The Institute of Charity was founded by Antonio Rosmini-Serbati in 1828 at Calvario in Italy. It received the approbation of the Holy See on 20th December 1838 and was given the status of a religious Order. It was a society that included religious members, who took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and also lay members who shared the special objectives of the Institute. Rosmini believed in a ‘principle of passivity’, based on the consciousness of humanity’s ‘nothingness’, or its inability on its own to achieve lasting good. He had a conviction that God’s Providence guides by means of his Church and the needs of people. By remaining open, or having an attitude of ‘indifference’, as Rosmini put it, as to what work of charity was undertaken by them, the Rosminians, as they came to be known, were being guided by Divine Providence to doing lasting good for their neighbours.
One Prefect, Fr Antonio,3 spoke about the difficulty he encountered when he was appointed Prefect when he was a young member of the Rosminian Order. A small number of Prefects were required to look after a large number of boys for 24 hours a day. He stated that this system was never questioned by any of them: I don’t think we had the courage to do it or the maturity to do it, personally speaking I wouldn’t have had the maturity to do it at the time to even question it. Your work was your prayer and you did what you were told to do, you were told you would get religious if you did all your work.
The second kind was a ‘doubler’. It was made in the shoemaker’s shop from two layers of leather approximately 2½ inches wide (6.3cm) and 22 inches long (55.8cm). The two strips were sewn together and, again, one end was shaped to form a handle. Br Antonio, who worked in Ferryhouse, confirmed that coins were sometimes inserted between the two layers of leather when this strap was being assembled. He told the Investigation Committee: And they are right what they say, because I opened the leather myself and saw there were coins in the leather strap, which were stitched in the shoe shop.
The conditions within Ferryhouse, and its atmosphere, were vividly described by some of the former and current members of the Rosminian Order. One priest, Fr Antonio,2 who was there in the late 1960s and 1970s, described the grim conditions that he found prior to the rebuilding of the School. He told the Investigation Committee: Things were very Dickensian in the place at the time in 1967/68 ... Things were very, very bad at that time. My first vision of the dormitory were all these beds in the big dormitory, full stretched up the whole way, and all the wet beds on one side of the dormitory which was a very Dickensian situation and a cruel situation at that time. One of the earliest memories I would have had going in there was a place at the end of the stairs and a young 12 year old would be in charge of the laundry and he would go in and take out all these shirts and bring them out and put them on the beds. A tall fella could have a shirt down to his navel and another fella could have his shirt down to his ankles. ... Some of the saddest memories I would have is of the boys who wet their bed bringing out their sheets to laundry in the morning because there was only one woman in the laundry and they used to have to bring them out.
Fr Antonio, who was in Ferryhouse in the late 1940s and 1950s, told the Committee, ‘The advice I was given when I went over there first, make sure they know who is boss and your job was to keep control. There was very little support, I might add’.
Fr Antonio told the Committee that he had requested that he be removed from the Prefect’s position. He said: I was glad to get away from the prefecting ... it was too boring and walking around just like that all day, nothing to do. I would prefer to be working, doing something.
For all these reasons, absconders were dealt with severely. When they were returned, they were usually punished with the strap, often in view of other boys, and in the earlier years their heads were shaved. At one stage, Fr Antonio informed the Committee: They used to put them in pyjamas and coats over the top to stop them running away ... Again it was Dickensian ... And there were other occasions where they were put in short pants as well.
According to the evidence of Fr Antonio, he did occasional holiday relief work in Ferryhouse from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. He later worked as Director of Ferryhouse from the early to mid-1990s. He said those who wet their beds during his time were not physically punished. That had stopped sometime in the mid-1960s. Also, boys were no longer segregated into a separate section. However, the boys who wet the beds still had to take their sheets down the old fire escape and across the yard to be washed in the laundry. He told the Committee: Some of the saddest memories I would have is of the boys who wet their bed bringing out their sheets to laundry in the morning because there was only one woman in the laundry and they used to have to bring them out.
Br Sergio had previously worked in Ferryhouse from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s. In his evidence to the Committee, he said that he had been appointed Prefect in the late 1970s, when he was given charge of ‘B’ Group, which was composed of about 37 boys aged between 10 and 12. He took over from Fr Antonio, who had been transferred to ‘A’ Group to replace Br Bruno who had left the School suddenly, as a result of the discovery of his activities as a sexual abuser. He became aware of the reason for Br Bruno’s departure ‘a week or two’ after his departure. Given the age of the boys in his group, and the length of time he was in charge, his group would have contained many of the children who were sexually abused by Br Bruno or who were aware of his activities.
Fr Valerio’s first involvement with Ferryhouse was in the mid-1950s when, at age nine, he was committed to the Institution by the courts. He remained there until the eve of his 16th birthday. He alleged in his Garda interview that he was sexually abused during his time there. After leaving, he joined the Order in the mid-1960s. He was posted to Ferryhouse as Assistant Prefect in the late 1960s. He took over charge of ‘B’ Group, which was composed of boys aged between 14 and 15 years, from Fr Antonio. At the time, Br Andino28 was in charge of ‘A’ Group, and Br Leone was in charge of ‘C’ Group. As Prefect, he slept in a room just off the dormitory where the boys slept. He remained in this position until he left the School, four years later, to begin his studies for the priesthood. Other members of staff present during this period described him as a hardworking albeit strict Brother ‘who seemed to me to have a great rapport with the lads in general’. He was ordained in the late 1970s, and spent the next 10 years as a religious teacher. In the early 1990s, he was engaged in parochial work in Dublin and Wales.
Fr Antonio recalled that Mr Tablis ‘was very friendly with Fr Lucio, he might take two or three of the lads off for a spin in the car and all that kind of stuff, but ... didn’t have any specific role’.
A witness who was present in the School from the latter half of the 1970s alleged that he was sexually abused by Br Bruno and Mr Ducat. Mr Ducat was a local man who used to visit the School regularly, doing odd jobs. Fr Antonio gave evidence that Mr Ducat would regularly drive the boys to concerts. The witness alleged that, on one occasion, Mr Ducat asked him if he wanted to go for a drive in his car. He said that he would like to and they went for a drive around the football field. They then left the School grounds, and Mr Ducat stopped the car on the Waterford road: He pulled his car in and he tried to get me to commit a sex act for him ... I opened the door and ran back towards the School but to my surprise I was told I won’t be going home again because I had tried to run away. Ducat had gone back and told whoever was in charge that I had tried to abscond. In fact I didn’t try to abscond. There was no point reporting the matter because there was never anything done about the matters when you reported them.
On 8th December 1994, Fr Antonio, the then Director of Ferryhouse, telephoned Mr Grey,42 Principal Officer in the Department of Education, in relation to allegations of sexual abuse made by a person who had attended Ferryhouse from 1971 to 1973. The alleged abuser was a member of staff in the School. Mr Grey’s memorandum was headed, ‘Note for Secretary’s Information “Allegation of Sexual Abuse at St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Clonmel, in 1971/1973. This school is operated by the Rosminian Fathers”’, and it was dated 9th December 1994.
The note recorded the details of the phone call. According to Fr Antonio, these allegations had been made to Fr Stefano, who was then the Provincial. The alleged abuser is not named in the note, but Fr Antonio is recorded as saying that he was a member of the Rosminian Order at the time. He had left Ferryhouse some years previously and was no longer a member of the Order.
Mr Grey recorded being told that Fr Stefano, on learning of the complaint, attempted to arrange a meeting with the person making the allegations but these attempts were rejected, and that the accuser had said he would be pursuing the matter through his solicitor. Mr Grey also recorded that the Order had held a Council meeting on 7th December 1994 to discuss the matter (see below), and that Fr Antonio was unwilling to provide further details over the phone but suggested that the Department’s Child Care Advisor should call to St Joseph’s as soon as possible, where he would be given all the information available.