I thought it was worth reposting Sam’s comment, left on my post Named and shamed, in case it got missed:
Hey! I’m doing some research on Joe Homan, if anyone wants to talk my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
The excellent comment shown at the end of this post from Radders (commenting on my post Charity begins at home?) that mentions John McDonnell and Joe Homan has stirred my memories of St Joseph’s college once again. St J’s was my secondary school run by the De La Salle Brothers (DLSB).
These memories were also stirred after Cardinal Pell of Ballarat, Australia, was recently found guilty of sexual assault. Ballarat is a city where the Christian Brothers also feature heavily in various allegations of abuse – they currently total an astonishing and appalling 139 allegations.
On the positive side, the post also reminded me about John McDonnell. I’m really impressed that McDonnell, the Labour Shadow Chancellor, went to my old school. Reading his Wikipedia entry on the subject I also noticed his reason for attending – and possibly leaving St J’s – was remarkably similar to my own.
Still on politics, I was also impressed that fellow old boy Chris Mullin wrote A Very British Coup, one of my all time favourite novels and TV series. I rated McDonnell and Mullin both highly long before I knew they even went to St J’s, although they were there roughly at the same time as me. However they were boarders and I was a day boy, so our paths were unlikely to have crossed.
However, the fact that Mullin is also a supporter of the notorious Homan is disappointing, to put it gently. Homan was found innocent of abuse charges against him at his Boys Town in India. But I’ve read an account about Homan by an old boy I was contemporary with and knew well. It describes a vicious and horrible assault by Homan when he was a DLSB at St J’s Oak Hill and I have every reason to believe it is true.
So it sits uncomfortably with Mullin’s protagonist Harry Perkins in A Very British Coup, who becomes that so rare individual — a True Labour prime minister. A politician we can trust and admire. In fact, I could imagine John McDonnell as just such a Harry Perkins prime minister, more so even than Jeremy Corbyn. I think he would be brilliant. If it ever happens, I pray he doesn’t share the same fate as Perkins. Certainly The Sun and The Daily Mail would set out to destroy him just as their fictional counterparts destroyed Perkins.
So I got thinking as to whether these two distinguished politicians were affected by St J’s as I was. After all, they were there in the same era as me – an era when physical and sexual abuse was rife at the school and everyone knew it was going on. Even us day boys. You couldn’t avoid it. It was everywhere. In fact I would say, based on my own observations, experiences, and the disturbing and heartfelt testimonies of various old boys on this site that Ipswich – and St J’s in particular – truly was another Ballarat. Except in Ipswich they sadly got away with it. Thus all three parish priests in Ipswich at this time were abusers. No odd rotten apple there: it was endemic, just like it seems to have been in Ballarat.
St J’s certainly affected me greatly and inspired my creation of the anti-establishment British comic 2000AD featuring Judge Dredd. It’s still going strong today after 42 years. My take on the sinister Judge Dredd – also the subject of two movies – drew directly on Brother James and Brother Solomon as I relate in my autobiography Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD & Judge Dredd: The Secret History.
To briefly describe Solomon (Mike Mercado), AKA The Swinging Monk: he was thrown out of DLSBs schools three times for sexually abusing boys. Each time they let him back in! I’m told he then headed out to Boys Town, to ‘work in the missions’ with Joe Homan.
I guess most old boys are more circumspect and discreet about how meeting such monsters affected them in later life. Perhaps wisely, they are able to put it all behind them. If so, I envy them. Like many other old boys I don’t have that luxury.
Mullin reassuringly pointed out to me that St J’s today is a very different school and I’m sure it is. So in theory it should be possible to put it behind me. However it still proudly proclaims itself to be ‘In the La Salian tradition’, which means something negative and unpleasant to me – and others.
The school also has a Mike Kearney Memorial Chemistry Prize. Kearney was a St J’s teacher in my day, so there are still clear links with the school’s past. They can’t be separated to distance the current regime when it suits them. More on Kearney later.
So someone – whether it’s the diocese, the school, or the De La Salle organisation, which is still going strong – should acknowledge the crimes of past DLSBs, which are a matter of record and provable beyond reasonable doubt. Certainly in the case of Brother James and Brother Solomon (Mike Mercado).
The diocese does have its investigatory body. If they become aware of a crime they must report it to the police which, as I’ve told them, is excellent news. However, both the police and the diocese are only concerned with cases where the perpetrator is still alive so he can be investigated. Neither the school nor the DLSBs have ever shown any interest in or commented on the disturbing testimonies related on this blog and on another similar site by a St J’s survivor.
This suggests to me that the commendable, strongly anti-abuse stance of the Catholic Church in recent years is empty spin. They only come out with it when they have to. Usually when they’re under media scrutiny or in the dock like Pell. Then they’ll wring their hands and tell us how much they deplore cases of historic abuse. Otherwise they don’t give a damn.
Apologist Catholic websites and Catholic press also seek to minimise such abuse charges and limit the damage at every opportunity. Although they don’t go quite as far as my devout Irish mother did. A year or two before I went to St J’s, there was a famous case at the college where a lay teacher ran off with a boy and they were ‘lost’ for some days. It made the newspapers and couldn’t be swept under the carpet as usual. My mother’s reaction was, ‘What a silly man! He should never have allowed himself to be led astray by that wicked boy. The poor man was weak.’ I don’t think the case ever went to court. The teacher was seen as behaving in this criminal way due to a mental breakdown and medical treatment was prescribed. I don’t think the kid stayed on at St J’s. Doubtless the risk of him leading other weak teachers astray was too great. My mother’s attitude was quite commonplace at the time, I assure you, and I suspect still is in many Catholic quarters, although they daren’t say it out loud anymore.
Instead, another excuse the Church uses today for its abusers is that they are the result of the sexual revolution in the Swinging Sixties. My Irish aunt would have agreed wholeheartedly with them. She firmly believed ‘moral decay’ began with The Beatles. But the events I’m referring to here are all pre-Beatles. Thus the Church still seems unable to take responsibility for its crimes. When it’s cornered, blame it on the Sixties. Blame it on anything except themselves.
But I want to come back to Kearney now.
Because Kearney was someone I would definitely add to my personal Roll of Dishonour of St J’s. He was well known as a sadist who delighted in recounting how he could lift a boy clean off the ground by his sideburns. I never had a problem with the discipline he administered to me personally, such as a caning for being caught smoking. It was a fair cop, which I always felt I deserved. Not least because I was stupid enough to get caught. No, it was the sadistic glee on his face as he used a blackboard duster on other kids’ knuckles that stays with me to this day. I doubt I’ll ever get his look of cruel delight out of my head.
There was more besides. Much more.
So recently, I’ve been woken in the night with endless symbolic dreams about Kearney. A sure sign of repressed memory, which I’m used to and know how to deal with, so it’s not a big deal anymore. My technique as a kid for dealing with or witnessing Catholic criminal acts was to block them out. So I could enjoy a perfect Ladybird book childhood. It worked incredibly well at the time and was a far better survival method than alternatives like using alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, the recollections spew out in later life and then have to be processed in order to get closure. So it annoys the hell out of me that I still have to waste considerable amounts of my time thinking about Kearney and figuring out what my fragmentary memories and symbolic dreams mean. Clearly they must be important.
Although it’s hazy, they seem to be connected with the local chapter of those good old Knights of St Columba. Maybe Kearney was a Knight or was closely connected to them. At the time, I related my concerns about them to my mother. Her response to my graphic claims was ‘but they do so much good work’. Whatever I said about them, she repeated this endlessly as a defensive mantra which I just couldn’t get past. So in the end I gave up and blocked it from my mind. Until now. Her attitude was understandable, though. The Church and the Knights were an important part of her world. Financial support for my schooling was almost certainly a crucial factor. Where matters involving the Church are concerned, I’ve always found ‘follow the money’ is most relevant. So faced with an angry eleven-year-old ‘making trouble’, her options must have been limited.
The Knights had a strong and – it would seem – positive behind-the-scenes role at St J’s. It was thanks to their financial efforts, for instance, that St J’s was established in the first place. I believe they bought the freehold on the Birkfield building for the DLSBs. Many Ipswich leading Catholic businessmen, priests and teachers were Knights. If you’re curious about them, their secret rituals were similar to the American Knights of Columbus. The latter’s neo-Masonic rituals can be found online. And I’ve also read a copy of the version once used by the UK Knights. It makes for disturbing reading. Not least because of what else may not have been committed to paper. But the UK Knights stopped all that ‘secret weird stuff’ – to quote other old boys’ description of them – sometime in the late 1960s apparently. After my time
Normally, it takes me some time to make sense of my repressed memories. Writing about them in a post like this helps. It’s a work in progress so I can’t be more precise just now, I’m afraid. Particularly as I like to cross-reference with others recollections where I can. Eventually the memories will emerge. Then I can thankfully consign Kearney to the dustbin of memory, where he belongs.
That’s the challenge we all face who’ve encountered Catholic crimes, whether it’s in Ballarat or Ipswich. So many of us can’t let it go and move on – because of repressed memories in my case, or post-traumatic stress disorder, or not acknowledging the significance of the crimes. Thus a well-known national journalist who went to St J’s, a few years before me, was drinking himself to death. He was a client of the charity Mind, and I was introduced to him by his social worker. He told me about the vicious, blood-drawing canings he received as a little boy at St J’s Oakhill prep school where he was a boarder. But he was furious with me when I suggested there was a possible connection with his current plight. ‘I’m not drinking with you,’ he snarled as he staggered back to the bar.
It’s not all in the distant past either. As late as the early 1990s, a counsellor friend told me he had several clients who were at St J’s. In every case he advised the parents that the remedy for their child’s problem was simple: take him away from the school. I doubt they listened. St J’s has such an excellent academic reputation it has all too often clouded other rather more important matters.
Banging Cardinal Pell up helps us all, I think – even if he eventually gets out on appeal. It means that in ‘one against one’ testimony, the victim is believed, for a change. In Oz anyway. There were plenty of similar contenders to Pell in Ipswich, as past comments on this site clearly show. And they’re not all dead like Kearney, James and Solomon/Mercado. Some from long after my time carried on in the same way. As a commenter (CS) on my Roll of Dishonour post vividly relates, a lay teacher used a cat o’ nine tails. Not easy for Catholic apologists to dismiss that one as ‘Oh, they were different times back then. You can’t judge these things by the standards of today.’
Seeing some past St J’s teachers acknowledged as criminals would be so valuable to survivors. And it should be someone’s responsibility to do this, right?
Better still, rather than spout empty spin designed to sound good for the benefit of the media, why not help put some of the more recent perpetrators away? I know of at least two old boys who have in recent years pursued predator Brothers and teachers from St J’s. I’m sure they could have used some assistance in tracking them down. I hope the predators were finally caught and banged up.
That’s the kind of memorial they really deserve.
Comment from Radders on Charity beings at home?
As a border who became a day dog I’m not sure where I fit in Opus’ taxonomy. My dad was in receipt of an army disability pension and my mother worked full time as a ward sister – and I was very conscious of the cost to them of me being at St Joes, not least of which was the A4 page of necessary kit and uniforms to be purchased from Grimwades.
It was in about 1970 I think that we had to sit through a talk and a slideshow on Boystown – I honestly can’t recall whether Homan gave the talk, but the older lads certainly referred to him as ‘Jo Homo’ with the cruel wit of youth – which may have indicated some knowledge of his activity, or may simply have been juvenile bile.
Some appeal form was handed out which we were supposed to pass to our parents with a personal plea to donate, having seen the slide show. I quietly binned it.
I don’t remember John McDonnell but I boarded with his brother Keith, forever in some sort of trouble for the usual minor infractions. We used to parade in forms on the car park between the E block and the Chaplain’s cottage whilst ‘Moggs’ – Mr McLaughlin – hopped onto a little raised dias to call the names of defaulters with his distinctive nasal twang. I can still hear him today – “McDonnell!” with the stress on the third syllable. Perhaps it is the correct pronounciation.
See Katie’s comment on my post, Charity begins at home?, below. So much for that glowing obituary in The Guardian by St Joseph’s old boy Chris Mullin. Do we really want to live in bullshit land where creeps like Homan are honoured TODAY (!!) as near-saints? I don’t. Watching this excerpt from an ABC TV interview (at 10.48) about the ex-De La Salle Brother made me feel sick. Very upsetting.
I have it on very good authority that the notorious and proven paedophile Mike Mercado/Brother Solomon used to visit Homan’s Boys Town. A supposedly wonderful place for boys.
It is not just the journalist/writer on the TV interview who makes these allegations about Homan: it cross-references with other accounts I’ve read. And there were so many other DLS brothers who were like him, as survivors have recorded on this site, which makes the DLSB an organisation which should be outlawed, in my book.
‘In the La Sallian Tradition’ is a most inappropriate term to describe St Joseph’s today, because it connects the school with such truly vile people.
So many people want to pretend none of this ever happened, or it’s all in the past so we should forget about it, and that’s how these evil filth get away with it. And continue to do so.
I wonder if The Guardian would be interested in the truth about Homan? I doubt it.
The homes and charity are STILL named after Homan!
Thanks, Katie, for your most valuable post:
Recent interview on ABC TV in Australia has some horrible stuff about Homan (about 10 minutes in): http://www.abc.net.au/news/programs/one-plus-one/2018-06-28/one-plus-one:-michael-robotham/9920588
Old Boy Chris Mullin – one of my all-time favourite authors, the author of A Very British Coup – wrote an obituary on Joe Homan, the founder of Boys Town:
Homan was educated at St Joseph’s, Ipswich, and taught there later.
I’ve read several old boys accounts of Homan’s conduct at St Joseph’s. They cross-reference with each other and I believe them to be true. They’re disturbing, and seem to confirm the articles below.
The first article, The Queen of Bubble Bath, is by journalist Jon Entine and was published in Brazzil Magazine (date unknown: the date quoted is clearly incorrect). There are other related articles on Entine’s website. It is a critique of the green and fair trade credentials of Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. Here’s an extract:
In 1987, Roddick began sourcing foot massagers, which she calls “footsie rollers”, made in India at the Boys Town orphanage. In the early 1980s, when Richard Adams was head of the fair trade company Traidcraft (UK), he sourced a different Boys Town product, wood carvings. He soon discovered that Joe Homan, the project’s director, was sourcing the carvings from sweat shops and was molesting the boys. He kept the police at bay by using a slush fund kept full by church agencies that were innocently sending him money.
When Adams found out that the Roddicks had linked up with Homan, he was horrified. He immediately advised them of the problem. “I never heard back,” he says. Two alarmed members of the Catholic order which had kicked out Homan years before also visited Roddicks at their home. Still, nothing was done.
“Gordon was aware of Homan’s reputation,” writes Anne Downer, the former Body Shop head franchisee in Singapore, in a signed, legal affidavit. At the Roddicks invitation, Downer had accompanied the family in India for the dedication of Boys Town. “I slept in accommodations close to where some of the boys lived,” writes Downer. “I was approached by one of the assistants to the project. He informed me about Homan’s behavior and the sexual molestation. He was concerned and extremely anxious that I inform Gordon and Anita.
I remember Gordon saying: “We’ve heard those rumors, but I don’t believe it.” Downer continues: “He didn’t seem unduly concerned and didn’t seem to take it seriously.”
Over the next few years, as Homan went about stealing charity funds and buggering orphan boys, the Roddicks sent out glowing reports to their franchisees. One idyllic account in 1989 reads: “Joe’s work in Boys Town is ceaseless; he cares for the boys and girls and they really appreciate what he is doing for them.” The roof caved in the next year when the story broke in the English and Indian press. The Roddicks first tried to suppress the story and then tried to turn it into a public relations advantage. “This story has not hit the.press yet, but could erupt at any time,” read one memo to employees and franchisees. “It is important that you know your facts. Anita….blew the whistle on Joe.”
The second article is by James Heartfield in 2007: Anita Roddick: prophet of Green Capitalism
This is the relevant piece:
…foot massagers were made in the Boys Town orphanage in sweat shop conditions while gang leader Joe Homan sexually molested the children (‘Joe’s work in Boys Town is ceaseless; he cares for the boys and girls and they really appreciate what he is doing for them’, said the label);
These allegations have definitely been challenged. For example, there’s this response to it:
Margaret Cianni27 September 2017 at 03:26
This is completely untrue and was proved through the courts of UK. Maybe you feel that the boys worked for little but I am adamant that there was no sexual abuse.
However, a quick internet search revealed that Margaret Cianni is in fact one of Joe Homan’s 12 siblings, so of course she would vouch for him.
I can find nothing online to follow up on this one way or another. I find that a little strange. It’s like most articles relating to this important story have been deleted. Even if a court action was won, it seems odd – Kafkaesque even – that a court victory was not reported on.
However, the authoritative Sunday Times had this to say back in 1995:
The relevant piece:
High among the issues that Body Shop has faced is the controversy surrounding a former Christian Brother who ran the Boys’ Town orphanage in India. Body Shop used to buy “footsie roller” foot massagers from Boys’ Town. It was its first Third World “trade not aid” scheme.
After adverse press reports about Boys’ Town in 1990, Body Shop pulled out. It then resuscitated the “trade not aid” venture at a new facility, Teddy Exports, which employed local teenagers, setting up a hospital and school. But recently dozens of Boys’ Town thugs crossed the road to Teddy Exports. Eleven workers were knifed, two seriously. The woman who ran the project is now home in Ireland, afraid to return. Steve Mitchell, who owns four Body Shop franchises and has worked on both projects, says: “It’s a complete mess. Nobody knows what will happen. This is probably its death knell.”
Boys’ Town has been a long-running problem for the company. Richard Adams, the founder of Traidcraft and director of two “Out of This World” sustainable markets, remembers when he first saw leaflets about Boys’ Town at Body Shop’s stores in 1987. “I was shocked,” he says.
As a Traidcraft director, Adams had carried a different Boys’ Town product, wood carvings. After receiving poor-quality goods, he sent a manager to investigate. He was stunned by the news. “The project’s then director was sourcing carvings from child-labour sweatshops,” he recalls.
When Adams found out about Body Shop’s Boys’ Town link, he wrote to the Roddicks. “I never heard back,” he says. Over the next few years glowing reports went to franchisees about Boys’ Town. “We have the power to change people’s lives for the better,” Roddick wrote.
I have no way of knowing what the final outcome was. If anyone knows more, I’ll happily post it. Certainly The Sunday Times took it seriously. Homan’s behaviour in India – if these accounts are untrue – may well have been very different to the serious allegations I’ve read about him from old boys in the UK.
Two things made me feel I really must post something about this. Firstly, I understand the notorious predator Brother Solomon paid a visit to Boys Town when he ‘went to work in the missions’.
Secondly, I read a recent article about a similar, modern day organisation, ‘Street Kids International.’
It would seem that missionary work abroad with vulnerable kids does create obvious opportunities for criminal abuse by what we all hope is a minority of sick individuals. The reassuring ‘one rotten apple’ premise.
When it does occur, I feel there’s also the sense that in the developing world, ‘these things go on, unfortunately.’ It’s other. It’s ‘somewhere else.’
However, I also believe, based on my own recollections of my Catholic childhood and as a St Joseph’s old boy, that similar alleged behaviour, under the guise of charity and helping vulnerable children, also happened in the UK.
Of course I’m aware that there are plenty of media accounts of organised abuse in the UK that would easily bear this out, but this is a personal perspective.
From my own childhood recollections and my investigations into Catholic individuals in positions of authority at that time, I’d say there were a lot of rotten apples in that barrel back in Ipswich in the 1960s, that it was organised and endemic, and it had some similarities to these alleged crimes in the missions.
It was like the same ‘template’ was being used by abusers: offer education and advancement to the poor; but at a price.
Of course, as an old boy, if your dad was a fireman, a cop, an accountant, a war hero, a merchant, or whatever, you’re possibly going to say, ‘I have no idea what Pat’s talking about. I don’t remember anything remotely like that happening. I doubt very much it could have happened. In particular, organised abuse could never have happened.’
Lucky for you – because these cowardly predators would leave you alone for fear of physical or legal retribution. They only go for kids at risk, who don’t have a dad or a strong parent to protect them.
There are already on this site a considerable number of accounts of individual abuse, mainly at St J’s. Shocking as they are, they still – just about – fit the reassuring, ‘it was only one rotten apple’ scenario.
Even though, in themselves, they are still a damning indictment, a cause for concern, and surely require a response and an acknowledgement from the De La Salle Brothers that such crimes took place.
In my view, and from my research, they are the tip of the iceberg.
My research is still ongoing but I hope to update more on all this in due course.
If anyone has any knowledge or insights into organised Catholic abuse in Ipswich in my era, I’d love to hear from you.
Needless to say, it can be private and confidential, if you prefer. Thanks.
Thanks for the latest, Opus.
You have such great and detailed memories, I hope you won’t mind me putting them in their own blog post. I believe in full transparency, something I was personally denied as a kid by the Catholic system. So fire away without risk of censorship.
Everyone’s experience is different and, just as I have no doubt your recollections are true, I think you might assume that the recollections of others, including myself, are also true. Many of us haven’t met since school days yet our recollections dovetail with each other. And what would we possibly gain by lying or exaggerating? You only have to look at the number of De La Salle Brothers who have faced the courts for abuse to see it’s most unlikely we are fantasising or guilty of misandry. Brothers like Solomon (who you’d have missed) were so notorious there are endless accounts of him as an abuser, including when he returned as a lay teacher after your time. Thanks to Solomon I have a deep love of classical music, but – as a day boy – I luckily escaped his predations.
Like you, I have positive memories of Brother James as a maths teacher. I was so thick where maths were concerned, but he knew how to get through to dense kids like me. I admired his zeal, too, as you describe below. I think I saw him as a kind of role model, even a father figure. But there was another darker side to him, not just his well-known psychotic anger. This darker side also needs recording – particularly for those of us who experienced it.
So many survivors suppress their truth and could be discouraged to come forward by scepticism such as in your posts. I hope not. Only by acknowledging the truth does it set us free.
I notice from your previous post and this one that you’re personally very critical of Brother Elwin. I wish i could remember him better – rimless square glasses, looked like an intellectual, rather aloof? It feels like you were personally ‘burned’ by him, just as other old boys were burned by other brothers.
Because nothing awful happened to you or people you knew, doesn’t mean it couldn’t possibly happen to others. Predators often go for kids who are vulnerable in some way. That may be why you escaped and others didn’t.
I think this site and others like it are a valuable catharsis for survivors. I know this to be true from their responses to me in private e-mails. Most of the brothers are now dead or infirm, but the terrible damage they caused lives on in the survivors and this site provides a useful outlet for our anger, pain and grief.
Judging by recent private correspondence with old boys, I suspect there is much worse to come from other survivors.
At school many of us were forced to keep our mouths shut about what was really going, I certainly was. This site is a way for us all to speak out to ensure the DLS Brothers’ past crimes are well known.
However, I realise there’s also a positive and human side to many of them who, like you, I admired and this is worth noting too. So do please carry on with your critique.
The proprietor of this blog having kindly published my above and not altogether in agreement with the tenor of this blog comment and I having had the opportunity to re-read the various comments on this and other threads thought that I might trusting not to try his patience too much make a few further comments which I trust might be of general interest:
1. My own late little brother who left some lengthy autobiographical writings and who attended both Oak Hill and Birkfield as a border does not once mention violence or sexual behaviour by the monks although when as a nine-year-old he broke his collar bone whilst skating during the long winter of ’63 and doing so where he was not supposed to skate he was in mortal fear of their anger: For twenty four hours yet in great pain he failed to seek medical help for his injury and his injury only came to light when some other boy went to the monks. My parents should have sued the order in Tort for negligence but they came from a generation where any person in a position of authority was seen as beyond criticism. My brother does write that once in an Ipswich cinema a stranger (male) attempted to touch him-up. I am certain that had my brother been aware of inappropriate monk behaviour he would have written of it.
2. I refer to Brother Kevin who first taught me some French (the language, I mean). Once aged eleven or twelve I managed to overturn a desk on to my right foot exacerbating a previous injury to my middle toe. I am not sure why i did not attend sick-bay but he assisted me in his room in the 55 wing (which I do not recall as having any visual access to the dormitories – it being across the corridor). He having patched my foot and far from cross with me as he might have been for my foolishness lent me his right bedroom slipper, my own right shoe now being too small given the bandaging to my foot. He asked that I return the slipper in due course. I never did yet I do not know why i did not do so.
3. In the Sixth form I sat next to a boy whom I will not name but with whom I became friends and who joined the school following his expulsion from another local school. He did not and would not give the reason for the expulsion. We all of course assumed what that reason must have been. Is this not to the credit of the La Salles?
4. The school was very violent, yet most violence was boy on boy and it was other boys – bigger, older – that terrified me (as an eleven year old) far more than the monks. Whether it was any different from other schools I cannot say.
5. In my year there were two boys loathed and detested by the remainder of us – they should have been expelled. Both were predatory homosexuals – and I do not for one second believe that propensity was caused by the monks. As a result they were on the receiving end of boy violence. A third boy who I also much disliked was I learnt much later of the same persuasion.
6. In the media, Headmasters can do no wrong yet in the early 1970s a couple of the Dailies (the Mail and Express, I think) ran articles criticising Elwin Gerard. He, of course, doubled-down and having the support of the order ignored the criticism. I forget what it was that had incensed the press. Haircuts?
7. A year younger than me was a boy by the name of George Phillips. He was likable, slightly overweight and had just passed eleven O’levels and as such was a shoe-in for Oxbridge and probably also Head Boy. One day at the beginning of term Elwin Gerard passing him ordered Phillips to get a haircut – not that his hair was in any sense long. Phillips refused and on the spot Phillips was expelled. I appreciate that a head master can not allow his authority to be treated lightly but this was stupidity on the part of Elwin Gerard – especially as Phillips was his star pupil. Happily for him Phillips had the support of his parents who he explained to me were increasingly concerned about Elwin Gerard’s running of the school. St Joseph’s loss would have been the gain of some Six-form academy.
8. One day Elwin Gerard came into class somewhat speechless and informed us that he had just interviewed the mother of a boy named Masters and that the said mother had then accused Elwin Gerard of sexually assaulting her. None of us boys believed such an obviously insane accusation.
9. The regrettable arrival of girls at the school also produced a Nun and this nun seemed to spend inordinate amounts of time in the physics Lab with a monk – Cecil?. Were they? We thought so. On the arrival of the first batch of four girls it was only a day or so before one of the four girls found her way predictably down to one of the lodges which of course was out of bounds for females. The boys who slept there were of course blamed. I blame firstly the La Salle’s for their stupidity and secondly the girl – not the boys, the La Salle’s blaming the boys for the free actions of the strong and empowered girl.
10. I refer again to Brother James; he was my first form master. It is said elsewhere here that the monks did not care for black people. I beg to disagree: I will never forget (to cut a long story short) how in consecutive weeks I parted with my entire pocket money at James’ suggestion and encouragement (doubtless following yet another blue testimonial) for the black babies. One can never ask for change when giving charity and being shamed by James (in front of the entire class) for meanness was something I wished to avoid. In the third week when again encouraged to give reparations to the Africans I sat on my hands and have since that time avoided all forms of charitable giving. My parents did not pay my pocket money just so that it could be given away!
11. On the subject of money a perusal of the appropriate school magazine will reveal Elwin Gerard (at speech day) berating parents for not yet having purchased his new school uniform and where he implies that all parents are rolling in money as if money grows on trees. I think that revealing as to the true attitude of the (unpaid of course) La Salle monks. Catholicism frequently looks much like Marxism – an ideology of envy. My parents and especially my mother went without for the sake of what passed for my education whilst wrecking the family’s finances.
12. In one of his nightly exhortations – we were then about fifteen years of age – to us standing on and around the Birkfield staircase we were informed as usual that although we were irredeemably bad and hell bound that had we any complaint or information of which the head master should be aware it was our duty to report the matter to him. Some days later I led a deputation of boys to Elwin Gerard as some matter I now long forget was I felt of sufficient importance that it needed to be reported. They always shoot the messenger do they not and on explaining myself to Elwin Gerard I was irate-ably dismissed and informed to stop causing trouble. The hypocrite!
Men are leaving the teaching profession in droves as boys are feminised. Is not the attack on the :La Salle brothers whatever their failings just thinly disguised Misandry?
Pleasure is to mingle with study, that the boy may think learning rather an amusement than a toil. Tender youth is to suffer neither severe thrashings nor sour and threatening looks, nor any kind of tyranny, for by such usage the fire of genius is either extinguished or in great measure damped.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey 1473-1530
This is an account by an old boy of St Joseph’s College, Birkfield, Ipswich, Suffolk, UK, of an assault by Brother James Ryan, De La Salle Brother, and “Prefect of Discipline”.
It is not an isolated attack on a child. There are numerous accounts of Brother James’s crimes recorded earlier on this blog. Primarily physical assaults and one further sexual assault.
This one has me tonight in all its horrible glory. I spent years of therapy with a psychologist with CASA here (Centre for sexual assault). Many breakthroughs were made, but not this one. This has got me by the balls at the moment.
What I am going to do is sit here and write it down and get it right in my head. I know from experience that to get it out of your head onto paper is half the battle. Then there has to be some form of forgiveness and I am not religious.
The other way these things manifest themselves is in a physical way. I have a rotten back and remembering this sort of trauma just sends it into spasm causing horrendous pain.
It may help you and others and me, of course.
I have been through so much of this shit over the last two or three years with this Australian Royal Commission and the press throwing it out on a daily basis. I have not been involved in it, but it is really in your face all the time and I do have friends that are in it. Fortunately I have great friends and support and that works both ways. My partner hates me going through this but she has agreed to do the editing etc., meanwhile stating that she won’t like it but she will do it for me to make sense for everyone.
Sexual abuse comes in many forms and with sadism it makes it a lot worst. As we put it out here, “he was a fair bloody bastard”. (I love this country with swearing as part of the culture) Just after I left St Joes there were two teachers from Ipswich School Prep charged and convicted. They did not have the protection of Holy Orders. Head Master Mermigan did have some good points it seems. Both my older brothers went through similar violence at Ipswich School and put it down to post traumatic stress syndrome.
I am not so sure, I think that the worst of these predators joined priesthood or orders so that they could live out their sickness. They may have had their networks as well.
I was 16 when I went to sea and there I met equally violent ones, even worse because, as junior ratings, we ranged in age from 13 1/2 to 18. The nastiest bastard was an ex brother of some sort, he was Irish and hard, very dangerous. Petty bullies at best, dangerous at worst. It was bad but we were allowed to fight back.
Enough said of the side tracking because I have a bit of work to do and it doesn’t come easily to me.
I was very disruptive in class, which is a sure sign of someone crying out for help and safety, how the hell I survived, I have no idea. Many will remember me like that and that is fair enough. I hope I didn’t mess their education up too much. If I did I am sorry.
I do not resemble the person I was before. I am positive and happy (most of the time) but I always remember that to not deal with this stuff as it comes up can open the floodgates to all the negativity and swamp me to drowning point. Thanks for being there and co-ordinating peoples chances at recovery.
I was to be beaten, for what I do not remember. I think it was to be four with the cane. He did not go about this with his usual out of control. This was calculated for maximum effect. This was a new one. He told me he would beat me in three or four days’ time. Good terror tactic in his sadistic mind.
The day came and I think it was lunch time and he called me into the hall. He locked the door and led me to one corner well out of any possible chance sighting of anyone who could possibly see in. He told me to take my trousers down and bend over to touch my toes. I didn’t take my underpants off and he started to get a bit nasty and made me take those down as well. He was very controlled after that. He was breathing heavily. I was told that on no account was I to turn round at any time or he would increase the punishment. This guy was lethal with a cane when you had clothes on.
The first stroke was full swing but the next stroke did not come for an eon, one or two minutes. I made the mistake of looking round. He lost it a bit and the next one was harder and with the threat of additional strokes. He was breathing very heavily and I realized he was masturbating between strokes through the pocket in his cassock. He really took his time. I don’t remember whether it was nine or more. I was in agony.
When it was over I was threatened that if I ever told anyone he would make my life more of a misery than it already was.
He was also smiling in a way that I had not seen before.
There may have been more like this but I hope there were not.
I remembered the beating but not the rest until reading some of the blog. It’s funny what things jog your memory. Like most survivors of sexual assault, you know that something is there but I could never get at what it was.
This happened to me in another assault. When I was finally told about it I instantly remembered the incident vividly. I remembered what was said and by whom and I was very young at the time. It was as if I was marked as fair game after that. People like James can pick it in a child. That closed the book on another phase of my life. It was as if all the cogs finally slotted into position—-for a while. I didn’t know about others at school and they not about me. There were rumours.
My lovely partner asks me why I have to keep digging and not let the past be past and move on. She sees what it can do to me and she has to watch as I consume myself, hoping that I can pull out of it, which sometimes I only do by the skin of my teeth. She supports me and puts up with it maybe understanding or not. She has that gift of character that enables her to move on and I love her for it.
I hope to God that there is not more. I enjoy life and I really don’t need this shit but if me putting this down can help me it might also help others. We have lived with this long enough. It is time to deal with it and move on. I am not religious in the sense of organized dogma and cultism but I firmly believe that there is some greater purpose to human existence. What it is, I have no bloody idea. Each to his own. South Africa and Rwanda have given us a lesson saying that forgiveness of some kind will enable us to be alive again. I find that hard but it is something to work on.
I am alive unlike many who were unable to live with it.
Here’s another astonishing account of the past barbarism at St Joseph’s, the crimes and the cover-ups which the school – because it says it’s in the same Lasallian tradition – the DLS Brothers still have to acknowledge to survivors.
It’s from an old boy at St Joseph’s, now living in Australia. Thank you, Dave, for sharing this with us. I suspect many more survivors’ accounts will now follow.
It’s particularly relevant for me, because I’ve known for a very long time that Brother James was also a sexual abuser, and a serious and violent one, and your letter below confirms it. I hesitated to say so before because my recollection is distant and somewhat blocked. A friend who is a social worker wrote that “In her considerable experience in various social work spheres […] where there is physical abuse one should always look for sexual abuse because the correlation between the two is very strong.” So James’s unusual and actually hysterical violence may well be relevant.
I don’t have any problem talking about this because these criminals need to be exposed, even if they’re dead, because their organisation is still around and in denial and there may well be other victims of James’s sexual abuse who have been reluctant to talk, or used blocking techniques as I did. I do believe it empowers us all and gives us closure. And it may be useful for anyone who wants to pursue the order legally. If so, I think you may need to hurry because there’s so many charges against them now, the Brothers must be running out of cash. Personally, I’d settle for an apology, but I’m not holding my breath. Hence my alternative: The Roll of Dishonour, where “Their Shame Liveth Forevermore”.
For now, my recollection is as follows. Myself and my best friend GB, when we were around 12, went up to St Joe’s during the summer holidays to do some work, and were rewarded with the keys to the soft drinks cupboard (in the main seniors building) and told to help ourselves. Old boys will know there was the entry door and, I believe, an external hatch to dispense drinks to kids outside. (This was a separate set-up to the regular tuck shop). So we were in there swigging endless bottles of Tizer when an “agitated” – or should that be “excited” ?- James burst in, and there was no way out.
I’m not in the same league as the impressive American old boy (LM) described below, but it’s not in my nature to let things go until I get justice, as readers of this blog will know, and I’m pretty sure that’s what I was like back then. So I complained about the assault and it was hushed up in some way. Annoyingly, that’s almost certainly why I can’t remember much today. That’s how these criminals got away with so much.
That must sounds odd to outsiders, so I think it’s relevant to say more. Not least because I now know of two old boys of St Joe’s who are in the process of recovering their memories. It can be tough, but it’s something I’ve had to become something of an expert on, so any leads or help I can give you, do say.
When my wife, Lisa, read the incredible account below where “a few dozen boys” watched cheering as James was beaten up by a school boy, she said, “Why has everyone forgotten this? It must have gone round the whole school at the time? How could that possibly have been kept a secret? They couldn’t shut everyone up, could they?”
Oh, yes, they could.
Catholic schools are not like normal schools.
It’s how cults work. Whether it’s Scientology or the Catholic Church or the DLS brothers, cults operate on secrecy and we all seem to suffer from collective amnesia or at least dimmed memories as a result. It can turn us into sleepwalkers, heading through life in disassociated dreams. It’s achieved through fear, loyalty, lack of parental support, no Childline, no adults who would believe them and more. The DLS brothers know that anyone who talks or complains will be dealt with severely. We were all used to keep our mouths shut, just as the victims of Savile kept their mouths shut.
I’ve no doubt that events unfolded in the way Dave describes them. I’ve been a participant and an organizer of events that have taken on some embodiment of the status quo or some aspect of oppressive authority. I know just what that feeling is like when there’s a “slave uprising” and bullies are finally confronted, or perpetrators of injustice or abuse dealt with. Whatever age we are, there’s a loss of control, a release of pent-up energy that’s intoxicating and a sense of “to hell with the consequences”. It’s like the scene in Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” I’m sure that’s what happened that day.
In view of what the DLS brothers subsequently did to LM – his leaving/expulsion while James was allowed to stay, his crimes known but concealed, they are lower than vermin.
If anyone wants to elaborate on James, privately with me, or on this blog, please do so. I look forward to hearing from you. I’m happy to go into more detail, if it’s useful to anyone. It may also be useful to me because, in order to make sense of what happened, I have to understand the psychotic nature of James and his modus operandi. I’m sure the assault wasn’t a one-off and he was a serial abuser.
I wish I’d been there to cheer LM on. He’s a shining example to us all.
Thanks again, Dave. You’re a star.
My name is Dave B. I have been reading your St Joe’s blog for several years but I didn’t have the courage to get involved. I first picked it up On the Crystal Palace blog site. I am the same age as you and was at Oakhill and then Birkfield. Before I went to Oakhill I was at Ipswich School Prep and that was bad as well. There again I was no model student. I left on April 8 1965,(I was kept back a couple of years) only to be thrown into another lions den in the merchant navy.
We must have been there at the same time. I was so badly treated there by all of the brothers mentioned. In my second last year I was beaten every day, even after being sick for 2 weeks. I also boarded for a short time. Brother James was not only brutal but I can confirm also a pervert into sexual abuse. I have one wonderful memory, that of an American kid from the bronx. James wanted to beat him and L.M. the student (who is now a prominent US human law rights Lawyer). At the end of the class we were all thrown out of class. B. James did his usual attack of kicking and punching. LM beat the sh….out of James with a few dozen boys watching and cheering.
The result was that we never saw LM again and the Brother director was changed and there was no corporal punishment allowed in the school. Lt.Commander Mclaughlin (sp?) was made school prefect and the only one who could dish out punishment. I felt stunned with no fear at school. However, I left in the second term and the new Brother director died, the school returned to its normal reign of terror, but I was long gone by then fighting for my existence in the merch.
McLaughlin was very kind to me, he offered to tute me in maths with his son at home. For me then it was too late and I declined sadly. I am still lousy at maths. He and Bill Moss were the only two people I respected. I can go on forever on this subject. Bill Moss’s brothers suffered the same as us. I agree wholeheartedly with Martin.
Currently this subject is in the news in Australia every day with the Royal Commission into Child Abuse and it is very difficult to keep an even keel but I have had a few years of counselling and support.
It would be “nice” if the De La Salle order would admit the goings on and apologise but I don’t think it will ever happen. Here In Aus it is happening them being exposed by the Royal Commission. It doesn’t stop the suicides though. I hope you get your own Royal commission.
We must move on regardless. This can go on the blog, but I can’t seem to do it from here. Maybe its the current Ransom virus. Let me know how to get onto the blog if you can.
EDIT: Dave subsequently sent me this:
I lived in a constant state of terror both at home and school. School was the worst though. My way of coping became John Barleycorn which got me thrown out of the under 16’s. If it all got too much at school I would find a quiet corner somewhere and take the edge off life. It ended up causing problems for me and other around me but I have been free of it for many years now. How the hell did we all cope and some of us survive.
I’m so sorry, Dave.
In response to this email, another old boy confirmed events in private correspondence with me, and named the American hero with an impressive Italian surname. I’ll just use his first name “Louis” here. This old boy had mentioned Louis to me before. Here we go:
LM is Louis M – . We’ve already written about this guy. He’s the ‘You think you’re hot shit on a silver dish but you’re just cold piss in a paper cup’ kid. I don’t know about his Bronx origins but, when he was trying to get his younger brother to give him some cash because he was spent up, the youngster exclaimed, ‘Good God, Louis, what do you do with it all!’ in what I would now describe as a New York accent…Louis was in a year lower than you and me but he didn’t start off as a first year pupil; he came to the school later. I do remember that he and I were quite good friends and often hung around in the same little group.
I believe there was, as Dave recalls, some kind of incident between Louis and Jammy. I never saw it and have not thought about since I left school. I have a vague recollection of ‘something’ being whispered about but I expect all witnesses were somehow forced to remain silent. I can’t verify that. Certainly, Louis was there one minute and gone the next without warning. I think my memory centres on the aftermath of the event and the rumours about why Louis left Birkfield. I think his little brother must have left at the same time but I’m not certain of this.
Dave says a result of this incident was the changing of a Brother Director. I think that must have been the arrival of Bro. Elwin Gerard. I can’t say that he replaced the previous Bro. Director because of the fracas and I wonder how Dave knows this. When Dave left in April 1965, I was in my second term of the 5th form. Were you still at Birkfield at that point?
I had left a year before, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, another puzzle in itself, as another old boy reminded me recently, maybe something I’ll return to another time.
I like to think that just before Louis gave James what he so richly deserved he said to him in his best Bronx Accent, ‘You think you’re hot shit on a silver dish but you’re just cold piss in a paper cup’.
It raises the question, what was wrong with James and other abusive teachers at St Joes?
Old boy “Anon” believes:
My theory is that half the teachers came back from WW2 with PTSD, took it out on boys who went off to Uni to become teachers and returned to take it out on us. That combined with a good dose of Catholic cover up.
I think it applies to his generation at St J’s. Certainly at my Catholic primary school St Mary’s Ipswich, where the deputy Headmaster, Crowley, chain-smoked in class and caned a boy across the face and once sexually assaulted a school girl in front of us. (The school was run by nuns who, of course, allowed him to get away with it and committed worse crimes themselves.) But actually the lay teachers of my era at St Joes seemed pretty normal, some of them – the Polish art teacher for example who clearly had military training – was one of the most well balanced, nicest people I’ve met. I have positive memories of nearly all of the lay teachers. In my era, they were just regular, normal guys.
The sickness seems to apply to the Brothers who had mostly escaped the war and I believe it’s specifically Catholic in nature. My recollection of reading James’s obituary (before the DLSB took it down from their site) is he was a product of the DLS school system himself. I doubt he suffered PTSD in the war. He may well have suffered PTSD as a result of whatever happened in his youth. I know from a source who went to a Catholic seminary that the attitude was: “They did it to us, so now it’s our turn to do it to others.” It was why he left the seminary in disgust. That confirms Anon’s theory.
But I don’t think James has any excuse. He should have ended his days in prison or a hospital for the criminally insane.