Br Sorel15 worked in Letterfrack during the same period and he gave evidence to the Investigation Committee. He had a vivid recollection of Br Percival who arrived in Letterfrack at the same time as him. Br Sorel remembered him as very harsh and as someone who punished severely. He tended to overdo it and would hurt the boys. He said that he could hear Br Percival in the classroom overdoing it with the strap. He would hear the noise of the strap on the hand. Br Percival was noisier than anyone else. Br Sorel said that there was a rule that they were not allowed to punish for lessons. However, Br Percival punished boys for minor misdemeanours. He recalled that, one night at tea, one of the Brothers, Br Noell,16 reprimanded Br Percival for being overly severe. A number of boys reported Br Percival to the Superior for his severity in the dormitories and, as a result, he was removed from dormitory duty and was replaced by Br Sorel, who was asked by the Superior to take over.
It was regrettable that in its response the Congregation chose to quote from the 1950 Visitation Report, but ignored the 1949 one which is quoted above and which referred to Br Percival being ‘over severe at times’. The complainant in this case came to give evidence in the belief that his allegations were regarded as ill-founded. The Congregation’s failure to address these allegations properly was all the more regrettable in circumstances where a serving member of the Congregation, Br Sorel, could have given a first-hand account of his experience of Br Percival. Fortunately, Br Sorel was available to give evidence.
Br Sorel was a teacher in Letterfrack from the late 1940s until the late 1950s. He also worked in the dormitories. He said that Letterfrack was a harsh place: The whole experience. I cannot justify it. It was too strict and the lads were great that they were able to accept it and come through it ...
According to Br Sorel, absconders were treated particularly harshly. Their heads were shaved and they were often forced to march around the yard in silence during recreation periods. They were also forced to sit with their backs to the screen during the weekly cinema performance. He described this as a fierce punishment because the weekly film was so eagerly anticipated by everybody in the School.
Br Sorel made the shocking admission that he forced a boy to eat his own excrement. The boy was not a complainant to the Investigation Committee but the incident was recounted by a complainant who had witnessed it. The Brother in his written response to the Investigation Committee accepted that the allegation was true. In evidence he told the Committee: Well the ... thing has haunted me all my life. It should never have happened. Actually he didn’t eat the excrement, he spat it into the basin, that doesn’t matter, it was wrong, totally wrong, and I accept that. I accept full responsibility for it. It was cruel.
Another form of punishment that was not in dispute was hosing boys with cold water. A resident in the 1950s said that Br Sorel punished bed-wetters by hosing them down. A similar punishment was described in the late 1960s for boys who had tried to abscond. Respondents confirmed this evidence. Br Sorel said that he did so for hygiene reasons, but he accepted that other Brothers used it as a punishment and that it was totally wrong. Responding to the suggestion that people were brought down and hosed as a punishment, not for the purposes of hygiene but as a specific punishment, he said: I think that was true in other case with some other Brothers, I think that was done as a punishment. I think it was totally wrong ... Looking back, the whole thing was horrific for me and I am sure it was for the boys.
However, during the private hearings, Br Sorel, who was present during the 1940s and 1950s, admitted to punishing boys for bed-wetting. He stated that: That was one of the worst and soiling the bed. This is the thing that used to break my heart in the morning when I came down to the dormitory, they had Macintosh sheets, large ones on the bed, and then they had the ordinary sheets over the Macintosh sheet, you would find three or four of the lads would not alone wet the bed but soil the bed. I was really tearing my hair out at that stage.
The Superior did not reveal to the other Brothers the reason for Br Jean’s sudden departure. Br Sorel who served in Letterfrack at the time was angry: At the end of the year we were told that he was fired home, we were only told then by the Manager that he had been abusing two boys ... who used to go to the sacristy every night to prepare for the Mass for the next day for the Priest. I didn’t know at the time, none of us knew at the time what had been going on between himself and the two boys, ... the then Manager had said it was his duty to keep it secret and confidential. I was surprised last week when I heard somebody saying that everybody knew it, they didn’t. The boys didn’t know it because I would have found out easily from a number of the lads if that had happened.
As was customary with all such responding statements, this one was signed by a Christian Brother, in this case Br Sorel, who was quoted above as having been angry that he was not informed earlier of the reason why Br Jean was removed and that he found out only at the end of the year. Br Sorel also stated that in preparing the response he had liaised with members of the Leadership Team, who furnished him with relevant information from the Congregation’s records. The Brother who was the Superior of Letterfrack at the time of the departure of Br Jean was available for consultation when the response was prepared. It was unfortunate in these circumstances that the response statement did not give the reason for the departure of Br Jean. In the result, the Committee was given an inaccurate statement by the Congregation, and the victim of Br Jean’s activities was given the impression that his account was not believed.
The witness was certain that this Brother’s name was Andre, but he was unsure whether he was a full-time Brother or a relief Brother. Br Sorel said that this Brother was well known for approaching boys and asking them about sex: He had that reputation, Br Andre, of doing that particular thing, of talking about the facts of life, so I presume that the lads themselves must have told him ... It was a normal thing even before he came to Letterfrack, he was well known amongst the Brothers in Scoil Mhuire, Marino for doing the same thing in class ... Talking about the facts of life. It was a kind of a joke amongst us, “he is at it again” ... We thought it was unnecessary. That’s what we thought, we thought it was unnecessary. Fellows – normal fellow going to school get these facts of life from their parents. That’s how we looked upon it and as a result we were maybe cynical about it.
Br Sorel said that he was aware of the possibility of peer abuse. He recalled one incident where one boy tried to anally rape another boy. That boy reported the matter to Br Guillaume, who punished the offender in front of the other boys in the washroom. He feels that this beating ensured that the message got through to the boys that they were not to engage in such activity.
This matter was again raised in 1951, when the Visitor noted: Some of the children are extremely young when admitted to the institution and Br Sorel has frequently to perform duties which properly speaking should be done by the Matron ... I was given to understand that the Matron was unwilling to look after the very young children.
Br Sorel who had charge of these infants spoke to the Committee of the strain he was under in caring for them, which he described as ‘over-challenging and over-frustrating’. He said that ‘There was many a night I went into bed and cried my heart out inside in bed for various reasons’.
Br Sorel said that, when he told the Manager about the difficulty he was having, the Manager said: ‘we can’t do anything about it, do the best you can. That’s what I was told, “just do the best you can.” That was as much sympathy as I got’.
The smaller boys were occupied repairing mattresses or darning and, according to Br Sorel, they were ‘happy doing anything’.