The Visitation Report for 1949 was critical of Br Percival for being over-severe in the administration of discipline in the classroom. He was in Letterfrack for six years during the late 1940s and mid-1950s.
The 1949 Report stated: Discipline in the school is good, and is maintained without undue severity. Br Percival has been over severe at times. The Superior has spoken to him about the matter, and I also made mention of it. He seems to be sincerely determined to have no relapse.
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.
A complainant who was resident in the late 1940s said that he treated all the boys badly and was always picking on his brother. He used to put his brother at the back of the class and beat him. The witness also described how Br Percival beat him for failure at lessons.
The Congregation in its response to these allegations confirmed that there was a Br Percival in Letterfrack but that he had since left the Christian Brothers and therefore the Congregation was not in a position to either accept or reject the specific allegation. The response statement went on: It should be noted however that the Congregation has no contemporaneous record of any complaint having been made against Br Percival. Further, the allegation does not accord with what is recorded of Br Percival in the Visitation report of 1950. It notes that Br Percival is “sympathetic to the poor children ... in this institution”.
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.
A complainant who was resident from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s said that Br Percival was fanatical about sports and if the boys were not playing well he would hit them with his hurley. He also said that, if Br Percival’s team lost at hurling, he would be violent towards the boys for the following week. However, he stressed that Br Percival’s bad temper was not limited to the sports field. He said that Br Percival was very severe in the classroom as well. He used to beat the boys for talking or failure at lessons. He described one particular incident where Br Percival beat a boy, who had to wear callipers, for talking in class: This day he took this lad who was talking in the class, and he said, “get out there”. [The boy], had callipers on his legs, he could hardly walk. When he got out he just gave him a dig with his fist, knocked him to the floor and jumped on him like he was a bag of potatoes. That lad was in callipers.
Another complainant confirmed that Br Percival would be in a bad temper and mistreat the boys if his team lost at hurling.
A complainant who was resident in the late 1940s, who did not identify Br Percival in his original statement, gave evidence that he was quite good at handball and that one evening Br Percival told him to play with him against the cobbler and the tailor. They lost and Br Percival slapped him across the mouth. He later offered him a glass of lemonade but he couldn’t drink it as he was too sore.
Br Percival spent a total of six years in Letterfrack. Having completed his teacher training he returned to Letterfrack for a year before being transferred to a day school in Dublin. He applied for and was granted secularisation in the late 1950s.
Br Percival was an unstable man who should not have been teaching or caring for children, particularly in a residential school like Letterfrack where his propensity for violence could extend beyond the classroom and where the children had no parental protection. Br Percival’s irrational and unpredictable behaviour generated fear and insecurity in the boys, who found it impossible to avoid punishment. Br Percival’s violence was known to the authorities in Letterfrack, and the fact that he was allowed to remain for so long is evidence that preventing this kind of abuse of power and trust was not a priority. The Congregation’s attempt to defend Br Percival by reference to a favourable Visitation Report was not balanced, as it should have been, by making reference to the other, unfavourable Report.