Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

Show Contents

Sexual abuse incident of 1954


This witness remembered very little about her schooling or the teachers, other than a climate of fear in the classroom. She attended school within the Institution. Sr Liv was the schoolteacher, and she was very strict and used a stick to slap children.


Sharon said that St Anne’s, even though it was a reformatory for girls, was wonderful in comparison to St Joseph’s. There was more freedom, she did not feel she was under the microscope. She never felt safe in Kilkenny, but she did not have the same feeling in St Anne’s. The transfer papers had described her as ‘not of previous good character’, yet the Sisters in St Anne’s never made her feel like that. In St Anne’s, she was recognised as a person. As an example, she described the following: In a little way ... that I was walking on my first walk and Sister Ellen12, who was in charge, actually took my hand. I can never forget that moment because on the one hand what was so sinful in Kilkenny, well maybe that is going too far but I wasn’t allowed to do that and here I was in St Anne’s and Sister Ellen took my hand.


She was introduced to the world of books in Kilmacud and became an avid reader in later life, despite having been classified as almost illiterate in Kilkenny. The food in St Anne’s was not good but, because she was happy there, it did not seem to matter.


She is close to her sisters. She only found out in recent times that her older sister had been abused by Mr Jacobs in 1954, and that would have accounted for the complainant’s removal from St Joseph’s. Her younger sister remained in Kilkenny.


In their Submission, the Sisters of Charity disclosed that the current leadership of the Congregation first heard about the Jacobs case when they were shown documents discovered by the Department of Education in the course of investigating a complaint. Sr Úna O’Neill stated: There is no record of any kind in any of the files of the Sisters of Charity regarding this matter and they were not aware of what had happened until the Commission made the file available for inspection to the Congregation’s Solicitors in 2001.


The Sisters of Charity submitted their observations on the case. Their position was defensive. In relation to the discovery of abuse by Dr McCabe, they stated: Even Dr Anna McCabe with her medical training, expertise and the high reputation for professionalism which she appears to have earned within the Department (in the opinion of the current Secretary General), had to persist in her interviews and questioning before evidence of abuse emerged.


From the documents, however, it would appear that the abuse emerged in the course of very gentle questioning that did not depend on medical training and expertise. Dr McCabe was thorough and prepared to coax and listen: the Sisters allude to this approach as ‘persistence’.


The Submission went on to state that there was no evidence that the Sisters were ‘anything other than totally co-operative throughout Dr McCabe’s investigation’. Given that the investigation was into the serious sexual crimes against eight- and nine-year-old children in their care, nothing less than total co-operation would have been expected.


The Submission further asserted that, had the Sisters themselves discovered Mr Jacobs’s abuse, they would have acted as decisively as they did when it was brought to their attention by Dr McCabe. The documents indicated the abuse was indeed brought to their attention by one of the little girls, and she was not believed, and her complaint was dismissed by both Sr Stella and Sr Tova.


The Submission concluded: In these circumstances any adverse finding against the Sisters or criticism of them would be unfair and unwarranted.


This Submission was prepared in 2006. It did not address the appalling plight of the children who were abused by Mr Jacobs; it did not examine the attitude of the Sisters in seeking to remove the victims to a reformatory; it did not question the integrity of Sr Tova, who gave one account to Dr McCabe about the complaint made to Sr Stella, and a completely different one to the Department officials and the parish priest; it did not acknowledge the damage done to these children by the sexual abuse and its consequences, which included the children being isolated from their friends and removed to reformatories. Far from trying to help these damaged girls, the Sisters chose to dispose of them as bad influences. With their removal, the whole episode was expunged from the history of St Joseph’s.


The nuns investigated the sexual behaviour among the girls and identified those involved, but did not take the next step of asking why this behaviour had happened. They blamed the children for immorality but did not follow up the inquiry as Dr McCabe did. This abuser had been employed in St Joseph’s for 30 years before his activities were revealed, but the 1954 episode was treated as a single episode, and the full extent of the sexual abuse of the children was not established and no attempt was made to do so. Notwithstanding the more progressive attitude the Sisters had towards childcare, they were still unable or unwilling to believe the child who complained about Mr Jacobs. Dr McCabe uncovered the serious sexual abuse going on in St Joseph’s by listening to the children. The attitude of the Sisters appeared to be to blame the children for having been abused by Jacobs, and they sought to have them transferred away from the Institution. No lessons were learned from this incident. The risk that unsupervised access posed to the children, particularly by male employees, was never acknowledged or addressed. No procedures were put in place and no warnings given to staff about listening to children who complained of sexual abuse. This was to have serious consequences less than 20 years later, when two dangerous sexual abusers were employed in the School.

Alleged sexual abuse by a foster family


Annette13 was resident in St Joseph’s, Kilkenny from the early 1950s to the early 1960s. She was three months old when admitted into care.


She described growing up in St Joseph’s as a sad and lonely existence. She was never treated with kindness or respect. The nuns told them they were the children of prostitutes. The staff were cruel. She was often locked up in a cubby hole as a punishment for talking in the dormitory at night, so she learned not to speak. It was a frightening experience, and she was afraid to do anything other than pray to get out. She was often hit with a leather strap.


She was in the ‘red set’, a less favoured group in St Joseph’s. She thought the food was horrendous: she described getting cocoa, and lumpy porridge for breakfast. She never felt full and was always aware of being hungry. She liked school, however, and was a good student.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
  3. This is a pseudonym.
  4. This is a pseudonym.
  5. This is a pseudonym.
  6. This is a pseudonym.
  7. This is a pseudonym.
  8. This is a pseudonym.
  9. This is a pseudonym.
  10. This is a pseudonym.
  11. This is a pseudonym.
  12. This is a pseudonym.
  13. This is a pseudonym.
  14. This is a pseudonym.
  15. This is a pseudonym.
  16. This is a pseudonym.
  17. This is a pseudonym.
  18. This is a pseudonym.
  19. This is a pseudonym.
  20. This is a pseudonym.
  21. This is a pseudonym.
  22. This is a pseudonym.
  23. This is a pseudonym.
  24. This is a pseudonym.
  25. This is a pseudonym.
  26. This is a pseudonym.
  27. This is a pseudonym.
  28. This is a pseudonym.
  29. This is a pseudonym.
  30. This is a pseudonym.
  31. This is a pseudonym.
  32. This is a pseudonym.
  33. This is a pseudonym.
  34. This is a pseudonym.
  35. This is a pseudonym.