Two Pennsylvania Men File Suits against Former Beach Nun

By Jon Frank and Kate Wiltrout
The Virginian-Pilot [Virginia Beach VA]
March 25, 2004

A former nun charged with molesting a 10-year-old student in Virginia Beach 35 years ago has been accused of sexually abusing two other students in Pennsylvania in 1976.

The new allegations against Eileen M. Rhoads apparently were spurred by February news reports in a Pennsylvania newspaper about the Virginia Beach case, according to two lawsuits filed Wednesday in Philadelphia .

Rhoads, now 64, was charged in February in Virginia Beach with taking indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14 and enticing a child to fondle or feel her genitals .

The molestation in Virginia Beach allegedly occurred in 1969 and 1970 at St. Gregory the Great School, where Rhoads taught. Known as Sister Francis Therese, she belonged to the religious order known as Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Rhoads later left the religious order and became a Catholic schoolteacher in suburban Philadelphia, where the most recent allegations of abuse were made. “It is apparent to me that what she did to my client was not an isolated event,” said James C. Lewis, a Virginia Beach attorney who represents the Virginia Beach accuser. “She was an epidemic.”

Lewis has filed a $5.35 million lawsuit against Rhoads, the Catholic Diocese of Richmond and her former religious order. The events in Pennsylvania are alleged to have occurred six years after the Virginia Beach case.

The two males involved were in Rhoads’ sixth-grade class at Holy Cross Parish Elementary School in Springfield, Pa., according to the lawsuits. The two are named in the lawsuits, but The Virginian-Pilot does not publish names of sexual abuse victims without their permission. The lawsuits claim that Rhoads sexually molested or abused the boys “on practically a daily basis.”

One alleged victim claimed that the abuse started almost immediately after he transferred to Holy Cross at the beginning of the 1976 school year, when he was 10 or 11 years old and assigned to Rhoads’ homeroom class.

According to the lawsuit, the abuse began after the boy saw Rhoads kissing a student behind a coat rack. Soon afterward, the suit alleges, “Rhoads began to bring in Playboy magazines and read sexually related stories to Plaintiff and an other male student in his class.”

The lawsuit alleges that the abuse – which included kissing and sexual touching – took place during class and at Rhoads’ apartment.

The second alleged victim attended Holy Cross from elementary school through eighth grade, and was an altar boy at the parish church. He was almost a year older than the other alleged victim.

His lawsuit almost mirrors the other account, alleging almost daily molestation or abuse while in Rhoads’ sixth-grade class.

Rhoads allegedly took the second boy to her apartment, as well, and forced him to have intercourse with her at least 30 times, the lawsuit says.

Both Pennsylvania lawsuits seek unspecified damages in excess of $50,000 from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who led the archdiocese from 1988 until 2003, according to the lawsuit.

The archdiocese said on Wednesday it had not reviewed the lawsuits. “The Archdiocese would like all the Catholic faithful to know that it takes seriously and investigates thoroughly any allegation of abuse,” it said in a statement.

The statement also said, “Eileen Rhoads left the employment of Holy Cross Parish Elementary School in Springfield, Delaware County in 1994 and has not worked for a school of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia since that time.” According to the Delaware County Daily Times in Pennsylvania, Rhoads joined the school’s lay faculty in 1973.

About 400 students through eighth grade attend Holy Cross, according to a city Web site.

Springfield is a predominantly Irish and Italian community, home to about 24,000 people, according to census figures. It’s about 15 miles west of Philadelphia.

The Delaware County Daily Times contributed to this report.

Reach Jon Frank at 222-5122 or, or Kate Wiltrout at 222-5108 or