Although the Congregation reiterated its apology of 29th March 1998 in its Opening Statement, the only concessions it made with regard to physical abuse in Tralee were that occasional lapses in the administration of punishment did occur and that there were five documented cases of severe punishment in the records. In four out of the five documented cases, the Congregation suggested that the matters were dealt with appropriately. Only in the case of Br Marceau, dealt with below, did the Congregation concede that his withdrawal from the School ‘was long overdue when it occurred’ and ‘the delay in taking firm action casts a shadow over the good work accomplished’ by the Brothers in Tralee.
Br Marceau was acknowledged by the Christian Brothers as having been ‘in serious difficulty’ regarding excessive corporal punishment before being assigned to Tralee in the early 1960s. He had had a long history of inflicting excessive corporal punishment and had even received a Canonical Warning because of it before arriving in Tralee. Although he was not a trained teacher, he taught in several schools, both day and industrial, between the late 1940s and the late 1960s. His extraordinary progress from one Christian Brothers’ school to another, despite his severe problems, was an illuminating one, and can be accurately followed because of the rare amount of explicit detail and criticism found in the correspondence about him.
After Br Marceau was professed, his first posting was to a day school in Dublin, where he taught the infant class for seven years from the late 1940s.
He was then transferred to a school in the Midlands. A Visitation Report for that school in the late 1950s gave the first indication of a potential problem about his over-severe use of punishment: Br Marceau is a most energetic teacher and his pupils have made unusually good progress, nevertheless, the parents do not seem to have sufficient confidence in him. He was a little too severe, but he has overcome that difficulty and realises the ill-effects severity could have in a school of that kind.
The next Visitor, 10 months later, found further fault with him. He wrote: The Superior considers him as lacking in common-sense and to be unpredictable. He has been slack in carrying out directions given by the Superior. In this he does not seem to act through malice but through lack of understanding ... It is difficult to persuade Br Marceau that he is at fault in any way. He has, however, promised to do his best to comply in every way with the Superior’s wishes.
A letter written in the early 1960s to the Superior followed up these criticisms by offering advice on how to deal with him: In the case of Br Marceau we consider that encouragement from time to time will help him. He feels isolated in the sense that he is not a qualified teacher. He does useful work but it seems he has not much common-sense. While encouraging him and being kind to him, which you are, it will be always necessary to be watchful lest he act foolishly. Insist on his carrying out your directions and curb his tendency to excessive interest in matters outside the scope of his own duties.
This advice, however, had been overtaken by events, as the Superior had written to the Provincial about Br Marceau the previous month and, in this letter, more specific complaints were made. The letter referred to two complaints by parents about excessive corporal punishment of their children, and went on to express the belief that the Brother would not change, and therefore should not be in charge of boys at all. The details contained in the letter were so explicit and disturbing that it merits being quoted in full: My v dear Br. Provincial I regret to have to report to you a case of excessive corporal punishment by Br Marceau. The mother of one of his pupils, aged 8 years came to me to-day and showed me the back of the child’s hand with lumps on it caused by a stick. She had already brought him to the Doctor for a certificate. The Doctor, she said, told her it was not the first case he had come across of excessive punishment administered by this Brother. The mother also told me she was awaiting the return of her husband from Dublin, before taking action, I presume - legal action. Last year, I had the humiliating experience of seeing the father of another boy, whom Br Marceau marked, take down his son’s pants in our parlour and show me the weals on the buttocks and legs. I did not report to you at that time as the father said he would let the matter end there and through charity, I gave Br Marceau a severe lecture and he promised me it wouldn’t happen again. On the present occasion, to-day, I have again spoken in no uncertain manner to the Brother. He told me he was sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again! I fear this Brother won’t be taught a lesson until he finds himself in Court. I don’t think he is fit to be in charge of boys at all, much less boys of five to nine years of age. I shall be grateful if you will advise me on this matter.
The evidence against Br Marceau was mounting. Not just parents but the local doctor had also come across cases of severe beatings by him. The Provincial’s response was immediate. In a letter dated the next day, he wrote: My very dear Br. Superior, I very much regret the trouble that you are having over Br Marceau. There is little excuse for treating children as he has done. I sincerely hope that the parents will not bring on a court case. You must prevent that at all costs. We shall have to deal with this case as it deserves. This is the third such case that we had to deal with in recent times, and any one of them could have done very considerable harm to the Congregation if publicised. Please send Br Marceau here on Friday evening and if in the meantime anything further transpires you can let us know.
The Superior arranged for Br Marceau to report to the Provincial, but also sent the Provincial a letter the following day to warn him that Br Marceau would try to minimise the whole thing. It pointed out that Br Marceau had deliberately cut his cane in half to make it appear it was a light cane, and again reiterated that the Brother ignored instructions and remained a danger to boys. Again, the detailed nature of the criticism warrants the letter being quoted extensively: My very dear Br Provincial, I thank you for your letter received to-day. I shall send Br Marceau on the train, leaving here at 3pm. He should be in Dublin at 6.30 pm. I have not heard anything further from ... the mother of the boy in question. She told me that her husband ... was in Dublin and would not be back until Friday. Meanwhile the boy has been kept from School. I should like to point out that Br Marceau will probably try to minimise the whole thing, with you. He has always adopted this attitude with me. “I only gave him a tip”. I consequently insisted on his coming to the parlour on each occasion and seeing the results of the “tip”. If I didn’t, he would say I exaggerated the whole thing. I assure you, I saw the weals on the body of the Solicitor’s son and now on the hand of [this boy] I demanded the stick from Br Marceau and when I received it, it had been cut in two. I got half a stick. I may be wrong in thinking he deliberately cut it to make it appear it was a light cane. Finally, Br Marceau has not much sense or judgment and is capable of doing the most foolish things. As I stated in my last letter, he is a danger to boys. He will tell you he is sorry as he told me, but it happens “again”. Br Cheyne (ex novice master) told me of another case of a boy here in [name of town] who was severely punished by Br Marceau. He asked me not to say anything to Br Marceau about it but warned me to be careful in watching Br Marceau in this respect. I have forbidden Br Marceau on more than one occasion, to use a stick or leather. He ignores my directions completely.
The Provincial saw Br Marceau and informed the Superior of the precise outcome in his letter: My very dear Br. Superior, We had Br Marceau before the Council this morning, and we have given him a Canonical warning in writing which is a very serious thing for him but there was nothing else that would be of any use and that the position had become serious. We explored every avenue to see if we could transfer him somewhere else but we just did not find it possible as he has no qualification for the ordinary schools and we had upset the others so much. Waterpark was a possibility but on account of the precarious position there in finance and in numbers we could not risk putting him in charge of the young children there just now. I expect however that he will do well with you now as he has been made to fully realise the seriousness of his position. I hope that the matter will end without court proceedings. If you can, get the child back to school.
The Christian Brothers no longer have a copy of the Canonical Warning issued to this Brother, but its ineffectiveness soon became apparent. Less than nine months after the Canonical Warning, the Superior had to report further transgression. He wrote to the Brother Consultor: My v dear Brother Consultor, Br Marceau is again in trouble. Last night, a [parent] called on me. He charged Br Marceau with pulling hair out of his son’s head. I brought Br Marceau to see the son and hear the charge. Br Marceau denied it and [the parent] called him a “liar”, and said he believes his son, who on being questioned would not admit the Brother did it until he was assured there would be no fear of consequences on telling the truth! [The parent] said on leaving, he would take his own action next time it happened – he would not go to the Superior or [text illegible] into Br Marceau’s room and deal with him, not with “Kid gloves” either. I intended investigating this matter to-day (Sat), but had not time, as Monsignor O’Byrne called in. I am inclined to believe [the parent]. I may be wrong, of course. Anyway Br Marceau told me to-day the two ... boys in his class should be put out until such time as their father apologises! I had reason a month or so ago to talk to Br Marceau on another matter and he accused me rather passionately of exaggerating things last year to you and the Br Provincial. In all, he is the “innocent” one, and we are all against him. He believes this and though he has zeal and works hard, he has no common sense. I mentioned some time ago when writing you, that I have still to face angry parents and submit to insults. I am not going to interview another parent who comes to complain about Br Marceau. I am sick and tired of it all. Please do not write to him on the matter. He will deny everything. And I shall appear a “greater” enemy in his eyes.
There is a note of despair in the letter. The Superior’s many pleas for action to be taken had come to nothing and now Br Marceau was shifting the blame onto him. His apparent helplessness is puzzling: faced with continued violence against his pupils, he seemed to have no power to do anything but complain. It seemed he did not even have the power to suspend Br Marceau.
He had also seen a young boy too frightened to blame Br Marceau for fear of punishment for telling the truth, yet his major concern was not for the boy. His letter was above all about his own dilemma of how to cope with Br Marceau and other potentially irate parents.
The Brother Consultor’s reply was also despondent and gave no expectation of prompt action. He wrote: My very dear Brother Superior, We are indeed sorry to learn that Br Marceau has occasioned more trouble for you. At your request, I shall not write to Br Marceau about the matter for the present. You are requested, however, to try to get, if possible, the correct version of the incident that caused the complaint. The matter can then be raised at Visitation time or before then if necessary.
Unable to deal with Br Marceau, the Superior’s one hope was to get the Visitor to take action. By return of post, he protested that he had already got the truth of the matter, and he gave further details. He went on to implore the Brother Consultor to remove Br Marceau from the School: My v. dear Brother Consultor, I thank you for your letter received to-day. I was indeed sorry to have to write you again about Br Marceau, but I could not help it. He will never learn his lesson. I interviewed this young boy ... aged nine, today. He states Br Marceau pulled hair out of his head, for doing the wrong sums. I asked him about other boys probably seeing it and he said that they may have. I don’t want to question other boys in Br Marceau’s class. I asked this young boy too if he was asked since Friday – the day it happened, about the matter. He told me Br Marceau said that he [the boy] was telling lies and he admitted it, but it was true that Br Marceau pulled his hair out, as he did in June, when his mother complained. Why should this boy make up the story or why should his father come here in such a violent temper? Br Marceau still maintains he did not pull his hair out, and wants me to take some action against the father of the boy for his “threats”! Incidentally, I warned Br Marceau not to talk to the boy about the incident and yet I have it from the boy as also from Br Marceau that he questioned him again yesterday. After this incident of punishing last year, the then Br. Provincial wrote me that he contemplated sending Br Marceau to Waterpark but there were difficulties. In view of the past history; I expected Br Marceau would be transferred in Summer. I wrote you on this matter since Summer. Believe me, there is nothing personal in this. I am writing in the interests of the School, as well as in Br Marceau’s interest. He would not make a good impression if there was a Court Case. I have forbidden Br Marceau to use a leather and it possible he is using his hands now. I heard him at times shouting at these unfortunate children. He has done a lot of harm to the School by his severity. He really is not responsible; for, his IQ is that of a young child. In conclusion; this is the fourth complaint and I hope the last here; but I doubt it. If there is another, I am not meeting the people concerned. They may go where they like with the complaint. I suggest transferring Br Marceau at Christmas; it may be easier then. If you have no Brother, I could try and get a lady teacher. Please do not take me as dictating to you, but I see no Solution except a transfer. You could ask Br Reymond or any Brother here about Br Marceau. Br Reymond also agrees with me that this Brother is not responsible. He is a bit mental. As I stated already, your writing Br Marceau will not help. He is denying everything; so it is his word against a boy’s. As regards the mark in the head of [the boy]. I examined it and it is about the size of a sixpenny piece. It is not noticeable with the rest of the hair pulled over it.