of this nature and it’s possible he might be able to help or point your contacts in the right direction. If that’s any help, do ask them to write to me and I’ll put them in touch with him.