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Chapter 1 — Institute of Charity

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The Institute of Charity was founded by Antonio Rosmini-Serbati in 1828 at Calvario in Italy. It received the approbation of the Holy See on 20th December 1838 and was given the status of a religious Order. It was a society that included religious members, who took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and also lay members who shared the special objectives of the Institute. Rosmini believed in a ‘principle of passivity’, based on the consciousness of humanity’s ‘nothingness’, or its inability on its own to achieve lasting good. He had a conviction that God’s Providence guides by means of his Church and the needs of people. By remaining open, or having an attitude of ‘indifference’, as Rosmini put it, as to what work of charity was undertaken by them, the Rosminians, as they came to be known, were being guided by Divine Providence to doing lasting good for their neighbours.


In 1835, Luigi Gentili founded a Novitiate in England and set up further missions across England and Wales in the two following decades. The Institute of Charity continued to grow and became an international organisation with four major provinces: the Italian province, which included the regions of India and Venezuela; the English province, which included New Zealand; the Irish province, which included the vice province of Africa; and the province of the United States. Until 1931, the Institute of Charity in Ireland came under the jurisdiction of the English province.


In 1860, the Institute, which had experience of running a Reformatory School in North East Yorkshire, was invited to run the proposed new Reformatory School at Upton, County Cork, which became the first Rosminian Community established in Ireland. Upton Reformatory operated for 29 years and closed in 1889, to reopen five days later as Danesfort Industrial School, certified for the reception of 300 boys.


In 1884, the Rosminian Institute took charge of a second establishment, the Clonmel Industrial School for Roman Catholic Boys, which received a certificate to receive 150 boys the following year. Count Arthur Moore, the MP for Clonmel, had approached them to manage and run the school that he had built for orphaned and abandoned children at the cost of £10,000, a considerable sum in those days. It was situated about four kilometres east of the town of Clonmel, in the townland of Ferryhouse, on the northern bank of the River Suir. The 3.6 hectares of land it was built on was soon expanded to 16 hectares, and ultimately to 32 or more hectares of farmland.


In 1901, the Institute of Charity acquired Ballyoonan House, Omeath, situated on 14 acres of land, to serve as its Novitiate. It was given the name of St Michael’s, becoming a Scholasticate in 1935, until 1945, when it again became a Juniorate for 28 students. In 1931, a new Novitiate was established in Kilmurry House, Kilworth, County Cork. In 1954, St Michael’s applied to be recognised as a secondary school, taking in students who did not necessarily want to become members of the Institute of Charity.


The Rosminians operated two industrial schools: St Patrick’s Industrial School, Upton, County Cork; and St Joseph’s Industrial School, Ferryhouse, Clonmel, County Tipperary. In addition, the Order had other establishments primarily concerned with the education and religious formation of boys and young men intending to be ordained (as priests) or professed (as Brothers). Both the priests and Brothers would be members of the Institute. Those institutions were at Omeath, County Louth; Kilmurry, County Cork; and Glencomeragh, County Tipperary. The Rosminians were principally a missionary Order, and most of the young men trained in their houses of formation were destined for work in their missions.


The Investigation Committee carried out a detailed examination into the industrial schools at Upton and Ferryhouse. In June 2004, at the Emergence Hearings, the Institute began by outlining at a public hearing how the issue of child abuse in their schools emerged. Then they gave evidence at public introductory hearings (Phase I) into Ferryhouse, which took place from 6th to 9th September 2004, and into Upton, which took place on 26th October 2004.


Between 14th September and 17th November 2004, witnesses from Ferryhouse were heard in private, and between 18th November and 16th December 2004, witnesses who were in Upton gave evidence. Finally, a public hearing in Phase III was held on 9th May 2006, at which Fr Joseph O’Reilly, the Provincial Superior of the Rosminian Institute of Charity in Ireland, dealt with general issues in both institutions that had arisen in the course of the Phase II hearings.


The Institute furnished written statements in advance of the hearings and also provided Submissions following the private hearings.


The figures for Upton were as follows: 11 complainant witnesses gave evidence, out of a total of 13 who were invited. Three respondent witnesses testified.


The figures for Ferryhouse were as follows: 29 complainant witnesses gave evidence, out of a total of 39 who were invited to do so. Nine respondent witnesses gave evidence.


The hearings into Ferryhouse and Upton differed from other hearings, because the Rosminians adopted a markedly different position on the role of industrial schools generally, a position which affected the way they responded to the complaints that were made. The attitude of the Order to the complainants is dealt with in the sections relating to the individual schools, but something can briefly be said here about the position that the Order.


Giving evidence on behalf of the Rosminian Institute on 9th May 2006, at the Phase III public hearing, Fr O’Reilly said that he had ‘no doubt that there were many areas in which we failed and I have no doubt that the entire system was a failure’. He said that they were given the task of trying to manage an apparently unmanageable system, and that control was the first priority. He acknowledged that there was pressure to keep up numbers, so as to maximise income from the capitation payment system, and that the numbers themselves presented a problem in caring for children: ... that’s why it was a trap, it was trap for us, if we didn’t have an adequate number of children then we didn’t get a sufficient income. If we had children well in excess of any number, or whatever number it was, then we were into the position of finding that it was more difficult to manage the whole thing. It was a trap. How do you deal with that?


Fr O’Reilly said that it was not even clear that children were better off in industrial schools than they had been in their previous circumstances: I think that children were often taken from fairly hopeless situations and they were handed over to despair in a way. Because I am not too sure that we can say definitely that the situation that they found themselves in was an awful lot better than the situation that they had come from. They got some things and there are other things that they didn’t get. Frying pan into the fire.


The industrial school system, he said, was fundamentally flawed and was not capable of fulfilling the needs of children. He did not think that there was any clear objective, or that anybody had a sense of what was going on, or that anybody was really giving direction to it. He was not sure that such strategic thinking existed, even in more recent decades.

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  4. Law Commission of Canada: + Institutional Child Abuse – Restoring Dignity Pt II Responses ‘Guiding Principles’at p 7.
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