One of the most important staff positions to be held in Ferryhouse and Upton was that of the Prefect. Fr Stefano,1 former Resident Manager in Ferryhouse stated, ‘there was a manager ... and the next people ... on the care side were the Prefects’. While the Resident Manager had responsibility for the running of the Industrial School itself, the Prefect was in charge of the day-to-day care of the children. As one witness explained, ‘The Prefect was in charge right through the day and right through the night, you know’.
Fr Stefano4 was appointed as Resident Manager of Ferryhouse in the mid-1970s. He detailed in his evidence what staff were available to him at that time. What he described was typical of the previous decades in Ferryhouse: In the community when I arrived, I had a bursar; I had three Prefects, one for each group; and I had an assistant, a student, and a Rosminian student who was studying for the priesthood and he was there as well and he would help out in different units at different times. I had the farm manager. There was a retired gardener, a Brother who died shortly after I arrived there. I had another Brother who was helping in maintenance. There was a Brother who was in charge of the community kitchen and there was a mission secretary – that was a priest who worked full-time for the Missions raising money for our African Missions and he lived with us.
Fr Stefano, therefore, had three Prefects to call upon to take care of over 150 boys. His other staff, although involved in the running of the School, were not directly involved in the day-to-day care of the boys. Throughout its history, Ferryhouse used only a small number of staff to take care of the boys. It is a fair estimate that less than 20% of the religious Community present in Ferryhouse had a direct role in the provision of care to the boys:
|Year||Number of boys resident||Total number of Rosminian Community||Number of prefects||Prefect/boy ratio|
Fr Stefano18 said that he thought that there were a number of cases of excessive punishment.
Br Tomasso said that, as a student residing in Upton in the 1950s, he had been told that Br Constantin had been removed for interfering with the boys. He had also heard that Br Fausto was engaged in similar activities. Fr Stefano said that he had heard from Br Romano52 that Mr Vance had been interfering with the boys.
In January 1982, the Department of Education issued Circular No 9/82 that prohibited the use of corporal punishment in national schools. On 7th May 1982, Fr Stefano, Resident Manager in St Joseph’s, Ferryhouse wrote to the Department on the issue of corporal punishment: While the general practice, philosophy and ideas of the school would be against the use of any form of corporal punishment, nevertheless, because of the nature of the work in which we are involved, there may be certain occasions when the Manager or his Deputy (Care or Education) might feel that some form of corporal punishment should be used.
Various officials in the Department considered Fr Stefano’s letter. One such official, a Miss Ní Fhearghail, set out her views on the issue of corporal punishment in an internal memorandum dated 11th May 1982 and entitled ‘Corporal Punishment in Special Schools’. She wrote: ... in my view Circular 9/82 only covers the conduct of the children while they are in the national school. It does not cover out of school activities. Even within the school the Rules which were approved under the Act may hold precedence. I think we would need to consult the Chief State Solicitor.
However, the issue lay dormant in the Department for a number of months until March 1983, when Miss Ní Fhearghail, in a memorandum addressed to Mr Ó Críodháin, noted that Fr Stefano never got an answer to his query. Mr Ó Críodháin referred the matter to Mr MacGleannáin who, by memorandum dated 14th April 1983, replied: This matter needs to be cleared up. I think policy should be to prohibit corporal punishment. Undoubtedly, however, members of staff in these schools have to restrain youngsters physically and a thin line divides physical restraint from corporal punishment.
On 3rd August 1983, the Department of Education passed on to Fr Stefano the advices received from the Deputy Assistant Chief State Solicitor. They wrote: The present Rules and Regulations for Certified Industrial Schools were approved by the Minister some fifty years ago and have, to a great extent, become out-moded in practice. I would be grateful if you would give earnest consideration to the question of statutory Rules for the conduct of your school and would draw up a schedule of Rules deemed appropriate. It would be helpful if a copy of these draft Rules were forwarded to the Department not later than the 30th September, 1983.
Fr Stefano gave evidence that nothing was done about this request. The School was being rebuilt, and the management were apparently too busy to respond.
In July 1989, a draft Circular (1/89) was prepared which, on the face of it, imposed a ban on the use of corporal punishment in industrial schools operating under the terms of the 1908 Act. In evidence, Fr Stefano said he had no recollection of ever receiving this circular. He believed that, if he had seen it, he would have remembered it, and would have discussed it. He presumed he would have ceased the use of corporal punishment. Fr Stefano said that, when the 1989 draft circular first came to his attention at a recent meeting in preparation for his evidence to the Commission, they carried out an extensive trawl through the Ferryhouse documentation relating to this period, but failed to disclose the original.
The disclosure occurred when two boys who had absconded from the Institution were hitching a lift. The Resident Manager, Fr Stefano, saw them on the road, picked them up and brought them back to Ferryhouse. As they travelled back to the School, one of the boys broke down, and told Fr Stefano that Br Bruno ‘was at him’. This had an immediate impact on Fr Stefano and, when they got back to the School, he brought the boy to his office, cautioned him about the seriousness of what he had said, and sought details from him. The boy stuck by his story and said that another boy would confirm what he was saying. He said that Br Bruno had started to abuse him when he was in his unit, but that the abuse had continued when he was transferred to the senior group.
The other boy was sent for, and Fr Stefano described how ‘the two boys sat in my office and unfolded to me a most horrific story of what had been happening to them’. The boys told Fr Stefano story after story of cruelty and abuse. The worst, as far as he was concerned, was the abuse of one of the boys during the Pope’s visit to Ireland in 1979. The whole school went to see the Pope in Limerick, except for one of the two boys who was not allowed to go because of his record of absconding. Br Bruno volunteered to stay back and supervise him. The boy told Fr Stefano that, when the rest of the boys left, ‘this Brother came and raped me in my bed’.
Fr Stefano said that he had never suspected Br Bruno; indeed, he found him a very enthusiastic member of staff. His dedication to the work seemed unquestionable: ‘this was a man who seemed to be the last in bed and the first up every day’. Nevertheless, when the allegation was made, Fr Stefano began to see it all very differently: ... the picture that comes to mind always to me is of a huge jigsaw puzzle that you are reasonably happy with but that there is a piece missing and while I had no suspicions of him, the minute those words were spoken, it was as if somebody had put the final piece in the jigsaw and all these activities that he was involved with started to make sense.
The same night that the boys disclosed the abuse, Fr Stefano drove the short distance to Glencomeragh to report to the Provincial. He returned to the School where he met Br Bruno the next day. Br Bruno initially denied the allegations but, when he was told that the boys were willing to confront him, he confessed. Br Bruno left the School and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Dublin. Shortly afterwards, he was dismissed from the Order.