Homeless activist denies knowledge of abuse at school
By Alison Healy
May 23, 2009
Sr Stanislaus Kennedy has confirmed that she is the nun given the pseudonym Sr Wilma in the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Report but has insisted she did not know about child abuse at a Kilkenny industrial school.
The commission investigated reports of abuse in St Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny and found that the school employed “two dangerous sexual abusers” consecutively in the 1970s.
Both care workers were dismissed after complaints and both went on to abuse children elsewhere before being convicted of sexual offences.
The report includes a claim by a voluntary worker at the school that he told “Sr Wilma” that a boy was being molested but she told him that it did not happen and that children made up stories.
Sr Stanislaus told The Irish Timesthat she had no recollection of this.
The Sisters of Charity nun, who later founded Focus Ireland, lived in the convent in the grounds of the school in the 1970s when she worked in the community and ran a childcare course.
The States of Fearseries on RTÉ television in 1999 highlighted the fact that Sr Stanislaus was at the convent at that time and that she had heard complaints of abuse.
She then wrote an article in this newspaper, saying she did not know anything about sexual abuse in St Joseph’s institution and had no connection with the institution.
According to the commission report, a voluntary worker with the pseudonym Patrick McGovern said he had been told that a boy was being molested in the industrial school, in or about 1974.
He said he called to the convent one night to tell someone and was relieved when “Sr Wilma” came to the door because he knew her.
He told her about the boy and said she took a step back.
He said she told him there was a history of boys and girls making up stories to gain attention.
“. . . She made it plain to me that nothing was going on. So I respected her a great deal, I have to say at that stage, and I was happy that what she was saying was exactly how things were . . . it was only when evidence came up later that I was annoyed that I didn’t do more,” he said.
According to the commission report, St Stanislaus said she had no recollection of this incident.
“She said that even if she had been told, she would have done nothing more than tell them to go to the person in charge of the institution,” the report stated.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Sr Stanislaus said she was “absolutely certain” if she was told about sexual abuse in St Joseph’s, she would have acted on it.
“I didn’t know about sexual abuse in Kilkenny and I knew nobody who did know.
“I have no recollection of the man referred to in the commission’s report as Patrick McGovern telling me about sexual abuse,” she said.
The report said a second worker, given the pseudonym Donal Kavanagh, had told her that a man, now known to be Myles Brady, was physically abusing the children. She told him to go to the resident manager about it.
In an interview with gardaí in 1995, Sr Stanislaus was quoted as saying that she “picked up on it” that Brady might have been sexually abusing the children as well.
She told the commission that she made a mistake in the Garda statement and that she could not possibly have known about sexual abuse in the 1970s when Donal Kavanagh spoke to her.
She said she knew nothing about men interfering with boys at that time.
Sr Stanislaus assisted in setting up a childcare course in Kilkenny, which was attended by one the sexual abusers given the pseudonym Thomas Pleece in the report.
That man was David Murray, who would later be sentenced to 10 years for sexual offences in 1997.
Myles Brady replaced him at St Joseph’s and received a four-year sentence for sexual offences in 1998.
The commission report also said Sr Stanislaus acknowledged that The Irish Timesarticle she wrote in 1999 was not entirely accurate when it said she had nothing whatsoever to do with St Joseph’s.
Sr Stanislaus said the article was not entirely accurate only in so far as the commission had reminded her of meetings she’d had about the childcare course and of a document she signed relating to St Joseph’s.
“The inaccuracy in the article was purely inadvertent. I had no involvement in the day-to-day running of St Joseph’s nor was I involved with the care of the children.
“My work was exclusively in the community and running the childcare course,” she said.
Sr Stanislaus said the commission’s investigation of St Joseph’s described “horrific abuse” and was very disturbing.
“My immediate reaction is deep sadness and sorrow that this abuse happened to the children who suffered enormously then, and some of whom continue to suffer today,” she said.
The report was “frightfully important” and its findings should be respected and treated very seriously, she said.