Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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Sr Serena did not see her remit as extending to the children in the group homes. She stated that she was the leader of the Community in Cappoquin, and also had teaching duties in the local secondary school, but did not regard the running of the homes as something she was concerned with. She visited Group Home A very regularly, as her friendship with Sr Callida grew, and even helped out with homework occasionally, but she never saw her role as any more than that of a visitor.


At first, Sr Serena felt she was resented by the children and by Sr Callida, who were still feeling the loss of Sr Melita. By degrees, however, she built a close relationship with Sr Callida: Yeah, the friendship between us developed. Yes, it took almost a year, I think, before – well, it took her a long time to warm to me, as well, because I think Sr Melita was a good friend of hers and I felt Callida probably missed her a lot. And it would have taken Callida a long time to get to know me as well. So, it didn’t happen overnight, it was a process over really the first year, I think. The first year.


After that first year, she began to spend more and more time with Sr Callida: Sometimes I went down – this is later on now when I got to know her quite well and we became quite friendly. We would go down and we would go out socialising, the two of us, away from Cappoquin. We would go out and have a drink or two. I would have a drink and so would she.


They would both return to the group home after a night out, and Sr Serena stayed with Sr Callida overnight.


Sr Serena confirmed that the children were left under the care of a lay worker during these excursions.


The two Sisters also went away for holiday weekends together: There were some weekends. With Sr Callida, yeah, there were some weekends that we went away. I remember – and I remember some of the children coming with us. Two or three weekends through the time that I was there. But not all of the children. There would be three or four children with us ... Well, the place I remember is [Kerry] ... [The hotel] had special – at least I was told they had special bargains, or whatever. So it was generally, as far as I remember it was [a] hotel in [Kerry], yeah. There were good weekends I thought. I thought they were good weekends.


Sr Serena conceded that it was unusual for a Sister in a Community to go away for the weekend with another Sister, ‘Well, you know, I know it wasn’t right. It wasn’t’.


As her relationship with Sr Callida developed, she became more compromised: As I got to know Sr Callida a bit better it began to interfere with my job as local leader. Because I felt within myself a great discomfort that I was not doing what I should have done. I felt sometimes as time went on, that I was living a lie and that made me extremely unhappy within myself. That is one of the huge difficulties, looking back on my time in Cappoquin, that is one of my great sorrows, that is why I asked the Community, especially on one occasion, when Cappoquin was closing down; I asked for their forgiveness, I felt I let them down. In fact, I felt I let everyone down, including Sr Callida and Viola.


Her ability to do her job was affected: Well, I suppose, I felt I compromised myself and therefore I didn’t have the freedom, maybe, to – let me think about that now. I sort of lost my independence and my right to be independent and, therefore, I really I felt I had no voice anymore and no authority over anything really, including the community. The community were extremely kind and very – I don’t know what they understood, I never asked them, but they were extremely accepting and forgiving, I suppose, and kind. But I was deeply unhappy within myself for a long time towards the end. For a long time. And I suppose, yeah, I was. That has lived with me ever since.


When asked what the sleeping arrangements were for the children that accompanied them on these weekends, she said that they all shared a family room: Well there were small double beds, so there would have been – if there were three or four of them they would have been two by two, two by two in the beds and Sr Callida and I would have shared the main bed. So we would have all been in the same room.


Sr Serena was remorseful for letting down her Community and Sr Viola and Sr Callida. She was asked whether she felt she had let the children down, ‘I suppose I didn’t – I wouldn’t have seen it like that’.


She admitted that her relationship with Sr Callida prevented her from seeing how bad things were in Group Home A, and it also lost her the trust of the staff there: I thought initially that I got on well with the staff, because we used to chat and talk around the table and obviously they lost any confidence – they knew I didn’t have a role there but at the same time they lost any confidence I think or any trust they had in me, which was absolutely understandable. That was quite significant because when we did have a meeting eventually it really went nowhere because they had lost trust in me. And I accept that.


Throughout the first three years of her time in Cappoquin, Sr Serena was in almost daily contact with her immediate Superior, Sr Viola, who taught in the same school: That’s another place where I reneged my responsibility because I was torn between loyalty to Viola and the Congregation and loyalty to Callida. So because I was carrying so much self-blame and shame and guilt and all sorts of things around my role – or myself, I tended to shy away from talking about things like that to Viola. So that’s why I said a minute ago that I failed Viola as well.


The result of this conflict of loyalties was that, when Ms Waters, the House Mother of Group Home B, came to her with serious complaints about Sr Callida in the late 1980s, she did not tell Sr Viola but tried to deal with the matter herself. She failed dismally, and Ms Waters went over her head to Sr Viola, who came and interviewed staff and removed Sr Callida from her position as Resident Manager.


Sr Callida’s removal came as a shock to Sr Serena, who claimed that she had no idea that things had deteriorated as badly as they had by the early 1990s. However, she knew of the problems that caused so much distress to the staff. She was aware that some ex-pupils regularly stayed overnight in Group Home A, and she was also aware that these men were sometimes drunk and would be dangerous around young children. She was also aware that Sr Callida absented herself from the home for long periods and that she regularly drank, sometimes in the company of Sr Serena. What was clear from Sr Serena’s evidence was that she never considered the safety or welfare of the children in Group Home A. She professed herself as shocked at the evidence of the care workers who described conditions as dirty and neglectful. In her own evidence, she said that she considered the children were ‘spoiled’: If I had seen anything, if ever I had seen anything in relation to the children in Cappoquin that worried me or upset me, because I was a teacher and because I had care for children, I would have been very – I would have done something about it. But I didn’t see anything. I didn’t see anything that really concerned me in relation to the staff treating the children, or anyone treating the children badly.

  1. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
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  21. This is a pseudonym. Sr Lorenza later worked in St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny. See St Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny chapter.
  22. Mother Carina.
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