Madonna Manor, Catholic shelter for troubled youth in Marrero, again at center of new abuse lawsuit
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
September 22, 2019
|Madonna Manor is part of the Hope Haven campus in Marrero.|
|The Hope Haven campus in Marrero consists of a cluster of buildings with Spanish Colonial Revival design.|
|St. John Bosco Chapel is part of the Hope Haven campus in Marrero.|
A 61-year-old man has filed a lawsuit alleging he was repeatedly abused during the 1960s and 1970s by a high-ranking Catholic priest, three nuns and a lay employee with ties to a church-run home for troubled youth in Marrero.
Eric Reynolds’ lawsuit, filed Thursday at Orleans Parish Civil District Court, accuses priest Raymond Hebert, civilian staffer Charlie Earhart and nuns Martin Marie, Alvin Marie and Gertrude Marie of either molesting or beating him over 10 years after his arrival at Madonna Manor in about 1965.
Reynolds’ suit is not the first time a former Madonna Manor resident has accused Hebert, once a facility supervisor, of molestation. Nearly 15 years ago, four men named Hebert as one of their many abusers while they lived at the Barataria Boulevard site.
But, in what was described as a case of mistaken identity, those plaintiffs withdrew their claims against Hebert in 2010, after the priest — who held the title of monsignor — sued them for defamation.
Meanwhile, Earhart and the three nuns were all named in a series of suits from dozens of plaintiffs that the Archdiocese of New Orleans and other entities settled for $5.2 million in 2009.
The archdiocese on Friday declined comment on the claims outlined in the new suit, noting that Reynolds had not contacted it before suing.
Hebert and Earhart have since died. It is not known whether the religious women are still living.
Louisiana law generally prohibits plaintiffs from pursuing damages over harm that allegedly occurred decades ago. But plaintiffs’ attorneys frequently argue that those statutes don’t apply in molestation cases where their clients were so traumatized that they suppressed memories of the abuse for years or decades.
Reynolds said he didn’t recover memories of what he endured “daily” at Madonna Manor until late October or early November, when he saw news coverage of the Catholic Church’s ongoing clergy abuse scandal.
Reynolds’ attorneys, Frank LaMothe and Kristi Schubert, argue he had one year from that point to file suit. They said he couldn't press a case earlier because a severe bout of post-traumatic stress disorder prevented him from doing so.
He is seeking damages from the archdiocese and two other entities involved in operating Madonna Manor, arguing that they failed to protect him.
In his seven-page lawsuit, Reynolds recalls Hebert fondling and forcefully kissing him on several occasions, including at Madonna Manor’s church, on trips and at a home Hebert owned in the French Quarter.
Reynolds' suit says he suspects he was drugged during dinner at that home on one occasion, when he claims he felt “fuzzy” while being touched by Hebert and another unidentified man before a trip back to Madonna Manor, which he doesn’t remember.
Reynolds claims Earhart, the civilian staff member, forced oral sex on him in various places, including in a Westwego camp cabin where other children were present.
Reynolds says Earhart would also bring him to a house on Oak Street, where a Catholic Charities social worker lived next door. Reynolds says he suspects the social worker knew something was going on but stayed quiet.
Earhart took Reynolds in as a foster child after the boy left Madonna Manor, and they lived together at a home in Marrero until Earhart died from cancer when Reynolds was 17, the suit says.
The suit accuses Sisters Alvin Marie, Gertrude Marie and Martin Marie of regularly hitting Reynolds with a paddle. Alvin Marie also fondled him in the shower under the guise of trying “to dry him off,” the suit says.
Madonna Manor was across Barataria Boulevard from a twin facility, Hope Haven. Founded in the 1920s and 1930s by Monsignor Peter Wynhoven, Madonna Manor generally housed children younger than those at Hope Haven before the two facilities were closed.
Their Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings remain landmarks on Jefferson Parish’s West Bank.