The Visitation Report of 1936 gave an early indication of the problems that were to dog the School until its closure. The Report spoke highly of the Superior, Br Rene5, but expressed concern that he was over-burdened, as he appeared to be running the School single-handedly. Br Rene asserted that, out of a Community of seven Brothers, only two were ‘active members’. The Brother appointed as Disciplinarian was entirely ineffective and was unfit for the task. As a result, it fell to the Superior or one of the lay staff to perform this function. On the few occasions on which it fell to the Disciplinarian to perform his role, the result had been ‘incidents and acts of insubordination on the part of the boys’, which the Visitor attributed to lack of tact on the part of the Brother. Despite the lack of involvement by the majority of Brothers in the Institution, they took umbrage when the Superior appeared to attach more weight to the opinions of the secular staff.
In 1939, Br Pryor was appointed Superior, and Br Rene assumed the role of Sub-Superior. The new Superior was 72 years old. He was described in a Visitation Report as being ‘an out and out industrial school man’. He had spent a number of years in Artane, Tralee and three separate periods in Carriglea. He had previously held the position of Superior in Carriglea in the late 1920s.
Similar criticisms were made during the Visitation the following year, in terms of the lack of suitable activities for the boys. The Visitor was disturbed to see the boys ‘sitting or lying on the concrete yard for long periods when they could be playing in the field if games were organised for them’. Supervision of the boys was too lax and they could slip away all too easily with the result that ‘a few were caught acting immorally some time back in the garden’. The Visitor suggested that monitors be placed in the toilet area and that a tighter rein be kept on the boys. It seemed the task of supervision was left entirely to one Brother, namely the Sub-Superior, Br Rene, who was at this stage under considerable pressure. The Visitor was oblivious to the toll this was taking on Br Rene, as he noted that Br Rene ‘seems to enjoy it and does not ask for any relief’. It was also clear that Br Rene exercised a favourable influence over the boys, as ‘the nice, friendly spirit of the boys is attributed mainly to his influence on them. The ex-pupils appeal to him too when they need a friend’.
In fact, the Visitation Report of 1943 painted an extraordinarily grim picture of the ability of many of the Brothers in Carriglea to carry out any duties at all. In a Community of eight Brothers and two Coadjutor Brothers, five Brothers were identified as too old or unwell to regularly carry out their religious observances. Of the remaining five Brothers, the Superior was identified as being unwell and was replaced the following year because of ill-health. The long-suffering Br Rene was indeed almost alone in running this large Institution.
By 1945, Br Rene had spent 24 years in Carriglea, holding the position of Superior for three years and Sub-Superior for a further six years. He requested a transfer to a day school, and was moved to a school outside Dublin.
Br Rene was deeply unhappy in the Congregation and requested dispensations on a number of occasions, all of which were refused.
It would appear from the documents that a request for a dispensation precipitated his transfer from Carriglea, and that the transfer was regarded as a solution to the problem. Whilst still in his next post after leaving Carriglea, Br Rene made a heartfelt plea for a dispensation in October 1946. He was at this stage almost 50 years old and had spent over 30 years with the Christian Brothers. Having spent most of his life with the Congregation, this could not have been an easy decision for him. He stated in a letter to the Br Superior that he had remained with the Congregation for so long to comply with his late mother’s wishes. He wrote: Success in striving towards our salvation is incompatible with unbroken unhappiness and agony of mind. This has been my condition so long that I can’t endure it any more and I am convinced that a complete mental breakdown is not far off. The strain is unbearable. Your reference to my work in Carriglea is kind. It is true that charitable people give me credit for what I can lay no claim to. I spent years at a work for which I was as qualified as a dock labourer – in fact probably less so. It is well known that only the useless ones of the Congregation found a place in the industrial schools. Therefore I can make no claim to merit because of the time I was there. In fact the years I spent there are an additional cause of regret to me due to my total unsuitability for a work requiring very special qualities of mind and character. Despite the opinions of at least some kindly people I know myself to have been a hopeless failure and one who should never have been placed over such unfortunate boys for whom only the best is good enough.
The Brother Provincial wrote to the Superior General on receipt of this letter. He believed that Br Rene was suffering from depression and that this was the impetus behind his application. He indicated that it was not the first time Br Rene had submitted an application and that, in the past, the matter had been defused by writing to him or meeting with him. He suggested that either a friend within the Congregation be requested to have a sympathetic talk with him, or that his application be forwarded to Rome in the likelihood that it would be refused. Br Rene’s application was unsuccessful.
Not to be deterred, Br Rene submitted a further application in May 1947. On this occasion, the Superior General of the General Council forwarded the application to Rome. In the covering letter, the Superior General stated that Br Rene was not a very well-educated man but that he had worked hard in industrial schools. He wrote that Br Rene suffered from depression and had taken to applying for dispensations when feeling gloomy. A sympathetic ear usually brought him around. The Superior General suggested that, if Br Rene was advised by the powers in Rome to remain in his vocation, he would abide by that decision.
As anticipated, the application was refused but the ploy did not have the desired effect. Br Rene was resolute in his determination to leave the Congregation. He wrote to the Superior General in June 1947 on receipt of the refusal of his application. He blamed his inability to articulate convincingly his reasons for seeking the dispensation for the refusal. He made a further poignant attempt to set out his reasons for making the request. He stated that he was profoundly unhappy and was in a constant state of anxiety and worry. He feared that he was on the brink of a nervous breakdown, having lived with this torturous state of mind for over 30 years. He argued that he was and always had been a hopeless failure at his work and that he lacked the ability to teach. He described himself as ‘a misfit in life’, becoming increasingly reclusive. He added: To my years in Carriglea I attribute my broken health principally and any thought of renewing contact with residential school work would only hasten the breakdown which I so much dread. Tis not that I despise such work, though this is the all too common attitude of the would-be snobs of the Congregation who regard such work and the men who do it as beneath them.
Br Rene accepted the decision of the General Council but his personal torment and anguish did not subside. He made a further plea five years later, at the age of 55. He referred to a previous letter from the Vicar General of the General Council and wrote: My devotion to duty to which you so kindly refer actually did much harm. Lacking every qualification for the work in Carriglea I had recourse to harshness and severity. As a result many of the past pupils have lost the faith and some are active, capable and influential communists. When these become sufficiently vocal it may be some help to the Brothers if they can say concerning me and in defence of the Congregation he is not in the Order now. I recall the relief it was to the Brothers to be able to say this about another ... years ago when a Dáil deputy spoke bitterly of the punishment he received in school from the man concerned. My utter failure in Carriglea caused me great remorse. Having no fitness for the work it was only to be expected that my efforts would result in failure and harm.
He received a reply from the Vicar General, a copy of which is not available, but it is clear from the subsequent letter of Br Rene that he was advised to discuss the matter with a priest. In Br Rene’s final appeal, dated 12th June 1952, he stated that he had first sought the advice of a priest on the matter some 30 years previously, even before he had taken his final vows, and had frequently sought the counsel of priests since. He stated: I have been told I am not normal and the attitude of others convinces me that there is considerable support for this opinion. It may account to some extent for my perplexity and unhappiness as it may be the consequence of years of effort to deal with work for which I was not fitted.
The Vicar General responded on 24th June 1952, informing Br Rene that his application had been submitted to the Sacred Congregation of Religious in Rome and that they had decided that he should remain in the Congregation. He commended Br Rene on his splendid work within the Congregation. The Vicar General conceded that ‘the nervous tension from which you have been suffering is admittedly a sore trial’, but assured him that such anguish was not confined to those within the religious community. He concluded that Br Rene should accept with resignation the decision made by his representatives. In doing so you will find your peace of mind restored and your happiness here as well as hereafter assured. Do not attempt becoming a judge of your own case. That would be the height of folly.
At this stage, Br Rene seems to have accepted his fate, and there is no record of any further applications seeking a dispensation. He remained with the Congregation until his death in the 1970s.
The stress and anxiety Br Rene endured whilst managing Carriglea were described in a letter he wrote to the Department of Education, responding to criticisms made by Dr Anna McCabe9 following her inspection of the School in 1939.