New book details alleged child abuse at Burlington’s St. Joseph’s Orphanage

WPTZ, NBC-5 [Plattsburgh NY and Burlington VT]

March 22, 2023

By Tyler Boronski

[Includes excerpts of video interviews with Christine Kenneally and two orphanage survivors.]

A new book has been released detailing the alleged child abuse that happened at Burlington’s St. Joseph’s Orphanage for over 100 years.

Author Christine Kenneally wrote an article for Buzzfeed in 2018 detailing countless accounts of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children, and even allegations of murder at the St. Joseph’s Orphanage.

That article was viewed more than 6 million times in six months.

Kenneally said there was a lot more to unpack, which she did in her new book “Ghosts of the Orphanage: A Story of Mysterious Deaths, a Conspiracy of Silence, and a Search for Justice.”

“I really wanted to put St. Joseph’s Orphanage in context of this whole system,” Kenneally said.

She did so by sharing the stories of what people in the system, like Walter Coltey, suffered through.

“I still got the scars on my back where she whipped me. She took the roses off and whipped me with the thorns,” Coltey said.

She also detailed how they felt.

“My sister, for the full six years we were there, she refused to cry in front of the nuns. She told me that was the only control she had in life,” Debbi Hazen, a St. Joseph’s survivor, said.

Kenneally understood that reliving those moments for those survivors could have been overwhelming, but wants them to know it’s serving a greater purpose.

“Even though it might have been very hard for them to tell the story and sometimes really upsetting to listen to, it was part of this greater goal of getting these stories out to the world and helping the silence be broken,” Kenneally said.

The Vermont Roman Catholic Diocese, which operated the orphanage, provided NBC5 with a statement saying:

“The Diocese continues to accept its full share of the blame for any sins of the past. We apologize for all hurt caused and for the personal shortcomings of human beings that came before us.”

However, as Kenneally’s book subtitle said, many are still on the “search for justice.”

“In 2019, the Bishop announced that he would publish a list of credibly accused abusers in the Church,” Kenneally said. “The committee was formed and they spent a year looking at that. They published a list of 40 priests. What I don’t understand and what still hasn’t happened is that the names of nuns, who sexually abused children at St. Joseph’s Orphanage were not included on that list.”

Steps toward change have been made, though.

Some survivors have come together, working with the state legislature, to alter the statute of limitation on child abuse.

“If a child, now adult, was physically abused in some way, whether they were in an institution or with their families, they’re now enable to do something about it in a way where they simply would not before,” Kenneally said.

To learn where you can get a copy of Kenneally’s book, click here.