Safe haven or house of horrors? Ex-Mt. Loretto residents reflect after shocking sex filing
By Joseph Ostapiuk
June 16, 2019
|Robin Campbell was sexually and physically abused between the ages of 6 and 11 while a resident at Mount Loretto, seen in this 2018 photo, during the early and mid-1960, alleges court filings.|
To some it was a safe haven, an environment where struggling children put their lives back on track.
Others, however, claim it was a place where predators preyed upon their vulnerabilities.
Former residents of the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin, Mount Loretto, are embroiled after a bombshell court filing alleged that a woman who attended the haven suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of several nuns and at least one lay person.
Sly Francis, 61, a former NYPD detective and a resident of Mount Loretto from 1963 to 1972, said that he never previously heard of allegations or rumors that nuns sexually abused any of the residents.
“I can’t dismiss her allegations,” said Francis, who attended Mount Loretto from the ages of 6 to 15, “but I never witnessed anyone or never heard of anyone -- a female or male -- being sexually abused by the nuns.”
While Francis admitted that both nuns and priests at the school doled out discipline to students “because of behavior," he said that he was never abused.
Francis, a chronic runaway as a child after his parents divorced, said that his time at the manor “saved” his life.
At only five years old, Francis would go into the street “for weeks at a time” and said that he often ended up “in strange people’s houses" before being told he would be forced to go to a reform school. However, a priest at Mount Loretto reached out to Francis’ mother, and he soon after attended the mission.
“The kids that were there became my family, and it put me on the right path,” Francis said.
The court filing was made by Robin Campbell, whose maiden name is Robin Miller. Miller lived at the Pleasant Plains mission between the ages of 6 and 11, from 1960 through 1966, according to documents filed in Manhattan state Supreme Court.
Campbell, who now resides out of state, said that she suffered “horrific acts of sexual and physical abuse," some of which were described in the court filings.
She was thrown down a flight of stairs and beaten over the head and slapped “repeatedly,” alleges an affirmation filed by her lawyer, John Bonina of Brooklyn.
She developed epilepsy and had seizures due to the beatings, Campbell alleges.
One nun, Sister Helen, even slammed down a piano cover on her hands, breaking four fingers, when Campbell was trying to teach herself the piano, her petition maintains.
During her stay, another nun, Sister Rosemarie “repeatedly sexually abused” Campbell at night, the court documents allege.
While at Mount Loretto, Campbell alleges she was “physically or sexually abused almost every day.”
“The only time I recall not being abused was when President Kennedy was assassinated,” her petition alleges.
Another woman who attended Mount Loretto in the 1960s and wished to remain anonymous due to the personal nature of her statements, said that she too was sexually abused while attending the haven.
While she claims she endured physical abuse, including an alleged incident where a nun slapped her face so hard that her glasses came off because she was looking through a dormitory window, the woman said that she was woken up on multiple occasions by nuns who would send her to a priest who molested her.
The woman declined to name the priest.
She did say, however, that the priest was not Eugene Mangan, who was named on the Archdiocese list of clergy who were either credibly accused of abuse, or who were the subject of a claim made to the New York Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) that was deemed eligible for compensation. Mangan was included on the latter list.
According to Advance archives, Mangan was ordained in 1958 and served at Mount Loretto from 1959 to 1979.
The woman, who was about 12 at the time of her abuse, said that the nuns would tell her to go to the priest’s room in order to help her and her younger siblings, who also attended Mount Loretto.
“I wasn’t really sure why I was going back there,” she said.
The priest’s room, as the woman described, included an old-style bed with a trundle that rested beside where the priest slept.
When in the room, she alleges that the priest would have “crude, rough sexual intercourse” with her. The woman claims to have also previously been a victim of sexual abuse prior to her arrival at Mount Loretto.
The woman, who knew Campbell during her time at Mount Loretto, said she remembered Campbell complaining about a stinging sensation in her genitals while in a communal shower on the grounds.
“I could remember feeling that it was a little off about her saying that,” she said, but added that nothing came of her complaints.
The woman described Campbell as a small, reserved girl who was commonly picked on during her tenure.
“I do remember her, and I do feel bad that she’s struggling to get her message across,” she said.
Other former residents said that they were unaware of any sexual abuse that occurred on the grounds.
Eloisa Padilla, 71, who attended Mount Loretto from 1963 to 1967, during the time Campbell alleges that the abuse took place, said that “we never heard of any allegation of sex abuse from the nuns.”
“The girls were close and we didn’t have secrets, we told each other everything,” Padilla said.
While she admitted that “the nuns were a little tough on us girls,” and that physical discipline was not at all uncommon, Padilla said that she and many others “felt safe and loved” at the mission.
Padilla said that she did not know Campbell during her time at Mount Loretto, or at any point following her stay, but said that the news of the court filing “really hurt many of us.”
“We are family and something like this really hurts,” she said.
According to the court filing, Campbell alleges that Sister Rosemarie “repeatedly sexually abused” her at night, adding that Campbell’s bed was kept closest to the door of a common bedroom housing, “thus providing easy access for Sister Rosemarie to abuse her.”
Campbell was awoken so often by the sexual abuse that she pretended to be ill so she could go to the infirmary to sleep, alleges the affirmation.
The court filings allege that Sister Rosemarie also physically abused her, along with Sisters Agnes, Helen, Juanita and Philip-Marie, as well as a Mrs. Hartman.
Al Richichi, the president of the Mount Loretto Alumni Association, said that he does not know Campbell, and that she is not a part of the alumni group.
Richichi, who left Mount Loretto at the age of 18 in 1963, said that he would often visit his sister in the girls section of the campus, and “never heard any of this.”
“No one has ever once said anything as horrific as this," he said.
While he admitted that he did not have direct proof disputing Campbell’s claims, he said he “is at a loss” as to understanding the rationale of the court filings.
A member of an online alumni page who attended Mount Loretto from 1962 to 1963 and again from 1967 to 1969, said that Campbell briefly was a part of the Facebook group.
During her tenure, the woman said that she “never heard of any sexual abuse at the girls’ side of Mount Loretto."
“I had heard that on occasion some girl would be struck, but for the most part, punishment consisted of ‘standing on campus’ which meant we would stand in the hallway with our hands on our heads for a set amount of time,” she added.
Campbell’s court filings seek to compel the Archdiocese of New York, Catholic Charities of Staten Island and Mount Loretto to preserve critical evidence and information and to identify other possible defendants.
Campbell intends to sue those parties under the recently-passed Child Victims Act.
The state law creates a one-year window, starting on Aug. 14, for plaintiffs of any age to sue alleged abusers regardless when the abuse occurred.
The bill also allows victims of sexual abuse to sue their alleged abuser anytime before they turn 55.
Campbell alleges the institutions knew or should have known of the named nuns’ alleged acts of abuse against her and other kids, yet did nothing to prevent it.
“Upon information and belief, in the 1950s and 1960s and beyond, (the institutions) often turned a blind eye and/or took no action to protect the children whose safety had been entrusted to them,” alleges the affirmation.
Campbell also intends to pursue criminal charges against the named individuals.
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said, “We take all allegations of abuse seriously, and will carefully investigate these and respond appropriately.”
“That process has begun,” Zwilling said in response to Campbell’s court filings. “If she has not already done so, we strongly encourage her to report her allegations to the district attorney as well."