Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 14 — John Brander

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This is the account of a teacher whose sexual and physical abuse of children over a period of more than 40 years came to the attention of many different persons in authority. This abuse consisted of the sexual abuse of young boys and the excessive corporal punishment and emotionally degrading treatment of both girls and boys in his classes. Despite being repeatedly removed from schools because of sexual abuse of children under his care, he was able to secure new positions, often at a senior level, in different schools in a pattern which continued until his retirement.


Firstly, the importance of this career of abuse is that it happened. Secondly, Mr Brander was able to continue teaching despite complaints to school authorities and subsequent investigations. Thirdly, his conduct was also known to other persons and agencies including the parish priest who was the manager of one school, the bishop of the diocese in which that school was located and the Department of Education. Yet another important element is the manner in which reports about the teacher were handled by the Department of Education. The elements of the events discussed here include: the teacher’s career of abuse; how the various school authorities responded to complaints about him; the other agencies that were notified or had knowledge of the abuse; the conduct of the Department of Education and its officials; and the contrast between theory and practice in official handling of complaints.


In the mid-1990s, Mr Brander, a former Christian Brother and teacher, was fined and placed on probation for the sexual assault of a boy to whom he had been giving private tuition. Almost two years after this trial, he pleaded guilty to numerous sample charges of indecent assault perpetrated at one particular national school, Naomh Mhuire NS, Walsh Island, Co Offaly during the 1960s. In the period between conviction and sentencing, more individuals came forward to recount their own experiences of being assaulted by Mr Brander. In sentencing him to a term of imprisonment, the court took into account further assaults perpetrated while he was teaching at a secondary school Presentation Convent Castlecomer Co Kilkenny. Following a third trial, Mr Brander received a further conviction in respect of the abuse of another pupil at in the same school. Early career/Christian Brothers


Having joined the Congregation of Christian Brothers in the 1930s, Mr Brander began his teaching career in the Christian Brothers, primary school St Mary’s CBS Marino in Dublin in the early 1940s. From then until the late 1950s, when he sought and was granted a dispensation from his vows, he taught in three more Christian Brothers schools, Mullingar CBS Co Westmeath, St Michael’s CBS Inchicore Dublin and James’s Street CBS Dublin. In that period, the records reveal that he came to the attention of his superiors on account of sexual interference with boys in his schools on three occasions.


His career in the Christian Brothers is summarised in a letter from the Provincial to the Superior General of the Christian Brothers: My most dear Br. Superior General, On Friday April 5th Br [Lessard],2 Principal of our Primary School CBS James’ St came to St. Helen’s and gave me in his own handwriting the following charges of improper conduct on the part of Br. [Brander] with boys of his own class. Br [Lessard] interviewed the boys and wrote down what they had to say. I enclose the statements of the boys concerned. I called Br. [Brander] to St. Helen’s on Saturday and read for him the charges made. At first he would not admit the charges. Then I gave him the names of the boys concerned and again read for him each charge. He again denied them in general but admitted those made by [two boys]. He said that [three other boys] formed a clique from the slum district. Br. [Lessard] stated that those boys were told by their confessor to report the matter to him. Br [Brander] then fell back on the excuse that he did not think it was harmful to touch boys in the manner complained of, externally and that he did not think that the boys noticed it. I told him that he would have to get a canonical warning and that we could not allow him in future to have any contact with boys as it would be dangerous for himself and for the boys. I recommended him to look for a dispensation and this he eventually agreed to do. He asked what work could he do if he were not allowed to teach and he was told it was difficult to say what kind of work might be available except perhaps working in a garden. I allowed him to walk about for an hour to ponder over the matter. He was then satisfied to seek for a dispensation and said that he should have gone long ago. He asked me were there any complaints from the secondary boys and also wished to know if [Father Brian]3 had written to me about five months ago to request that he, Br [Brander] be allowed to teach the bigger boys. He is and has been teaching sixth standard. He said that his attraction is towards smaller boys and not towards those of the other sex. This is the third occasion on which such charges have been made against Br. [Brander] but on the first occasion [in the 1940s] he did not get a canonical warning. He got one on the last occasion which was in [the early 1950s]4 when he was in Mullingar CBS To-day, Sunday April 8th I had a phone call from Br [Brander] to say that he had seen [Fr. Brian] and that he is seeking a dispensation. He will send it to me in an enclosed envelope so that it may be forwarded to Rome. I have transferred him from CBS James’ St to [a Community residence] where he will await the dispensation. I told him that if he wishes he could state that he was seeking the dispensation on account of moral dangers to himself and to the boys. With kindest regards and all good wishes ... Br [Derbec]5 PS The Council agreed by 3 votes to 0 that Br [Brander] be recommended to seek a dispensation.


One of the boys who is referred to in this letter made a statement to the Gardaí around the time of Mr Brander’s most recent conviction: In my last year in CBS James’ St it was common knowledge that Brother [Brander] was interfering with other boys. I personally was never touched by Brother [Brander]. Back then ... it was a common thing for Brother [Brander] to keep one of the boys back after class.


He mentioned two boys as coming to mind and continued: but I cannot be sure if Brother [Brander] interfered with them or not. I remember the talk about Brother [Brander] at that time was that he would come up behind the boy he’d keep back after school and touch him and ask the boy if he had any marbles. I remember soon after I left CBS James’ St a group of us boys that had finished school went to see the head Brother. I can’t remember the head brothers name at that time, it may have been Brother [Lessard]. I remember we told the head brother about imoral things Brother [Brander] was doing. The head Brother brought us into a room and I remember he gave us cigarettes. He took us very seriously and told us that we may have to repeat what we had told him and that he would check out what we told him. I never heard anything from that head brother afterwards.


When it was confirmed that Br Brander would seek a dispensation, he was transferred to a Community residence in the west of Ireland to await completion of the formal process of dispensation. Br Gibson, giving evidence on behalf of the Congregation, said that he could not shed light on the reason for his transfer to this Community or say whether this was an unusual occurrence. He said that it might perhaps have been to get him out of his environment or to keep him away from his ministry.


The application for dispensation was ultimately granted by a bishop, in whose episcopal jurisdiction Br Brander was now resident. By this means, Br Brander was able to leave the Congregation apparently of his own volition and with an unblemished teaching record.


Mr Brander took up the position of principal of Lanesboro NS, Co Longford on a Monday, having been dispensed from his vows the previous Friday. The question arises as to how he was able to secure this position, and who aided him in obtaining it. No documentary evidence was available to the Investigation Committee, in the form of a written reference or otherwise, to throw light on this disturbing matter.


The Congregation was aware of the criminal nature of such assaults and that the Christian Brothers ‘could not allow him in future to have any contact with boys’, but did nothing to prevent him doing so and continuing to teach. Neither the Department of Education nor the Gardaí were informed of Mr Brander’s sexual abuse of children. By not informing the relevant authorities, the Congregation facilitated his access to more children. Lanesboro NS, Lanesboro, Co Longford , May 1957 – September 1960


Mr Brander remained principal of Lanesboro NS for over three years, until he moved to take up a position in Ballyfermot NS, Dublin. No documentary material is available to explain the circumstances of his departure from Lanesboro NS but, at his sentencing following his second trial, Mr Brander admitted abusing boys in this school. In addition, a Garda statement made by a former pupil contains allegations of physical and sexual abuse against Mr Brander while a teacher in this school. Ballyfermot NS/ Banrion na nAingeal, Ballyfermot, Dublin, September 1960 – January 1964


Mr Brander was appointed to Ballyfermot NS initially as third assistant teacher and, later, as vice-principal. In a letter to the Department of Education, Fr Harry,6 the school manager, sought approval for the recruitment of additional teachers, and advised that Mr Brander had the highest qualifications and would be an excellent vice-principal when the numbers justified such an appointment. Mr Brander left the school in the mid-1960s, having been absent due to illness for two months.


A letter from solicitors acting for a former pupil, some years following Mr Brander’s last conviction and addressed to the Board of Governors of the School, complained that while this man was a pupil in this School in the 1960s he suffered an indecent assault by Mr Brander. The letter stated that a complaint was made to the school authorities at that time, and no action was taken other than Mr Brander was moved from his class. The solicitors were advised that there was no record of this complaint or of any investigation.


An affidavit of discovery sworn on behalf of the Board of Management for the purposes of this Inquiry states that there were no documents recording any contemporaneous complaint. Rath Mixed NS, Ballybrittas, Portlaoise, Co Laois, January 1964 – June 1966

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  4. He was again transferred to another primary school St Michael’s CBS Inchicore. He remained here for one month and then moved to CBS James’ St.
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  11. Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.
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  22. Irish for ‘This is a very good teacher: he has qualifications in Irish’.