Central Catholic High School alumni detail past abuse

By Jill Harmacinski
May 7, 2017

LAWRENCE — Two men who were students at Central Catholic High School in the 1960s both told The Eagle-Tribune they were physically and sexually abused by the late Brother Michael Edward and that a culture of "regimentation and intimidation" was prevalent there. 

"There was extreme physical abuse and it was just accepted," said Michael Bresnahan, a 1967 Central Catholic graduate who now works as a teacher at the Guilmette School in Lawrence.

Bresnahan said students at that time wore collared shirts, ties and jackets and Brother Michael Edward would tell them to unbutton their shirts. The brother, he said, reached into his shirt and others, feeling their pectoral muscles and nipples. Bresnahan said he was not personally abused beyond the chest touching but witnessed the physical abuse of others.

He said Brother Michael Edward also repeatedly slapped the face of a fellow student who was forced to stand in front of the class. 

"When you are in a culture of regimentation and intimidation you don't know what's normal," said Bresnahan, age 67.

Another graduate, who is represented by Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, said he was sexually abused by the late Rev. Paul Rynne of St. Patrick's Church and four Marist brothers at Central Catholic, including the late Brother Michael Edward who was "the most egregious," he said.

The man, in an interview this week with Garabedian, said the abuse by Brother Michael Edward took place at the school, in the locker room and training room, as well as an off-site training area Central Catholic athletes visited in Tyngsboro. 

As an athletic trainer, Brother Michael Edward told him he needed treatments and massage, he said.

"He did massage which he would take to another level," said the man, who asked not be identified. 

Now age 62, the man still lives in the Merrimack Valley. 

The Eagle-Tribune does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent. 

Early this week, Dr. Robert Hoatson, from the international sex abuse survivors group Road to Recovery, announced the man's allegations involving Rynne and the Marist Brothers, including Brother Michael Edward, during a press conference on the sidewalk across from Central Catholic at 300 Hampshire St.

The new details emerged at a particularly tumultuous time for Central Catholic. Last week, administrator Andrew Nikonchuk, 36, was fired from Central Catholic for failure to maintain "appropriate social boundaries" between faculty and students. Later, the school confirmed a former student claimed he was drugged and raped by Nikonchuk in 2006.

Those allegations remain under investigation by the Middlesex district attorney's office.

Central Catholic High School issued a statement Tuesday saying, 'John Doe,' the man Garabedian is representing, will be treated in the same "totally transparent" manner as others before him. 

"The School had not received prior information concerning these specific charges and urges this individual or his attorney to contact the School to provide additional information so it can investigate this matter and attempt to assist this individual," according to the statement, released by Central spokesman David DeFillippo. 

He added: "In 2002, Central Catholic had reached out to members of the general public who believed they had been harmed by the Marist Brothers, offered to pay for counseling for victims, and set up a toll-free telephone help line staffed by a professional counselor for reporting allegations." 

"Unlike other institutions at the time, Central Catholic was totally transparent, accepted responsibility and dealt with each case frankly and honestly. We certainly intend to treat 'John Doe' in the same fashion," the statement concluded. 

DeFillippo, in an email, said Central Catholic "has not received any reports from other alumni/former students from this time period since John Doe's announcement on Monday." 

However, Garabedian said Central Catholic is "preaching transparency" but questioned if that's true. 

"Have they released any documents about what supervisors saw? ... About what went on in the school?" he asked. 

"It's one thing to say interviews took place with results. It's a whole other thing to produce the documents...It lends much more credibility to statements if the documents are released," said Garabedian, who said he has represented thousands of sexual abuse victims internationally.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Boston referred all questions to the school itself, explaining Central Catholic has its own administration and board. 

The man Garabedian is representing said he decided to contact the attorney after he saw the movie "Spotlight," about a team of Boston Globe reporters who exposed the priest abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston.

He said he sat down and started to type out what happened to him. After graduating from Central Catholic in the early 1970s, the man said he went on to marry twice and have children. But he continually asked himself "why me, all the time," he said.

"They tried to pass me around is what I felt like," said the man, who has struggled during his life with alcohol and drugs. 

He believes other students were also abused. Bresnahan said he has no interest in litigation, only revealing the truth. 

"Absolutely. Nobody wants to talk about it though," he said.

Bresnahan said Brother Michael Edward "was a sick, sadistic person." 

He said he harbors guilt he didn't help the student who was repeated slapped across the face by the brother in his class. He said Brother Michael Edward would later order another student to hold the boy up by his hair.

"To this day I feel repulsive for not interviewing," said Bresnahan.

He decided to speak out about the abuse out of respect for his classmates. Their 50th reunion is this year. Bresnahan said he will boycott any festivities, however. 

"To my fellow students subjected (to) this — I am 100 percent with you," he said.



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