Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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There was a conflict of evidence between Sr Viola, the senior diocesan nun, and Sr Serena, the local head, as to the latter’s role in monitoring Sr Lucilla. Sr Serena testified that the only brief she had was to befriend Sr Callida and encourage her to become closer to the Community. She denied that she was ever asked to report specifically to the Diocesan Leadership about whether or not there was any substance to the rumours about the drinking. The Congregation has submitted that there was a system for monitoring Sr Callida but, for unusual and unexpected reasons, the system failed.


The problems that faced Mr Lloyd, when he arrived in Cappoquin in the early 1990s, clearly did not arise overnight. The problems were long standing and had deteriorated steadily over the years. It was well known amongst staff and members of the Congregation that the Resident Manager was drinking heavily. A number of Sisters believed that the drinking began after the death of a pupil in the late 1970s. She had been spoken to a number of times about the matter. The Resident Manager was in denial and, when one particular lay staff member complained to her about alcohol consumption on the premises, she was dismissed. Certainly, by the mid-1980s the leaders of the Community had expressed concern to the Superior of the convent about the Resident Manager’s drinking, but it took the resignation of two young lay staff members in the early 1990s to force them to address the issue properly. The mid-1990s


The Superior General of the Sisters of Mercy, kept a detailed diary of the events that unfolded over this period and recorded allegations, complaints and concerns about Sr Callida.


In the early 1990s, Sr Callida told the Superior General that she had obtained a position with the Health Board in a project involving the care of a young man. The Superior General informed the Health Board of her concern about Sr Callida’s suitability for the post because of the complaints that had come to her notice, including information from Mr Lloyd. In the course of the resulting Health Board investigation, it emerged that one of the Board’s own senior social workers had given Sr Callida a glowing reference, even though he knew that she had been dismissed from her job in Cappoquin.


The Health Board did not look beyond the social worker’s reference and offered Sr Callida the job. This happened, despite the fact that the Chief Executive Officer of the Health Board had been informed in the early 1990s of Sr Callida’s dismissal, and she herself had been in communication with the Health Board disputing her removal. The social worker should not have given the reference and was seriously at fault in doing so. The Health Board should have been able, from its records, to notice the discrepancy between the favourable reference and the fact that the candidate had been dismissed from her previous post.


Sr Callida left the Congregation in the mid 1990s. Shortly after that, the Superior General was asked for a reference for the former Sr Callida, and she recorded her response in her diary: Phone call from XXX in Dublin looking for a reference for [Callida]. Asked the nature of work – laundry for hospitals. Told her she had been a member of the congregation. She asked what was my connection with her – diocesan superior. I said that I believed she was a hard worker when in hospital for the elderly. She said I seemed hesitant. Told her I did not really know [Callida].


In the late 1990s, the matron of another institution contacted the Sisters of Mercy to complain at the failure of the Congregation to inform her fully of Callida’s background. A senior member of the Congregation testified that the overall policy with regard to references was that of being honest and upright.


Sr Callida was an incompetent manager who exhibited a lack of basic management skills including rostering, proper record keeping, communicating with staff and children, consistency and avoiding favouritism. Each of these deficiencies would have represented a serious flaw in a Resident Manager but, taken together, they constituted a disastrous mixture. She consumed alcohol in front of the children to excess and she was drunk and incapable on occasion. Her behaviour was unpredictable and irrational; she bullied the staff and occasionally beat the children. Sr Callida exposed children to additional risk by going away unannounced leaving the children in the charge of junior staff who had no way of contacting her and also by permitting male outsiders to have access to the home and to stay overnight even when she was not there. It was wrong for the Resident Manager to have children sleeping in her bedroom and for her and the Sister with whom she was conducting a relationship to take children away for weekends to hotels to stay in ‘family rooms’. Congregation witnesses admitted to some knowledge of Sr Callida’s behaviour, but did not feel they could do anything about it, and the situation drifted on over 12 years until it developed into a crisis. There was no proper supervision of the Manager. The Community did not have the interests of the children as their priority. Any action taken by the Congregation focussed exclusively on the Resident Manager. The children were not considered. The Health Board neglected its supervisory function in respect of children for whom it was responsible. One of its senior Health Board officials permitted his friendship with the Resident Manager, to cloud his judgment, and he failed to recognise gross failures of management as a result. No proper reviews were carried out by the Board’s social workers. The children in Cappoquin were let down and endangered by each of the institutions and agencies in whose care they were placed, by the persons in positions of authority over them, and by persons in supervisory roles. They were fortunate to have care workers who were more dedicated to their tasks and more committed to the interest of the children than their superiors.

Physical abuse


In their Submission to the Investigation Committee, the Sisters of Mercy stated that the Committee was not in a position to reach firm conclusions on allegations of physical abuse ‘as distinct from the reasonable use of corporal punishment’ where the events alleged arose over 35 years ago. They accepted that corporal punishment was used in Cappoquin and ‘regret its use and its impact on the children’.


From the total of nine ex-residents who appeared before the Committee, the majority described one or more incidents of physical punishment.


A witness, who was admitted to Cappoquin as a baby in the early 1950s, described how a particularly severe beating by one of the Sisters destroyed his trust in the adults who were looking after him. He was in bed and was naked because he had been treated with ointment. One of the lay staff gave him a painting set, which he used to colour two religious statues in the room. He recalled a nun (Sr Adriana he thought) coming into the room and: ... she kind of lost reasoning and, I suppose, from her point of view I was desecrating something very religious but from my point of view I was just painting, you know. She just kept hitting and hitting and wouldn’t stop. So, I ran for the door ... I was running in the dark, I just wanted to get away, I was just running in panic. She just kept hitting, and coming after me down the stairs ... and I kept banging on the door and banging and banging until somebody actually came out and she just kept hitting and hitting until somebody came out and stopped her ... Up to then I would have to say while I got a clout every now and again for not doing something or you got a slap, but it wasn’t with viciousness, not in the same way with viciousness, this was just temper let loose. I don’t know if that person, to me, even if they said sorry, I wouldn’t have understood it, I really wouldn’t have.


The Sister beat him with an ordinary, classroom cane, but it was much worse than punishment in school: It was a cane. About two or three feet long, made of bamboo, with a kind of bend on it like that (indicating) ... they used to use them in the classroom for striking the boards or tables or hitting somebody. But when you have a naked child and you stand back at two or three feet and let fly as an adult the cane doesn’t stop when it hits the flesh, it cuts, you know.


Although this witness was only six or seven when this incident occurred, he was able to distinguish this beating from the ordinary corporal punishment he received from time to time in the School. He had been slapped with the cane before, although it had not been a common occurrence. The beating had a lasting effect: After that I would say that the trust had gone out, the trust had gone out of it. You never, ever would allow people get that close to you and you were always looking for a way out. If somebody raised their voice or anything you would instantly go into fear because I didn’t understand, I didn’t understand the power behind it. I am trying to explain that as a child when somebody does that to you it is the sheer power and the frightedness of it that kind of haunts you, it comes back to you and when any other adult raises their voice the next you expect is the assault coming behind it ...


His recollection of Cappoquin was that younger nuns could not challenge older nuns, even if they saw something wrong: It gave that person then the power ... There is no system, nobody said stop if an older person done something. That’s the way it was, they seemed to rule it, you know.


He described the nun who beat him as being ‘very domineering’, and said that the person who stopped the beating had not challenged her for what she was doing.

  1. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
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  21. This is a pseudonym. Sr Lorenza later worked in St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny. See St Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny chapter.
  22. Mother Carina.
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