Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 1 — Institute of Charity

Show Contents



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.


Another former Prefect, who worked in Ferryhouse for periods during the 1960s and 1970s, complained about the long hours required for the job. He was exclusively in charge of 100 boys, for 24 hours a day, and had limited time on his own. He had just reached his twentieth birthday and had been appointed straight into Ferryhouse in the 1960s as a Prefect. He found his experience of being Prefect ‘difficult to cope with’. He agreed that trying to control 100 boys made him feel ‘like a sheepdog’. He had no previous experience of any kind in relation to boys in care. When asked how he was trained for the role of Prefect, he replied: Well, you would have just learned from Br Benito.2 He was there before me and, you know, you would have fed into a system in some sense. Albeit there was never any written, any programme as such, you know, of what you should or shouldn’t do, like ... Yeah. It was learned on the job, really, I suppose, yeah.


One Prefect, Fr Antonio,3 spoke about the difficulty he encountered when he was appointed Prefect when he was a young member of the Rosminian Order. A small number of Prefects were required to look after a large number of boys for 24 hours a day. He stated that this system was never questioned by any of them: I don’t think we had the courage to do it or the maturity to do it, personally speaking I wouldn’t have had the maturity to do it at the time to even question it. Your work was your prayer and you did what you were told to do, you were told you would get religious if you did all your work.


He explained that the pressure could lead to excesses of punishment: [Was there] physical abuse and that kind of stuff? I’m sure there would be because the frustration would have been there, if you are going to lose control, fear comes in. As time went on things would have improved a lot, but things would have got out of hand, certainly.

  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.