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Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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Sexual abuse incident of 1954


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.


When the suggestion was made by the Department that the Bishop should be informed, Fr Curran was strongly opposed to this move, as his Lordship was old and deaf and the affair would upset him. He agreed to accept full responsibility for this decision, should the Bishop ever learn of the affair. He undertook also to interview Mr Jacobs and intimate to him that he was not yet out of the woods, and that everything would depend on his future conduct. He said he would, ‘Put the fear of God into Jacobs’.


The Department officials were impressed with Fr Curran: Fr Curran is obviously a very sensible and shrewd pastor and on consideration for his years we felt that a visit on our part to the Bishop was not called for. We agree also to recommend that no steps be taken towards a prosecution of Jacobs.


The meeting then had to decide how to deal with the children involved. The whole matter had originally come to light because of a request for a transfer of two children because of immoral behaviour. It was decided that these two children, together with a third girl, should be removed – two to their families, and one to St Anne’s Reformatory in Kilmacud. It was felt by the Sisters that, with the ‘ring leaders’ gone, the rest of the children would forget the episode, although strict supervision would now be necessary, particularly during meal times.


The Reverend Mother then called in the four Sisters who had charge of the children and, in the presence of Dr McCabe and the Assistant Secretary, she praised their devotion but advised them and, in particular, Sr Stella that they needed to be much more vigilant and enquiring when it came to the children.


The Departmental officials recommended a course of action to the Department. By letter dated 10th November, the Resident Manager was notified that one girl could be transferred to Kilmacud Reformatory and two others returned to their parents and grandparents.


On 28th November 1954, the Mother General of the Congregation wrote to the Assistant Secretary of the Department to thank him for his kindness: I shall never forget your kindness during your visit to Kilkenny, and you may count on my poor prayers. Please God, the unpleasant affair is closed forever and we shall hope that there shall never be a repetition.


The matter of the children abused by Mr Jacobs was not addressed by that meeting. The Resident Manager continued to correspond with the Department about the four girls who had been identified as having been abused by Jacobs, in order to have them transferred from the School, in the interests of the other children. She wrote two days after the meeting: The other three children ... have still fresh in their memory the experience they had with Mr Jacobs in 1953. They also know about each other’s contact with him, which shows they must have and probably still are discussing this matter among themselves.


It does not appear from the records that the permission was granted, as three of their names appear seven months later in a report to the Chief Inspector by Dr McCabe dated 22nd June 1955. The Reverend Mother General had asked Dr McCabe to meet her in Milltown in Dublin, at the headquarters of the Congregation in Ireland, to discuss the situation in Kilkenny where, once again, she was concerned about the behaviour of six of the girls. These six girls were aged between 9 and 13, and two of them had revealed to Dr McCabe the previous November that they had been sexually abused by Mr Jacobs. They were now seen as a corrupting influence on the rest of the children, particularly their own siblings in the School. The Reverend Mother told Dr McCabe that she was concerned that the six girls were continuing to corrupt the little ones, by giving them bad example at every opportunity. Dr McCabe was surprised as to how this could be the case if the children were contained in one group. She was informed the problem arose at recreation time when the groups mixed. Dr McCabe’s report was summarised in the Department of Education submission: The Rev. Mother claimed that these children were “misbehaving themselves with each other and with the small children”. They were, she said, “giving bad example” ... They were said to have taken girls from another group, brought them up into the fields and taught them “wrong in the grass”. When the Sister-in Charge inquired into their behaviour, one of them remarked, “It was no harm”. Mr Jacobs, the painter dismissed by the school the year before, had said that he was “an old man and it was no harm” ... Much of the “bad behaviour” came to light as some of the girls were preparing for their first Holy Communion and though, when questioned, there were many “denials”, one child told the Rev Mother that [named child] was “doing it constantly”. For her part, the Rev Mother considered 11-year-old [named child] “the most hardened”.


This characterisation of the child as the most hardened was offensive and unjust, having regard to the brutal and invasive sexual assaults she had suffered.

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