Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 1 — Institute of Charity

Show Contents



One of the most important staff positions to be held in Ferryhouse and Upton was that of the Prefect. Fr Stefano,1 former Resident Manager in Ferryhouse stated, ‘there was a manager ... and the next people ... on the care side were the Prefects’. While the Resident Manager had responsibility for the running of the Industrial School itself, the Prefect was in charge of the day-to-day care of the children. As one witness explained, ‘The Prefect was in charge right through the day and right through the night, you know’.


Ferryhouse and Upton each had two Prefects, one for the senior group and one for the junior group. Until the 1940s, the Prefect would have been a priest. However, this changed and, from the 1940s, Brothers were appointed Prefects. Each Prefect had sole responsibility for his group, which at times could consist of more than 100 boys. This responsibility was for 24 hours a day throughout the whole year, with little respite or additional help from his fellow Brothers.


Fr O’Reilly told the Investigation Committee: I would say that most of the responsibility fell on the Prefect. Only occasionally could he call on others, who had their own duties to go on with. So if a Prefect was – for example, it wouldn’t have been uncommon that the Prefect, one of the Prefects who was on, would have to leave to go and look for a child who had run away or go to a Garda station to pick up a child who had been picked up by the Gardaí, and so all the responsibility rested on the shoulders of the Prefect who remained behind and, indeed, it wasn’t uncommon for a Prefect to have to leave a dormitory of children in the middle of the night to go to pick up a child. They, obviously, relied on the other Prefect primarily, you know, to look after the situation. He’d have been made aware of things, as would the Manager.


Fr O’Reilly explained that Prefects’ responsibilities covered everything to do with the children: From the time that they got up in the morning, getting children up, sorting out what had to be sorted out, making sure that they were all in place, getting them down to Mass, getting them back up, to breakfast, making sure they got out to school – when they got out to school, okay, the school had responsibility then, but almost inevitably, you know, you have a child who is sick or a child who has cut himself or who has got in trouble in school, and a Prefect who has to pick up the pieces. I mean, I have seen that in my own time working in St. Joseph’s, Ferryhouse.


During non-school hours the Prefect would also have to be constantly vigilant, especially at mealtimes in the School. He would have to manage the dining area where over 150 boys would be eating their meals. Bullying at mealtimes was common: older boys would take the food of younger boys, and these younger boys had to be protected. As a result, the dining hall area was ‘a highly charged situation ... where any number of things could happen’.


The Prefects were mainly responsible for administering corporal punishment in the School. Boys who badly misbehaved were generally sent to the Prefect’s office to receive their punishment.


The Prefect was answerable to the Resident Manager in all matters. Among the Resident Manager’s numerous duties and responsibilities was overseeing the performance of duties by the Prefects. Fr O’Reilly spoke of this requirement: The Manager, although he had other responsibilities, would have obviously had to keep an eye on what was happening. I think the Manager would know on a very regular basis what was going on in the place because, although this might not be a term that everybody would agree with, there would have developed a certain sort of family atmosphere insofar as when you live in a place for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year and there is not an awful lot of change in life, you know, you soon become quite acquainted with everybody who is in the place.


Every September, the Rosminian Provincial would decree assignments to the priests and Brothers. If a vacancy for a Prefect arose in either of the Rosminian Industrial Schools, it was the Provincial who selected the person to fill this role. During the 1940s, the appointment was usually a priest, but later it was normally a Brother who was appointed.


Prefects were the younger men of the Order, who were able to manage the task of being in charge of a large group of young, active boys. They would have ordinarily worked as teachers or Prefects in other schools. Fr O’Reilly stated that the new Prefects would have seen it as a very responsible post, and would have been proud of being appointed, but he added, a few of them would not have been very happy at being selected. He explained: Now there were some men who didn’t like being Prefects and I know that one or two would have seen it as – I am not too sure what the word is now ... yeah, hell is a good word all right ... A punishment posting. Well, I know, for example, one man has often recounted to me how he was regarded as difficult by his superiors so they appointed him as Prefect.


Training for a newly appointed Prefect was minimal. The previous holder of the position would initially help the new trainee. However, the period of overlap of the experienced Brother Prefect and his trainee replacement was short, with a week being the norm. Very often, the new Prefect would initially be sent to Woodstown Summer camp to obtain some experience with a smaller number of boys before returning to Ferryhouse or Upton.


The young men appointed Prefects had themselves only left school a small number of years previously. A number of the Rosminian Prefects would have completed their secondary education in the Rosminian secondary school, St Michael’s, Omeath. Priests who held the position would have completed their third level education. The Rosminians accept that this education ‘wouldn’t have been particularly useful for childcare’.


Fr O’Reilly explained: You learnt by the tradition, you know. You were told as a Prefect that this is what you do and you get in there and you sink or you swim. The tradition was useful for a period and then it wasn’t useful any longer.


It was an extraordinarily demanding job. Fr O’Reilly told the Investigation Committee: It was unnatural what was asked of them, really, and utterly unfair. Quite obviously in retrospect, you know, it was truly unfair what was asked of them. Like, where do you begin with comparisons? I mean, the School that had two Prefects looking after 200 children now has, you know, 35 or 36 children in the school and there are probably in the range of, maybe, 60 to 70 who were childcare workers, you know. In addition, probably another 30 to 40 staff who have auxiliary roles.


One former Prefect recounted what he had been told prior to his starting as a Prefect at the age of 22: The advice I was given when I went over there first, make sure they know who is boss and your job was to keep control. There was very little support, I might add.


He went on to explain why he and his colleagues used physical punishment on a regular basis: Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I suppose the lack of support for ourselves. There was the big numbers and a small amount of staff, there was only three staff at that time. [The absence of training] was a disaster ... you were only going on instinct at that time.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
  3. This is a pseudonym.
  4. Law Commission of Canada: + Institutional Child Abuse – Restoring Dignity Pt II Responses ‘Guiding Principles’at p 7.
  5. This is a pseudonym.
  6. This is a pseudonym.