SISTER XAVIERIA SUPPORT GROUP(S)
[ It is extraordinary that serious historians like Dermot Keogh, Diarmaid Ferriter or Tim Pat Coogan are still prepared to accept Christine Buckley as a credible witness and Louis Lentin's "Dear Daughter" as a credible account of life in Ireland in the 1950s. Have they weighed the evidence and come down in favour of Buckley and Lentin? Or have they just ignored the evidence?
4 December 2007 ]
(A) Group Set Up to Clear Name of Nun at Centre of Abuse Claims
Irish Times, 5 March 1996 by Kathryn Holmquist
"She's the sweetest, nicest person you could ever have. And there are lynch mobs out there saying she should be hung, drawn and quartered. It's killing me," says Alan starting to cry. "It's killing us all."
Soon, Ann and Jenny are crying too. Like Alan, they do not recognise the portrayal in the media of Sister Xavieria, the nun who reared them at St Kyran's and, treated them with tenderness and love.
In a room in the Grand Hotel, Wicklow, we are sitting looking at photographs of Sister Xavieria and some of the children she cared for at St Kyran's in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, in the 1960s and 1970s. The pictures have the feeling of intimate family photographs, informal and full of smiles, with the children looking happy and well fed. All that is missing are the parents, who gave up the children through inability to care for them or left them by, disappearing to England.
Jenny, Ann and Alan - who are showing me the photographs - are just three members of the newly formed Sister Xavieria Support Group, which is made up of more than 20 adults in their thirties, all of whom were raised by Sister Xavieria and others at St Kyran's during the 1960s and 1970s. Sister Xavieria, they tell me, became a dedicated surrogate parent to them and never lost touch or stopped caring for them, even after they had left St Kyran's to make their way in life.
Jenny, who was sent to Rathdrum at the age of three when her parents' marriage broke up and her mother disappeared, shows me a photo of Sister Xavieria tenderly holding her newborn baby. The nun attended Jenny's wedding and her babies' christenings.
Alan, who entered Rathdrum in 1965 at the age of nine when his parents "cleared off", shows me cards and letters he had received from Sister Xavieria over the years, cards whose words of encouragement meant so much to him that he has kept them.
"St Kyran's did not feel like an institution. Sister Xavieria was a loving, tender, kind person to me. I was corrected when I did wrong. But I can never recall her hitting me, although I saw her slap other boys with her hand," says Alan.
Ann was between eight and 10 when she entered the home in 1965. She left in 1975 and has no doubt she was cared for better by Sister Xavieria than she would have been if left with her father after her mother had died.
Ann mentions that she met Sister Xavieria regularly once a week up to the time of the present controversy. She cried from shock and could not see or talk to anyone for two days after hearing that Sister Xavieria was being named as the nun at the centre of the cruelty allegations in the television documentary Dear Daughter. "It's been like a death in the family for me, a bereavement," she says.
When Jenny saw Dear Daughter she had no idea that the cruel nun at the centre of it was allegedly her beloved Sister Xavieria. Instead her first thought was: "Those poor people. We were raised in an institution. Thank God that didn't happen to us."
By Wednesday of last week, however, Sister Xavieria was being identified as the cruel and abusive nun not only in the Goldenbridge case but also in allegations about St Kyran's.
Jenny, Ann and Alan immediately began telephoning each other and, by the weekend, the Sister Xavieria Support Group had been set up. So far, more than 20 former residents of St Kyran's have signed a letter for publication in the newspapers.
"We could not let the stories going around about her continue. We had to say that was not our experience of that nun," says Jenny. "I feel that I had a very good relationship with Xavieria. She was always there for me, even in aftercare. Whenever there was a problem, I knew that I could turn to her."
Jenny adds that the group is not saying there was never abuse at St Kyran's. "Another nun did slap us and hit us with keys, but we are not here to talk about that. We simply want to focus on Xavieria."
She adds: "We are not saying that everything was rosy. We are not saying that we weren't slapped. But we feel she's being made to take all the blame."
Nor is the support group trying to portray a saccharine view of Sister Xavieria as overtly affectionate. Alan describes her as a "domineering woman who knew how to get things done".
"She did slap me once," says Jenny. "But I know why she did it and I deserved it."
"She was like a mother to me. She slapped me and I knew what I got it for. I was a devil," says Ann, laughing.
They tell of her going out of her way to help them and others find their parents, who had disappeared. And, rather than nightmares, they have happy memories of their time at St Kyran's, which included ballroom dancing on Thursday nights, scouts, cubs and girls' clubs on Wednesdays and, Irish dancing on Tuesdays. The children lived in family units of 14 in rooms equipped with TV sets, a new, more intimate atmosphere which they say was introduced by Sister Xavieria, who also changed the name of St Kyran's from "orphanage" to "school".
"We would like to plead with the Irish media to look at both sides with Xavier and to see that there must be balance and there must be justice," says Jenny. "We have felt up until now that no one in the media wanted to listen to us. Our stories are true as well. We are not contradicting any one of the other stories that anyone else has told. We are just speaking from our own experience.
"We just want her to be able to return to live in Rathdrum," says Ann, sadly. "She must be the loneliest woman in the world."
(B) Rathdrum Group Supports Nun Named in Orphanage Allegations
Irish Times, 13 March 1996 by Mairead Carey
THE Rathdrum Development Association has come out in support of Sister Xavieria, the nun at the centre of allegations concerning Dublin's Goldenbridge orphanage and St Kyran's Children's Home in Co Wicklow.
The association said it was never approached about anything untoward at the home in Rathdrum. A number of local people were employed there and always spoke of the high standards prevailing under the guidance of Sister Xavieria, the committee said.
"We feel that the Sister Xavieria we know does not depict the image being portrayed by the media but rather she is a person who showed most admirable commitment and loyalty to those in her care," the chairman of the committee, Mr James Olohan, said.
"It must be appreciated that resources were very limited during Sister Xavieria's early years at the home, but due to her initiative in fund raising and the help she received from support groups she maintained the best possible conditions for those in St Kyran's," he said.
(C) Orphanage Care (Letter from former Principal Officer, Department of Education)
Irish Times, 15 March 1996, from James Wade
Fintan O'Toole's lurid account of child battering in Goldenbridge (March 1st) prompts a story about Artane, which school he also referred to in his column.
In order that they should keep in touch with their families, Dublin boys were allowed home on one afternoon each week by the school management. On one such afternoon, a parent called to the department with her son. The boy's head was swathed in bandage. His mother stated that a brother in Artane had struck the boy on the head with an iron bar. Fortunately, the medical inspector of industrial schools, a lady doctor, was in the office. She undid the bandage, examined the boy's head and pronounced that this was "a case of ringworm excellently treated." A qualified nurse headed the infirmary in Artane.
I was never in Goldenbridge School and so missed out on seeing four year olds, complete with small pliers and thin wire, making Rosary beads for sale to people, including Fintan O'Toole's mother. The majority of four year olds could only attempt daisy chains at that age.
I was, however, in St Kyran's School, Rathdrum, and knew Sister Xavieria. She was a top class school manager; strict, with high standards but also very caring, particularly of infants.
She welcomed the recommendation of the Kennedy Report on Industrial Schools and was one of the first managers to combine with the department in translating from the institutional to the group home system of child care described in your edition of March 5th. Cruelty was not in her nature, as was evidenced by the manner in which young children approached her.
She has been vilified by the press. She is due an apology.
- Le Dea mheinn,
(Principal Officer, retired, Department of Education),
(D) Orphanage Care (Letter from Former Pupil)
Irish Times, 7 March 1996, from Paul Field
In the interests of fair play regarding Sr Xavieria of St Kyran's School, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, I would like to put on record the following:
As a former pupil having grown up there from six months to 11 years, in the care of Sr Xavieria, I cannot recall a regime of systematic abuse, either physical or mental. In fact, on leaving St Kyran's I discovered a harsher reality than ever encountered in the orphanage. If anything, the school, under her care, was overly protective and insular. The changes which she brought about in Rathdrum when she arrived, to the time of my leaving in 1970 at the age of 11 years, were far more advanced than existed in any other orphanage of its day, and these changes were to the benefit of both boys and girls in the school.
She tried to introduce a family environment in the school, by organising us in smaller groups and encouraging our independence by introducing us to skills which she believed would benefit us after leaving the school. She also helped to find employment and accommodation for the majority of us on leaving her care, and through the years, has tried to keep in contact with past pupils of Rathdrum Orphanage. To my knowledge, to this day, she has greater contact with past pupils than I have. I know this through meeting past pupils of the school.
Is this the action of a person with a vindictive, abusive nature? If people are prepared to accuse this woman, there are also people willing to defend her. She is a woman of 76 years and deserves better treatment for her last years of life.
(E) Orphanage Care (Letter from Social Worker)
Irish Times, 14 March 1996, from Hilda Cassidy
As a senior social worker covering a span of 40 years from 1950-1990 in a large voluntary child care agency, I wish to record my distress at the allegations made against Sr Xaveria. In the course of my work with dependent children and their parents, I experienced the two days - the period before adoption became legal in 1953, when all the orphanages and industrial schools were full to overflowing, and the post legal adoption era which enabled children to be placed with good loving parents, resulting eventually in the closure of many of the larger institutions.
I worked closely with Sr Xaveria during her term in Goldenbridge, and subsequently in St Kyran's, Rathdrum. The woman I knew was a kind, generous hearted, dedicated nun who went far beyond the normal call of duty in her devotion to the children placed in her care. I cannot reconcile my impression of her with the cruel tyrant depicted in the documentary Dear Daughter, and in the many radio calls and letters to the papers. Conditions were difficult in the 1940s and 1950s and the per capita allowance provided by the State was, to say the least, much less than adequate.
In the 1950s and early 1960s the only possibility for a child to get a happy family upbringing was to be placed for adoption in the US. These placements were not haphazard. They were very carefully screened and supervised. In order for a couple to be accepted as adoptive parents, they had to undergo assessment by their local Catholic charities agency which, if recommending their acceptance, had to undertake not only to supervise the placement and arrange legal adoption in due course, but also to take responsibility for the child should the adoption prove unsatisfactory, and select another home for him.
The Department of External Affairs and the Hierarchy laid down very strict regulations to be followed. With the introduction of legal adoption the American adoptions declined, as all children available for adoption found excellent homes here in Ireland. The agency for whom I worked did not arrange any adoptions in America.
It's easy, in the mid-1990s, to castigate the practices which applied 3 or 40 years ago, but the conditions then were a vast improvement on those which preceded them. They have continued to improve but we are still far from perfect, and perhaps in the year 2050 the practices in the 1990s may also be critically viewed.
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones.