Bitter legacy: How Mount Cashel survivors are living with the aftermath

Barb
Barb Sweet
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'You feel like garbage' Despite his success, survivor says abuse victims never feel cleansed

The Mount Cashel orphanage closed in 1990 and was subsequently torn down. — Telegram file photo

At his dining room table, a retired teacher describes how he's spent a lifetime keeping the abuse at Mount Cashel from shredding his world.

It's like keeping a finger in a dyke, said the man, now a senior citizen who asked to remain anonymous.

He also compares it to rolling a boulder up a hill, bit by bit.

"I can see the top," he said. "If wishes could get you there, I would be there."

For some victims, that boulder has rolled back down to trample them - condemning them to lives of alcoholism, wrecked relationships and, for some, repeated stints in prison.

Others have died too young.

This man has a loving wife and together they have built an inviting home and a successful family.

He is well known as a volunteer, has received awards and honours and has completed an advanced degree.

But just two hours after being interviewed by The Telegram, the man phones to say he is not in a good place because he has been flooded with memories. He will survive it, he said, as he has for decades, and is grateful for the compassion.

At his home, he'd explained how material possessions don't mean anything to him; how his wife buys his clothes; how he feels he can never wash himself clean of the abuse. He struggles to regain the self-worth he lost as a boy.

As a young man, dating the woman who would become his wife, he says he would introduce her to others because he didn't think he was good enough for her.

Early on in the marriage, he drank in an attempt to get her to leave him.

"I was trying to get her to see me the way I saw myself," he said. "Absolutely, you think you are a piece of garbage."

And yet he said, if she had been in the midst of Elvis Presley or Clark Gable - heartthrobs of their youth - it would have made no difference in her devotion.

"She's golden, really and truly," he said. "Lucky ain't the word for me."

°°°

The story of the abuse he suffered at Mount Cashel would break any reasonable person's heart into 100 pieces.

And yet he has some good memories, too, of playing sports, and childhood games in the woods with other residents, and of the horses Queenie, Jim and Charlie, who were there when he first arrived at Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's in 1948 from a small Avalon Peninsula town.

His mother died young and his father took to drink and abandoned the family.

The man was among five brothers who went to the orphanage, and all of them - he learned decades later - were sexually abused and the target of frequent beatings.

He did not admit it himself until one day after school, when he turned on the television to coverage of the Hughes Inquiry in 1989 and began sobbing. The then middle-aged teacher finally told his secret to his wife and child.

"Everything came back. I could see and smell Mount Cashel. I could see the Brothers," he said.

The man contacted the Hughes Commission, offering to back up the story of boys abused there in the 1970s, and gave a statement, but was not needed to testify. He said he later gave a victim impact statement in court.

Since the 1990s, the man and roughly 50 others have been involved in civil action against the Christian Brothers Institute Inc. Their claims are unresolved and the description of events here is his account.

He had lived at Mount Cashel until the 1950s, when he and his best friend were ordered out.

The end of his stay came one Boxing Day, he said. His best friend had gone to visit family on Christmas Day and when he returned later than expected, the rest of the boys were watching a movie, "Gunfight at the OK Corral."

The man said Brother Ronald Justin Lasik - convicted in the late 1990s of multiple charges - took his tardy friend by the throat and was "beating the living daylights out of him."

The man said he threw a chair at the Brother to defend his friend. That night, the two boys arranged to sleep in adjoining cots. He snuck a tine from a pitchfork into his bed as they feared they would be killed overnight.

After leaving the orphanage, the man stayed with his friend's family for several days, then kept house for a relative for awhile, before working on an army base to save money so he could return to school.

°°°

The Mount Cashel property was once farmland on the eastern edge of St. John's. The boys were put to work gathering hay and working the vegetable garden.

And yet every day they were starving - often given just a small bowl of jelly with bread, or bread and prunes, he said. On Sunday they got a bit of vegetables and meat.

To feed their hunger, they would crawl under the stage to a hole chewed by rats in the adjacent bakery wall, where they stole bits of bread from a scrap box, he said. They snuck slop donated to the orphanage for the pigs and ate clover from the fields.

Despite their hunger, the vats of overcooked macaroni served them was so unpalatable, they stashed it in their pockets to avoid being beaten for not eating it.

He said the orphanage boys were constantly beaten with straps, paddles, boards, sticks - whatever was at hand - punishment for simple things like being in the wrong corridor. He recalled being knocked out cold on occasion and, another time, seeing a boy's hands beaten so badly, he couldn't close them.

"You tried to be where the Brothers weren't," he said. "You always knew there was an element of danger there."

He can still hear the rustle of the cassocks, the approaching footsteps on the dorm floor, as one of the Brothers who abused would him slip into his bed at night.

He said he was abused by a few Brothers and a worker, but most consistently by Brother John Evangelist Murphy.

He said Murphy, a teacher and bandleader at the orphanage, not only sexually abused him, but was exceptionally cruel.

In 2004, Murphy was sentenced to a 20-month conditional sentence to be served in his home community in New York state.

He was found guilty of four counts of indecent assault and was acquitted of one count of gross indecency and one count of indecent assault. A physical assault charge was stayed.

The man recalled writing an exam one day when another pupil reached across the desk and took his notebook. Afterwards, he said, the pair was asked to stay behind by Murphy.

The man claims Murphy whaled them one by one with a paddle, and then took him in his arms, violated him and said, "Always remember that God said, 'Whomever I love, I chastise.'"

Every time he was abused, he said he would pray and pray for it to not happen - silent pleas that went unanswered.

°°°

And there were other horrors. Once, a watchman had left his dog behind at the orphanage. He said Murphy told him and some other boys to put the dog in a van. They were driven out to Logy Bay and ordered to throw the dog over the cliff. When the dog did not die, they were made to scramble down and bash its head in with a rock, he said.

Another little dog followed someone back to the orphanage. The man formed a bond with the black puppy, who he named Rex, and he would sneak him scraps from the pigs' feed.

Rex was always there to loyally greet him each day.

After a concert, he said Murphy rounded the boys up in the band room and lashed into them for making mistakes, calling them stunned and ignorant. The dog wandered into the room and went to comfort the man, then a young teen.

The man said Murphy hit the dog so hard across his back with a hockey stick that the animal screeched in pain and dragged himself out of the room.

That night, in bed, the teen's hand fell over the side and he felt something wet. It was Rex, who'd managed to make it up the stairs, and was licking his hand. He carried the dog outside and told him he'd see him in the morning.

The next day, he went looking for the dog and some boys approached him and said they'd been ordered to throw the dog out a top-floor window. Rex was left dead in the woods.

He said Murphy dragged him into a room one day and confronted him about why he was running away from him.

"'You killed my dog. You got the boys to throw him out the window.' I called him despicable," the man recalls.

"I could have been killed, I suppose. He said, 'Get out of here.'"

He was 14 then and said after that incident, the sexual abuse from Murphy stopped.

"He is one of many. They are all of the same ilk," the man said.

He said he was unaware that others were being sexually abused at the time and was floored when, years later, he learned of it all, including the experiences of his best friend and brothers.

"You're alone in the dark, and it's kept in the dark," he said.

°°°

As a young father, the man said he would never bathe or kiss his child, has no faith in the church and has trouble with authority.

The anger Mount Cashel victims have makes them feel like saying, "F--k the world. F--k it," he said.

He has pulled himself through it all, though his brothers have had their struggles in life.

"I know there is something that drove me," he said. "I never, ever, ever wanted to depend on the government or someone else for my livelihood."

The orphanage was closed in 1990 and the building demolished in 1992. A supermarket and homes now occupy the property, along with a small memorial.

The man said the first time he tried going into the grocery store, he couldn't do it. He keeps going back to try to conquer it, but can never shake the feeling that overcomes him inside the building.

"I know where I am walking ... I can tell you where every place was in that Mount Cashel. It will always be there because it elicits such a vivid memory, not only of the place, but the creatures who crawled through it; the cockroaches who crawled through it," he said.

Organizations: Hughes Inquiry, Hughes Commission, Christian Brothers Institute

Geographic location: Avalon Peninsula, St. John's, New York Logy Bay

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  • mmartin
    August 03, 2012 - 12:15

    It just breaks my heart to read about Mt. Cashel and the perverts that ran it. Those children had no one to turn to. When I see the name Mt, Casel it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth