Our Lady of Good Counsel, Lota was founded in 1938 as a school catering for children with learning disabilities. It continues to be managed by the Brothers of Charity. Among its other services, the Congregation also operates a similar facility located at Holy Family School Woodlands, Renmore, County Galway.
There have been six separate investigations by An Garda Síochána into allegations of sexual abuse of the residents by members of staff of Lota.
Two Brothers of the Congregation were convicted of crimes of sexual abuse of children resident in Lota in the period 1952 to 1984.
In 2002, evidence was taken from three complainant witnesses and three respondents, two of whom had been convicted of sexual abuse offences and a third Brother of Charity respondent who admitted a single incident of sexual abuse while working in Lota. This chapter is based on evidence from those hearings and an analysis of discovered documents.
The Congregation of the Brothers of Charity was founded in Ghent, Belgium on 28th December 1807 by Canon Joseph Peter Triest, with the purpose of taking care of elderly men at the Byloke Hospital in that city. After three years of setbacks, the Novitiate started in 1810, and the first Brothers of Charity took their vows on 26th November 1811. Within a decade, Canon Triest and his Brothers had set up several charitable services that they would develop worldwide. The special aim of this Congregation was the sanctification of its members in the religious state by the exercise of works of charity, which, in the spirit of its founder, embraced every phase of moral and physical suffering and want. They tended the sick, sheltered the poor, cared for the aged, provided for those with learning disability, and raised orphan children. They opened their first service in Ireland in 1883 to provide for mental health needs.
In the beginning of 1938, the Chief Inspector of Mental Hospitals announced his retirement, and before he left office he expressed his wish that the Brothers of Charity would open a second centre in Ireland for the treatment of educationally disabled juveniles with special educational needs. The Central Administration of the Brothers of Charity, who were already operating a psychiatric hospital in Belmont Park, Waterford, were initially reluctant to become involved because they were already overburdened with debt through subsidising a number of their houses in Ireland and the UK. Pressure was brought to bear on the authorities, who eventually agreed to give permission to start the work, provided the cost was borne by the Province in Ireland.
It was decided to base the centre in the diocese of Cork, and, after initial reluctance, the Bishop of Cork agreed to allow the Brothers to enter the Diocese. Suitable premises in Glanmire were identified, and the Brothers formally took possession of the buildings on 19th November 1938. It was officially opened in December 1938 and the first Superior was installed. He named the foundation ‘House of Our Lady of Good Counsel’. The houses needed a considerable amount of work, and it was not until March 1939 that the Minister for Local Government and Public Health approved the Institution. The first patient was admitted on 11th April 1939 and, by the end of the year, they had 18 patients in residence.
The services of the Congregation of the Brothers of Charity for people with learning disability and their families have grown steadily over the years, and today the Congregation is the largest provider of services for people with learning disability in Ireland.
The motto of the Brothers of Charity is ‘Deus caritas est’, God is Love. Their mission is ‘caring for people whose human dignity is threatened through disability, age, poverty etc’.
When a Brother of Charity is professed, he takes the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
In a document published in 1948 entitled ‘Practices and Customs’, the Congregation set out the aims, objects and works of the Congregation. In the section ‘Education of Youth’, it set out the Constitution, and then detailed what was expected of the Brothers involved in the education of children. It is clear that the danger of Brothers becoming inappropriately involved with their pupils was present in the minds of the authorities: 38. Though we must love our pupils we must not become too attached to them. We must never let our affection degenerate into particular friendship for one or more children; never must we allow ourselves to be led into dangerous intimacies. The moment such preferences becomes apparent to the other children they will at once feel slighted and neglected. It is certainly permissible to give praise where praise is due, but external marks of tenderness are unbecoming in a religious. He ought always to remember the gravity and modesty which befit his state and never allow a child to touch him familiarly or caress him.
In 1957, the 1922 Constitution of the Brothers of Charity was revised, following the agreement of the General Chapter. Chapter 20 deals with the vow of chastity: 215.By their vow of chastity the Brothers forego marriage and every satisfaction contrary to the virtue of chastity. 216.With the help of God’s grace, they shall be most careful in preserving unsullied the beautiful virtue of chastity. 217.To that end, far from admitting in their conduct anything likely to bring suspicion upon themselves in this matter, they shall carefully guard against harbouring in their minds any thoughts contrary to this eminent virtue. 218.They shall observe sobriety in eating and drinking, for intemperance leads to sensuality. 219.Everywhere, but principally in going through the streets, they must prudently guard their eyes, knowing that it is often through these windows, that the enemy carries death into the soul. 220.Let them earnestly study to avoid in their manner all forwardness and levity, observing in their whole conduct the rules of christian modesty, since, according to the holy Fathers, modesty is the guardian of purity. 221.Therefore, all familiarity, all particular friendship between Brothers, novices or postulants, is strictly forbidden. For the same reason, they must never jostle, wrestle, indulge in horse-play or in any action whatsoever likely to take away or lessen the mutual respect due to each other, for the proverb says: If you would be respected, begin by respecting yourself. 222.A great circumspection and discretion should be observed in their conversation, be it at recreation or elsewhere, to avoid anything that might cause disedification. 223.This circumspection, indispensable among the Brothers, is a thousand times more so when they are with strangers or with persons confided to their care, such as old men, sick and insane persons, and principally children. He who should be unfaithful to this regulation and not fear to be the subject of scandal, is unworthy of the religious garb. 224.For this reason, it is strictly forbidden to play with a child in too free or familiar a manner, to be alone with a single child in a lonely place or in a room with closed doors, even with the view of giving him instruction, reprimand, punishment etc. 225.The Brothers, inspired by a wholesome fear, will ever be on their guard against the attractiveness of children, their cajolery and flattery, being fully persuaded that in this matter, the best children are the most dangerous. 226.They shall very carefully avoid giving the impression of having among their pupils what are called pets or spoiled children. 227.The Brothers are strictly forbidden to inflict corporal punishment on any of their subordinates, whether children or others, without the express permission of the Superior 228.As regards the bodily care or medical treatment which they may be obliged to administer to children or other persons under their care, the Brothers shall do nothing before consulting their Superior, who will judge whether such attentions or treatment had not better be entrusted to the physician or surgeon.
In the material discovered to the Investigation Committee are documents entitled ‘Regular Visitation’ in the houses of St Joseph’s Province. The impression is given that an annual visitation was carried out in Lota. However, the paucity of records has made it impossible to establish whether in fact such visitations occurred annually. There are very few documents relating to management of the School and the living conditions within it. What records are available focus on matters of finance, building development and the like. A fuller discussion of these Visitation Reports is given below.
In the early years, there was a mixture of children and adults residing in Lota and, although there was a school, it was not officially recognised by the Department of Education. Some qualified teachers were recruited in the early 1950s in order to obtain recognition from the Department, and this was granted in 1955.
Between 1951 and 1953, there was a rapid expansion in numbers, and new buildings, considered to be innovative at that time, were constructed. They comprised three large, detached, single-storey buildings known as pavilions. They were quite a distance apart and separate from the main building. They each housed approximately 60 boys.