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Sisters of Mercy Deny Claim of Abuse at School

Added to on May 16, 2006

Sr Margaret Casey, of the Sisters of Mercy, who gave evidence at yesterday's sitting of the investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.
Photograph: Bryan OBrien

Sisters of Mercy deny claim of abuse at school
Irish Times, 16 May 2006 by Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

The Sisters of Mercy have denied there was "any deliberate, severe injury to anybody" at St Vincent's industrial school in Goldenbridge, Dublin which they ran.

They also insisted the food there was always adequate, and progressed from being adequate to being varied and appetising, the investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was told yesterday.

As the committee's phase III public hearings continued, Sr Helena O'Donoghue, leader of the Sisters of Mercy south central province, said the order denied that any child at Goldenbridge was referred to by number. "Every child was known by their own name," she said, "numbers were used for laundry purposes only".

Water was available, though it was curtailed after tea time where bed-wetting children were concerned, she said. After 1944 all the reports on medical care of children were very positive, she added.

She had great difficulty with the way Goldenbridge had been "vilified" and some senior staff there had been "vilified personally" in the media. "I do believe Goldenbridge was a reasonably well-run school," she said, and that the phrase (well run) had been used 25 times in inspection reports.

Because of media coverage, the Mercy congregation was concerned that an examination of what took place at Goldenbridge be undertaken by a competent body such as the commission inquiry. She said that all five children who died at the school did so from natural causes.

She was satisfied all the deaths can be explained. As regards burn marks on the body of one child, who had been at Goldenbridge for two days, she knew from other sources the burn was accidental. She later agreed this information came to her via the redress board which precludes further disclosure.

She did not accept an observation by Sr Fabian, a former resident manager at Goldenbridge, that the general ethos had been "excessively and generally cruel even by the standards of the time" during the period when a predecessor, Sr Bernadine, ran Goldenbridge up to 1954.

Sr Fabian was quoted in a report into Goldenbridge commissioned by Sr O'Donoghue in 1995 and discovered to the committee.

In that report, Sr Fabian characterised Sr Bernadine as "a hard and rigid woman", as "a paranoid schizophrenic" who "established a reign of terror". She (Sr Bernadine) was described in the same report by Sr Xaviera, successor to Sr Fabian, as "a harsh, aggressive, and unpredictable personality".

Sr O'Donoghue said neither Sr Fabian or Sr Xaviera was happy with how their interviews were reported by Jer Crowley, who conducted the inquiry which led to the report. His report of their interviews remained to be tested, she said.

As to why the Sisters of Mercy had apologised to former residents, she said they accepted that "like anywhere else, children suffered pain and hurt was not averted."