Priest Who Left Worcester Still Controversial in Canada
By David Arnold
August 6, 1992
Rev. Joseph A. Fredette did not leave controversy behind when, facing six charges of indecent assault and battery against children, he left Worcester and the country in 1974.
The Waltham-born priest apparently moved to Canada soon after leaving Worcester, where he had served as director of a halfway house for teen-age boys. Initially invited to live in the rectory of St. Timothy's Church in the small village of Adamsville, New Brunswick, Father Fredette was subsequently asked to serve as parish priest.
As such, parish residents say, he immediately stirred the wrath of townsfolk, in part by lodging some 10 troubled boys and three women in the rectory.
Within 12 months, they say, parishioners were pleading with the Moncton archbishop to have Father Fredette removed.
"Father Fredette obviously wanted a lifestyle that differed with the church," said Archbishop Donat Chiasson. He said Father Fredette's assignment at the church was terminated on July 6, 1984. Since then, Father Fredette, now 59, has lived as leader of a small, reclusive community on land he purchased in the neighboring rural village of Jailetyville.
Canadian church officials and residents say they were unaware of outstanding charges against Father Fredette until news stories began surfacing last week.
"I knew something was wrong when the guy arrived and threatened us to accept his ways or face his friends in the FBI," said Robert Bernard, a member of St. Timothy's Church in Adamsville.
"He's more of a cult leader up here than a priest," Bernard added.
A man identifying himself as Father Fredette hung up when a Globe reporter telephoned him at his residence last Friday. The priest's telephone has since been disconnected. One acquaintance, requesting anonymity, said Father Fredette had "left town for a couple of weeks."
When a member of Father Fredette's Jailetyville community was contacted, she snapped: "I never talk publicly about Reverend Joe."
She also hung up.
Father Fredette's legal problems in the United States reemerged last week after Dana Vyska of Pittsfield contacted the Globe and the Worcester Telegram and Gazette accusing Father Fredette of a 1972 assault.
In tears, Vyska praised the courage of victims who recently have publicized long-closeted alleged sexual abuse by priests. Then Vyska, now a husband and father, described a night when, he said, he was 15 and Father Fredette served him two six-packs of Maximus Super beer, then sexually assaulted him.
At the time, Father Fredette directed Come Alive, a halfway house where Vyska lived. The facility closed in the mid-1970s. Vyska has retained a lawyer and said he intends to contact authorities about the alleged assault.
A subsequent call to Worcester District Court revealed outstanding charges against Father Fredette for alleged indecent assaults on two other residents of the halfway house, ages 13 and 16, in 1974.
Detective Thomas Belezarian of the Worcester Police Department participated in the 1974 investigation. He said that when he tried to notify Father Fredette of the charges, he was told the priest "has just moved" to Canada.
Belezarian would not comment on the case yesterday except to say police and Worcester District Attorney John Conte were "intensely" pursuing old records that might allow extradition proceedings against the priest.
Father Fredette was born in 1933, the son of a garage mechanic and housewife, according to his birth certificate. In 1947, after the family moved from Lexington Terrace in Waltham to Worcester, he enrolled, then graduated from the Assumption Preparatory School.
In 1950 he entered Assumption College, also located in Worcester, graduating in 1955. He returned to the college to earn a master's degree in philosophy in 1963, according to school records.
The Official Catholic Directory indicates that, by 1970, Father Fredette had been ordained and was a member of the Augustinians of the Assumption. The educational/missionary order was founded in the mid-1800s in France; similar to such orders as the Society of Jesus and the Benedictines, Assumptionists report directly to superiors in Rome and are not part of a local diocesan hierarchy.
When Belezarian learned Father Fredette had moved to an Assumptionist residence in Sherbrook, Quebec, he issued an arrest warrant.
Father Gille Louan, a spokesman for the residence, said neither he nor his predecessor, Father Marcel Poirier, knew of the outstanding warrant. He said Father Fredette left the Assumptionist order in 1983 after his move to Adamsville but remains an ordained priest.
According to alumni records at Assumption College, Father Fredette requested in 1983 that his middle initial be changed from "A." to "R." He did not give a reason for the change.
"He started out so friendly, so nice," recalled Leo Bastrash, a retired truck mechanic and member of St. Timothy's Parish.
"He turned out to be so slick the way he convinced people to leave him money," he said.
Apparently, Father Fredette had arrived in town with plans to live an ascetic life. But when he assumed the duties of parish priest and strangers started arriving from other points in Canada and were given lodging at the rectory, parishioners from some of the 65 families belonging to the church got worried.
"Then he started trying to stack our church council with his supporters. We were losing control. Totally losing it," Bernard said.
He said one of Father Fredette's favorite opening lines for a sermon was: "I had a dream last night. All the people in this parish were going to Hell."
He said Adamsville has never been the same since Father Fredette arrived.
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