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Chapter 14 — John Brander

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His career in the Christian Brothers is summarised in a letter from the Provincial to the Superior General of the Christian Brothers: My most dear Br. Superior General, On Friday April 5th Br [Lessard],2 Principal of our Primary School CBS James’ St came to St. Helen’s and gave me in his own handwriting the following charges of improper conduct on the part of Br. [Brander] with boys of his own class. Br [Lessard] interviewed the boys and wrote down what they had to say. I enclose the statements of the boys concerned. I called Br. [Brander] to St. Helen’s on Saturday and read for him the charges made. At first he would not admit the charges. Then I gave him the names of the boys concerned and again read for him each charge. He again denied them in general but admitted those made by [two boys]. He said that [three other boys] formed a clique from the slum district. Br. [Lessard] stated that those boys were told by their confessor to report the matter to him. Br [Brander] then fell back on the excuse that he did not think it was harmful to touch boys in the manner complained of, externally and that he did not think that the boys noticed it. I told him that he would have to get a canonical warning and that we could not allow him in future to have any contact with boys as it would be dangerous for himself and for the boys. I recommended him to look for a dispensation and this he eventually agreed to do. He asked what work could he do if he were not allowed to teach and he was told it was difficult to say what kind of work might be available except perhaps working in a garden. I allowed him to walk about for an hour to ponder over the matter. He was then satisfied to seek for a dispensation and said that he should have gone long ago. He asked me were there any complaints from the secondary boys and also wished to know if [Father Brian]3 had written to me about five months ago to request that he, Br [Brander] be allowed to teach the bigger boys. He is and has been teaching sixth standard. He said that his attraction is towards smaller boys and not towards those of the other sex. This is the third occasion on which such charges have been made against Br. [Brander] but on the first occasion [in the 1940s] he did not get a canonical warning. He got one on the last occasion which was in [the early 1950s]4 when he was in Mullingar CBS To-day, Sunday April 8th I had a phone call from Br [Brander] to say that he had seen [Fr. Brian] and that he is seeking a dispensation. He will send it to me in an enclosed envelope so that it may be forwarded to Rome. I have transferred him from CBS James’ St to [a Community residence] where he will await the dispensation. I told him that if he wishes he could state that he was seeking the dispensation on account of moral dangers to himself and to the boys. With kindest regards and all good wishes ... Br [Derbec]5 PS The Council agreed by 3 votes to 0 that Br [Brander] be recommended to seek a dispensation.


One of the boys who is referred to in this letter made a statement to the Gardaí around the time of Mr Brander’s most recent conviction: In my last year in CBS James’ St it was common knowledge that Brother [Brander] was interfering with other boys. I personally was never touched by Brother [Brander]. Back then ... it was a common thing for Brother [Brander] to keep one of the boys back after class.


He mentioned two boys as coming to mind and continued: but I cannot be sure if Brother [Brander] interfered with them or not. I remember the talk about Brother [Brander] at that time was that he would come up behind the boy he’d keep back after school and touch him and ask the boy if he had any marbles. I remember soon after I left CBS James’ St a group of us boys that had finished school went to see the head Brother. I can’t remember the head brothers name at that time, it may have been Brother [Lessard]. I remember we told the head brother about imoral things Brother [Brander] was doing. The head Brother brought us into a room and I remember he gave us cigarettes. He took us very seriously and told us that we may have to repeat what we had told him and that he would check out what we told him. I never heard anything from that head brother afterwards.


When it was confirmed that Br Brander would seek a dispensation, he was transferred to a Community residence in the west of Ireland to await completion of the formal process of dispensation. Br Gibson, giving evidence on behalf of the Congregation, said that he could not shed light on the reason for his transfer to this Community or say whether this was an unusual occurrence. He said that it might perhaps have been to get him out of his environment or to keep him away from his ministry.


The application for dispensation was ultimately granted by a bishop, in whose episcopal jurisdiction Br Brander was now resident. By this means, Br Brander was able to leave the Congregation apparently of his own volition and with an unblemished teaching record.


Mr Brander took up the position of principal of Lanesboro NS, Co Longford on a Monday, having been dispensed from his vows the previous Friday. The question arises as to how he was able to secure this position, and who aided him in obtaining it. No documentary evidence was available to the Investigation Committee, in the form of a written reference or otherwise, to throw light on this disturbing matter.


The Congregation was aware of the criminal nature of such assaults and that the Christian Brothers ‘could not allow him in future to have any contact with boys’, but did nothing to prevent him doing so and continuing to teach. Neither the Department of Education nor the Gardaí were informed of Mr Brander’s sexual abuse of children. By not informing the relevant authorities, the Congregation facilitated his access to more children. Lanesboro NS, Lanesboro, Co Longford , May 1957 – September 1960


Mr Brander remained principal of Lanesboro NS for over three years, until he moved to take up a position in Ballyfermot NS, Dublin. No documentary material is available to explain the circumstances of his departure from Lanesboro NS but, at his sentencing following his second trial, Mr Brander admitted abusing boys in this school. In addition, a Garda statement made by a former pupil contains allegations of physical and sexual abuse against Mr Brander while a teacher in this school. Ballyfermot NS/ Banrion na nAingeal, Ballyfermot, Dublin, September 1960 – January 1964


Mr Brander was appointed to Ballyfermot NS initially as third assistant teacher and, later, as vice-principal. In a letter to the Department of Education, Fr Harry,6 the school manager, sought approval for the recruitment of additional teachers, and advised that Mr Brander had the highest qualifications and would be an excellent vice-principal when the numbers justified such an appointment. Mr Brander left the school in the mid-1960s, having been absent due to illness for two months.


A letter from solicitors acting for a former pupil, some years following Mr Brander’s last conviction and addressed to the Board of Governors of the School, complained that while this man was a pupil in this School in the 1960s he suffered an indecent assault by Mr Brander. The letter stated that a complaint was made to the school authorities at that time, and no action was taken other than Mr Brander was moved from his class. The solicitors were advised that there was no record of this complaint or of any investigation.


An affidavit of discovery sworn on behalf of the Board of Management for the purposes of this Inquiry states that there were no documents recording any contemporaneous complaint. Rath Mixed NS, Ballybrittas, Portlaoise, Co Laois, January 1964 – June 1966


Mr Brander took up the position of principal at this national school in the mid-1960s. A parent complained to the Department of Education about Mr Brander’s excessive corporal punishment of her children: Dear Sir, I received a letter from your office ... accompanied by the regulations concerning corporal punishment in primary schools. I did not at the time send you any more details regarding the infliction of unnecessary punishment on schoolchildren as I really thought that matters would improve after the Manager ... had spoken to the principal concerned. Now I regret to say I have reached the end of my patience [I have five children attending Rath NS] their ages ranging from 13 yrs to 5 yrs. The three oldest aged 13 yrs, 11 yrs & 9 yrs are at present in the classroom attended by Mr [Brander] (Principal) and I do not hesitate in saying that my heart is broken simply trying to get them to go to school at all. This state of nerves on their part has been brought about through fear. Last week my eldest son ... returned to school after being absent 8 days as a result of severe flu when his temperature reached 104 degrees. Against my better judgment and the advice of our family doctor I sent him back to school and on his second day back he was subject to a severe beating on the head, and to day he has come home from school with the top of his small finger on the left hand showing definite bruising after being given 6 slaps with a hazel stick. Last week I made a complaint to the manager and he promised to talk it over with the teacher. All I can think now is that he hasn’t honoured his promise. During the end of last year it would be roughly around early December my little girl received 19 slaps from Thurs to Tues inclusive and also the side of her neck had severe bruising after which I wrote a letter to Mr [Brander] asking him not to have it happen again, however this request also seems to have been ignored and in my opinion it is time something was done to improve conditions for the pupils at Rath NS. It is not one of my principals to make trouble for anyone and I regret very much having to set down those complaints at all, but as I have already said something will have to be done about the aforesaid conditions. To conclude I can safely say that I am not the only mother who is having the same trouble, however it is up to the others to make their own complaints. Thanking you in anticipation and trusting there can be some amiable agreement reached on the subject. Yours ... [P.S. May I add that all this punishment is being given for mere failure at lessons which to me seems most unnecessary as I myself spend almost every evening from tea-time to bed-time helping the children in every way possible and I always make sure that all homework is duly done by them.]


She included in the letter the name and address of the local doctor.


Her complaint was acknowledged by the Department and forwarded to the School Manager, who was the parish priest, for comment: I am directed to enclose for your information extracts from a letter received from [the mother] ... regarding the treatment of her children pupils in the above-named school, by Mr. [Brander] principal teacher in the school. It appears that [she] has already brought the complainant to your notice. Please say if [she] has presented her complaint to you, and if so, please state what action, if any, you have taken or propose to take in the matter. I am also to request you to be so good as to obtain from Mr. [Brander] a written statement in regard to the matters referred to in [her] letter and to forward the statement, together with your own observations thereon, to the Department. Mise, le meas,


The School Manager responded as follows: Dear Sir, I am forwarding Mr. [Brander’s] report on the case of complaint by [the mother] of cruelty to her children. I think her complaint is very much exaggerated & Mr [Brander] is a very good and conscientious teacher. Signed ....

  1. This is a pseudonym.
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  4. He was again transferred to another primary school St Michael’s CBS Inchicore. He remained here for one month and then moved to CBS James’ St.
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  11. Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.
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  22. Irish for ‘This is a very good teacher: he has qualifications in Irish’.