Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

Show Contents

Sexual abuse incident of 1954


There was no explanation offered for the account given by Sr Tova to Dr McCabe, which corroborated the child’s story that she had told Sr Stella what had happened.


Dr McCabe asked to interview the two girls for whom the application to transfer was made, and she interviewed the older of the two, who was almost 16 years old and who was working in the laundry to keep her away from the other children. She could not elicit any information from her.


Dr McCabe then discovered that the Resident Manager had already transferred the second girl to a reformatory in Limerick. This child had told one of the Sisters that her uncles had been interfering with her before she had come to St Joseph’s. In an account of this, the nun in question stated: Then I discovered that for two years prior to her coming here she had on countless occasions indulged in sexuality with her two uncles and with other boys. We got none of those details about her when she was being committed to the school. I reported the matter immediately to Mother Vera6 who took action.


This was the child who had been described as a ‘bad type’. The Reverend Mother had telephoned the Good Shepherd Convent, a girls’ reformatory in Limerick, and had asked that the child be taken immediately. Dr McCabe advised the Resident Manager that what she had done was illegal and she had no authority to transfer the child without Departmental permission.


On receipt of Dr McCabe’s report, a number of Department officials met and made the following proposals: (1)Dr McCabe was asked to visit Kilkenny and confer with the local parish priest or administrator who might wish to bring it to the attention of the Bishop. (2)The Resident Manager was to be advised to dispense with the services of the painter with least possible delay. (3)To advise the Resident Manager to immediately request the return of the child who had been transferred to St Joseph’s in Limerick without sanction.


The memorandum setting out these proposals went on to state: When these matters were dealt with and a further report from Dr McCabe received after her interview with the ecclesiastical authorities, the question of the transfer or the disposal otherwise of the two girls can be considered.


Statements were taken from three of the Sisters in charge of the group about the type of immoral conduct they observed over the period leading up to the investigation by Dr McCabe in November 1954. It appeared that, over a period of six months, these Sisters had noticed changes in the behaviour of some of the children. In May 1954, one Sister had observed some of the little children out of their beds at night without their night dresses on. The instigator appeared to be an ‘older’ child, who was eight years old. She reported the matter to her superiors and to a priest. The children were punished, and were given stern lectures, and matters appeared to settle down in that dormitory.


Nothing further happened until the next August, when she discovered two children had been sleeping together and, a fortnight later, heard a child refer to two girls ‘going out with each other’. At this point, she questioned the children closely, and discovered that one of the children had been sexually abused by her uncles before coming to St Joseph’s.


Sr Tova then took up the story. She said that, as soon as she discovered the child’s sexual history, she arranged for two Sisters to accompany her to Limerick, and wrote to the Department for sanction for that transfer, and for the transfer of an older girl to St Anne’s, Kilmacud. This precipitated Dr McCabe’s investigation and the revelations about Mr Jacobs, which she confirmed came as a great shock, as he had been working in the School for 30 years and ‘no-one had ever suspected him’.


When speaking to Sr Tova, Dr McCabe dismissed the behaviour of the other children as childish playing and did not think it merited any further action. The Sisters, however, wanted all the children concerned transferred out of St Joseph’s. A few days after Dr McCabe’s visit, one of the children was found ‘doing an immoral act in the playground before young children’, and this confirmed the Sisters in their view that all of the children involved should be transferred out of St Joseph’s.


A meeting was held on 5th November 1954 attended by Mother General, the Reverend Mother, Dr McCabe and the Assistant Secretary to the Department. From the account of this meeting, it would appear to have been a damage limitation exercise on the part of the Sisters.


The Mother General and the Reverend Mother informed the meeting that they were satisfied that, apart from the Jacobs affair, things were not as bad as originally thought. The matter had been brought under control by the removal of certain girls, diligence on the part of the Sisters, and the fact that, as a result of the group system, the ‘evil had not extended beyond a single group’. They also said that ‘the affair in which XX had been concerned with Mr Jacobs had occurred in the summer of 1953 and not, as had first been thought, during last summer’.


In a complete contradiction of what had been reported by Dr McCabe, the Sisters then said that Sr Stella had not been informed that relations with Mr Jacobs ‘had gone beyond him giving her sweets’. The Sisters accepted that Sr Stella should have had her suspicions aroused when she discovered the young girl in tears so soon after being given sweets by Mr Jacobs.


The meeting was then joined by the local parish priest, Fr Curran.7 He had read Dr McCabe’s report. He attempted to make light of what had happened, asserting that ‘the happenings concerned were such as frequently occur in girls’ schools throughout the country’. The account of the meeting stated: We did not accept this view, and on Dr McCabe’s pointing out that a peculiar vicious aspect of Jacobs depravity was that he had entered upon his misdeeds with malice aforethought, Fr Curran admitted the heinousness of Jacobs offences, but continued to make light of the misconduct of the girls amongst themselves. It had become evident that Fr Curran’s stand was to prevail upon the Department not to take steps that would bring Jacobs into Court. On the Assistant Secretary enquiring further in this regard, Fr Curran stated plainly that he would appeal to the Dept not to take any measures with regard to Jacobs.


He appealed to the Department on the grounds that, although Jacobs deserved penal servitude, the court case would bring the convent into great disrepute, and the children involved would have to give evidence, and this would do them immense harm. Mr Jacobs had been dismissed immediately following Dr McCabe’s disclosure: The Reverend Mother here confirmed that she had paid Jacobs and dismissed him, on that day, but without giving him any reason ... Jacobs had, she said, received his dismissal in silence.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
  3. This is a pseudonym.
  4. This is a pseudonym.
  5. This is a pseudonym.
  6. This is a pseudonym.
  7. This is a pseudonym.
  8. This is a pseudonym.
  9. This is a pseudonym.
  10. This is a pseudonym.
  11. This is a pseudonym.
  12. This is a pseudonym.
  13. This is a pseudonym.
  14. This is a pseudonym.
  15. This is a pseudonym.
  16. This is a pseudonym.
  17. This is a pseudonym.
  18. This is a pseudonym.
  19. This is a pseudonym.
  20. This is a pseudonym.
  21. This is a pseudonym.
  22. This is a pseudonym.
  23. This is a pseudonym.
  24. This is a pseudonym.
  25. This is a pseudonym.
  26. This is a pseudonym.
  27. This is a pseudonym.
  28. This is a pseudonym.
  29. This is a pseudonym.
  30. This is a pseudonym.
  31. This is a pseudonym.
  32. This is a pseudonym.
  33. This is a pseudonym.
  34. This is a pseudonym.
  35. This is a pseudonym.