Category Archives: Irish Christian Brothers
THE EXECUTION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT Part Three The Victims
by Kobutsu Malone
From the Link: http://www.bergencatholicabuse.com/
Following are some of the letters I have received to date. Most of these have been redacted and *names changed* to maintain confidentiality. Each redacted letter was edited and approved by the individual correspondent prior to posting. All correspondence received concerning this matter is held in strict confidence.
The First Letter:
From Thomas Schwarz – BC ’66
January 5, 2009 9:51:13 PM EST
Dear Kobutsu Malone,
I feel as though I am at the beginning of a long, rough, perilous, unclear trail. I hope that you can help me, and perhaps I might be able to help you.
I graduated from Bergen Catholic in 1966. Memories of my four years at B.C. have never been pleasant. As I have grown older it seems those memories come more often. Because I am contacting you I suspect that you realize already that I, too, endured abuse at B.C. I recently began Googling all the word and name combinations I could think of to let the internet retrieve information for me, but alas I have come away almost empty-handed — except for your short piece on engaged-zen.org. [A precursor to this bergencatholicabuse.com website] Your description of the Irwin brothers behavior was stunningly accurate. (Sentences redacted)
Finally, my own recollections of beatings I suffered while being “jugged” involved Bro. John P. Seibert.
Why are there no other mentions on the internet of these events? Are we the only men who recall such incidents? Are they figments of our collective imaginations? I doubt it.
I would be most appreciative if we could share information and perhaps make a collective, concerted effort to unearth and explain those sordid events.
I look forward to hearing from you.
|Brother John Peter Seibert|
January 5, 2009 10:34:01 PM EST
I am very glad we had the opportunity to speak earlier. You are the only person I know of so far who can corroborate what I wrote about Charlie Irwin’s behavior.
Would you be willing to write about your experiences with Irwin’s behavior? Would you be willing to publish it on the internet next to my account?
There were some 30 odd kids in my class room. Irwin taught perhaps five different classes a day, that means 150 kids a day could have been exposed to him perhaps 180 times a year. I have no idea how many years he was at BC, where he was before BC or even when/if he left BC. I was told by the order attorney in 2003 that Charlie Irwin had been dead for five years (1998?). His younger brother Tommy Irwin is still teaching at BC as far as I know.
That man did not just adopt his behavior only in Room 34 in 1964, everybody in that school was terrified of Irwin. Other students who had him in different classes reported the same kind of treatment. Irwin potentially terrorized and induced traumatic stress to many thousands of young people over the years.
I do not know if he was ever “exposed” or if anyone ever filed any sort of formal complaint against him, that information is hardly going to be made readily available through the alumni association or the order. I would like to hear that at some point someone in authority stepped in and took him away from teaching high school kids.
Back in ’65 I did not know the meaning of “sociopath,” now I do. Irwin was himself mentally ill and in need of supervision and care. I do not know if he ever got any care for his afflictions.
There have got to be others out there who might be willing to share their experiences if enough of us come forward. I don’t know where it all might lead, but I sense that us being in contact has something to do with us both healing. There have to be others out there with stories to tell, many may have never even realized what we were put through. Reading what two of us have written might serve to motivate others to come forward.
Telling our stories is vital to heal ourselves, motivate others, correct injustice and set the record straight.
From another man:
On Mar 19, 2009, at 11:36 AM, *Pete* wrote:
I just finished reading your article re Brother Irwin. I am speechless. I am catching my breath. I graduated from BC in 1966 (attended 1962-66) and thus was there when you were there and had much “exposure” to Irwin. My stomach is in a knot. Your description was so incredibly accurate and it instantly shot me back to those days. I am speechless. I think I want to thank you. I think I want to forget. But I think it isn’t right to just forget.
Have you heard from others?
On March 19, 2009 11:42:46 AM EDT
I responded to *Pete* and told him I had heard from others. I sent him my phone number.
On March 19, 2009 2:22:43 PM EDT *Pete* wrote:
What rapid responses! I appreciate your responses and your phone number. It is a gloomy day here and my spirits are darkened by thoughts of Irwin and the other BC nightmares. I have asked myself often why it is that I do not feel much affection for my high school days. I always attributed that lack of nostalgia to the fact that it was an all-male institution and the fact that it was a catholic school and I have become quite non-catholic. But I realize it is also issues such as this that compromise fondness for those days of youth.
Given that there have been two recent deaths in my family and that I am struggling in the process of healing and given that this realization about Irwin and his colleagues in crime is bringing me down, I am going to let this go for now.
I greatly appreciate your article and your bravery. I have your contact information and hopefully we can talk about better things someday. Meanwhile, I wish you a very wonderful life. From what I can see, you have been having one.
From a third man:
On Dec 19, 2009, at 11:36 AM, *Jack* wrote:
“I found your site and was at BC around the same time as you. You mentioned ‘for all I know Irwin is long dead’ and another alumnus clipped this from The Record in 1999 and sent it to me and for whatever reason I tucked it into the yearbook pages and so still have it.”
The summary of the obituary is as follows:
Charles B. Irwin
Born: Jan. 28, 1928 – Mount Vernon, NY
Graduated Iona Preparatory School, New Rochelle
Entered Congregation of Christian Brothers July 1, 1945
Professed First Vows September 8, 1946
Professed Final Vows September 8, 1953
Fordham University – BA Education 1953
St. John’s University – MA History 1956
Charles B. Irwin taught at the following institutions:
- St. Joseph’s Juniorate, West Park, NY
- Santa Maria Novitiate-Novice, West Park, NY
- St. Gabriel’s Scholasticate-Student, West Park, NY
- Sacred Heart Community and Grammar School, New York, NY
- Cardinal Hayes-Holy Family Community, Bronx, NY
- Cardinal Hayes-St. Helena’s Annex, Bronx, NY
- Cardinal Hayes Community and High School, Bronx, NY
- Power Memorial Community and Academy, New York, NY
- Leo Community and High School, Chicago, IL
- Bergen Catholic Community and High School, Oradell, NJ
- St. Patrick’s Provincialate Community, New Rochelle, NY
- Iona Prep, New Rochelle, NY 1979 – 1991 [Retired]
Died: October 9, 1997 – New Rochelle, NY
An anonymous individual with Photoshop skills offers some “psychological” advice:
Date: January 17, 2010 6:33:09 AM EST
Subject: Your site regarding an Irish Christian Brother
A Letter of Support:
On February 19, 2010 7:15:35 PM EST
Dear Rev. Kobutsu Malone,
After reading a report by Ireland’s Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse which came out in 2009, I was shocked at the accounts of many of the surviving men and women who gave accurate details of emotional, physical and sexual abuse at mainly the hands of the Irish Christian Brothers and nuns who ran the Reformatory and Industrial Schools where many of these surviving victims were brought to live at a very young age. I was very affected by their accounts and one school in particular was mentioned as being “a living hell”-it was called Artane. When I read the accounts of the boys who lived there from the 1930’s to the 1960’s I was emotionally wounded for them. I cried a lot because I could not believe how much they suffered at the hands of not only the Brothers but any adult who was affiliated with the place in one form or another.
What was even more disturbing was how the government, local police, residents and family members did very little to investigate when some of the boys, at the time, turned to them for help. I can honestly say that I am not shocked however at the reaction of the Catholic Church then and now, for decades it has done “absolutely nothing” to protect the victims but everything to protect the abusers.
I came across an article you wrote, ‘The Execution of the Holy Spirit’ regarding your experience at Bergen Catholic with a Brother Irwin and a Brother Howe – first of all they do not deserve to be called brothers, they deserve to be recognized as “pedophile” and “sociopath” Irwin and “pedophile” and “sociopath” Howe and I hope that all of those young men who they tried to break realize that they are not victims rather “brave” boys and now “brave” men who did absolutely nothing wrong but everything right. The fault, as we all know, lies in the hands of those evil, cowardly fools!
I too suffered at the hands of abuse as a child, the hands of my father who physically and mentally abused me and it took me years to realize that I had nothing to do with his cruel actions-it was his issue not mine. I was compelled to write to you because I wanted to thank you for reaching out to all those wonderful men who related to your experience at Bergen and for reiterating that what happened to you and to them is “not your fault.” I believe it is good for them to hear this and to realize that no matter how hard it is to remember, it should be talked about and not repressed. They have nothing to be embarrassed of and neither do you.
I hope you continue to reach out to those who have had similar experiences at Bergen and someday fight to be heard as they are doing in Ireland, for your sake and for the sake of any future, potential victims. The Catholic Church needs to continued to be challenged until they completely take actions to rid the evil souls that still hide behind their doors.
Kobutsu please remember that you and those other individual are not victims of abuse rather survivors of abuse! 🙂
From yet another man:
On April 2, 2010, at 1:13:40 PM EDT *Ralph* wrote:
I was a couple of years ahead of you 62-65, and transferred to Xxxxxxx H.S. for my senior year. I had Irwin of course for algebra, I have a vivid memory of his running his hand down the back of my pants, down the crack of my ass, and then watching him sniffing his finger as he sat at his desk. I don’t have a clear memory of how many times he had his hands on me. There were others he liked more – egads, I especially remember a kid with long blond hair, Elvis style, he was Irwin’s favorite in my class. I’m reflecting on thinking how lucky I was that he enjoyed abusing/torturing others more than me – geeze, that is sick. There was another brother, who was also talked about, who I seem to remember left the school in the middle of the year of 1962.
Somehow once I ended up under that guy’s arm, and he escorted me into the boys locker room, but kids were there, and somehow, I got away. Never went near him again, his name started with and M or W and sounded maybe polish. After he left there was just brother Irwin to worry about.
I don’t remember his rage especially, there was a lot of that rage, odd for such a vocation? There was a Brother Ryan? who would make us take off our pants in the halls with our shoes on, if we couldn’t he would beat the shit out of you. Another lasting memory, was the brother’s seeming obliviousness to bullies. I remember a kid named Xxxxxxx from Fort Lee, New Jersey – his favorite recreation between class, at lunch or gym was picking on littler, more timid kids. It was constant and of course there were other bullies, and the brothers turned a blind side to all of that too. It’s Kafkaesque, no?
So you’re a Malone, and then you took a Zen first name? I am still a practicing Catholic, attend mass etc, despite the current/new scandals reaching to touch the Pope. Most Catholics I know have little to no respect for the Magisterium in all its majesty and hypocrisy.
“I have a vivid memory of his running his hand down the back of my pants, down the crack of my ass, and then watching him sniffing his finger as he sat at his desk.”
Charles “The Chest” Irwin greets prom attendees 1965.
And another man:
On October 22, 2010, at 12:52:18 PM EDT *Sam* wrote:
Just found your web site. I was searching for pictures of BC to show my wife. I have a similar story not of any sexual abuse but definitely physical abuse. I graduated from the class of ‘70 and rode the Fort Lee bus. Yes, that bus. I remember the bullies who picked on us very well and had a few fist fights with them myself.
The school principal was expelled as I remember and a new principal took over. I believe the principal was expelled for physical and verbal abuse.
Yes, we had brothers who were in hiding. Some were obviously sexually confused and some not so obvious. We had one brother who was referred to as Sister Mary by some of the students. I will not use his name but I remember him well . He had a mean streak and liked to slap you in the face. We also had brothers who would punch you and knock you down for chewing gum in the hall.
My brother also had the misfortune of going to BC but failed out in his freshman year. There was a Brother who was a coach there and he was cruel to my little brother.
I did not want to dissapoint my Mother so I hung in there and took the abuse. It wasn’t a healthy atmosphere for kids that already had issues. It was certainly not nurturing. My brother did well in public school and enjoyed his high school years.
Brother Howe, I remember him well but not as a sexual abuser. He was just a bully . He enjoyed it and I had many fights with him in class. Mostly he would throw erasers at me . He was surprised when I threw them back at him. I wouldn’t take his crap.
We had a history teacher. His name was Mr. Darts. Mr. Darts was a nice man who took me out in the hall one day and spoke with me as a mentor. He knew I was having problems and suggested that if I didn’t want to be there I should talk to my parents. I have never forgotten him. His were the kindest words I had ever had at BC. Thankyou Mr. John Darts.
The Infamous Fort Lee Bus. I hated it but learned to defend myself. We had two upper classman who were big bullies. I only can remember their faces. They were football players and wore their BC jackets. I only wish they were in front of me now as an adult!
Send your boys to a good public school.
Here’s a memory for you and as crazy as it sounds it is 100% true.
I had a Jesuit for some religion class. He was talking about masturbation and the dropping of the seed intentionally. Did you know that is a mortal sin and you can go to hell for that? Well being defiant I asked him what would happen if it happen unintentionally, like while you were sleeping. What happens then if you die? Do you go to hell or only purgatory? Well the stuff hit the fan. I was told to go to the office. They sent me home with a letter recommending I leave the school. Guess the tuition was more valuable because my mother’s letter saved me.
What a bunch of sick people. I feel sorry for them and forgive them their sins. God only knows what they went through as young men entering the seminary. Forgiveness is the best lesson I have learned in life and it wasn’t taught to me at BC.
If you can pass my email along to the person who rode the Fort Lee bus I would appreciate it.
PS. I did not go on stage to accept my diploma at graduation. As an act of defiance I sat in the stands without a cap and gown. It was a great dissapointment to my Mother who could never understand. Sorry Mom.
Brother Michael McElhatton
A.K.A. “Sister Mary”
And another man:
On November 29, 2010, at 6:01 PM EDT *Karl* wrote:
I was in the class of 1971.
Fortunately, I never had the horrendous experiences you mentioned with Br Irwin and Br Howe, but I remember them both and am not at all surprised. Br Smith was a religion teacher that gave me a slap across the face that left a handprint for a few minutes. He was clearly effeminate, but was intolerant of anything but undivided attention. I had great experiences with all the lay teachers. Mr Stevenson in particular was the chess team coach. My guidance counselor was also the basketball coach (Dougherty?) and he was also very helpful. I got a great education at BC, but it is disgusting what the Catholic Church allowed to happen.
Brother Joseph Smith
On March 25, 2011, at 3:57 PM EDT *Jerome* wrote:
I just read your story about Brs. Irwin and Howe. I was a member of a late 60’s graduating class. I remember Charlie Irwin. We all knew he was a “fag” as we called him them. He did not sexually bother me but I do recall him putting his hand down boys shirts. I never saw the pants action. There were a number of homosexual brothers back then. Maybe because I came a few years after you, I (we) knew a little more about them. I know “Sister Mary” as one writer mentioned. There were plenty of mean ones too. Br. Howe was nasty as were others. I did not take their crap. As a matter of fact, I do believe I slapped Br. Fish after he slapped me one day.
Another guy mentioned the Fort Lee bus. I was on the same bus at that time. The bullies were in full force on that ride. I was picked on in school. I was skinny and not a jock. Fortunately, I always had a way with words and gave it right back. I remember one guy bothering me and I punched him in the face. Of course, he was twice my size and picked me up and threw me across a row or two of desks. But that was the end of it. I did not take the bullies crap either.
On June 7, 2011, this letter was received from *Greg* at 10:40:55 AM EDT:
I was reading an editorial in this past Sunday’s New York Times by Maureen Dowd in reference to a Bishop in Ireland, who among other things, got down on his knees and washed the feet of sexual abuse victims at a mass in Dublin. The editorial went on to say how his papal colleagues in the Vatican did not look upon the Irish Bishop favorably.
The editorial brought out the old anger of 40 years ago and I did something that I have resisted for decades. I goggled Bergen Catholic sexual abuse and your article came up. As I began to read my first impression was that I had written this in some trance-like state. When I showed your article to my wife she asked if I had written it. First I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for having the courage to bring out these things that many of us have tried to bury over the years.
My own experience begins with attending Xxxxxxxxxx grammar school in Xxxxxxxxx, NJ. I had gone to public school and had many happy years but my three older brothers had graduated from a Jesuit College and in my young mind I thought going to BC would give me a leg up on doing the same. From sixth thru eighth grade Brothers taught me. As with you, the terror was on a daily basis. Being slapped and hit was common but the worst for me was having to come to the front of the room and having your hand held while you were beaten with a steel ruler. I learned early that tears might diminish the amount of hits and so for me, the tears came quickly. My other recollection was to see some of my tougher friends hold out tears and piss the brothers off and receive many more hits.
Seeing your picture and knowing the dates that you attended Bergen Catholic I know I was there the same year and I am fairly sure that I was in the same algebra class with Irwin. I have forgotten most of my year at Bergen Catholic but the hell of a Brother Irwin algebra class will always be locked in my memory. I remember that his class came early in the day and that once we had gotten thru that part of our day, I personally felt a great sense of relief.
Looking back on that class I felt like that out of a class of say thirty boys, (I was maybe 5’4″ 105 lbs.) Brother Irwin gave me more heinous attention than other, bigger kids. This, coupled with a strong dislike of Math, was almost a death sentence in his class. Don’t get me wrong, everyone suffered and lived in utter fear in that class, but there were about ten that maybe fit his victims’ profile.
I do remember him marching up and down rows with his pointer and for someone like myself, who did not always do his daily homework, trying to guess when he would call on me and quickly trying to work out that problem only to have him skip a person and not know the answer when he circled back and called on me. I did not remember many of his little sick quirks that you mentioned because I kept my head down giving him no eye contact for fear of repercussions.
This is where my story gets a little more intense. A fellow classmate and I were caught cheating by Brother Irwin on the end of year Algebra final. Whether we had crib sheets that we were using or were verbally exchanging answers I don’t remember, but we were requested individually to see Brother Irwin at the end of the day. I entered his classroom at the end of the day, Irwin was seated behind the desk and he said, “I got you Mr. Xxxxxxxxx, I know you cheated, and I can fail you for the year.” I denied cheating and he continued to accuse. At one point he came from behind the desk and approached me. He did his usual neck pressure points and as I was standing there he reached down the rear of my pants. As I stood there, he took his hands and came around to my genital area. At this point I stepped back and summoned some courage and gave him a look like – “this ends now.” He stepped back and did his usual “cretin” and “retard” routine and told me after an awkward moment to leave.
I left that classroom knowing that I would never return to Bergen Catholic and it gave me a great sense of relief. I never mentioned the incident to my parents and thankfully they let me transfer to public school. The coward must have known that he might need to cover his tracks as I was given a “C.”
Over the years, I have always been thankful that I stepped back that day but I have always thought of how many other kids who fit his sick profile were put in a position were they did not have that option. There has never been any doubt in my mind that Brother Irwin, if given the right circumstance, would rape and abuse one of us. I have always wondered about the other boy who was caught cheating with me. How was he treated? He fit the same physical profile as me.
Again thank you for your initial essay as it gave me the courage, as a soon to be 61 year-old man, to express these long suppressed feelings.
“At one point he came from behind the desk and approached me. He did his usual neck pressure points and as I was standing there he reached down the rear of my pants. As I stood there, he took his hands and came around to my genital area. At this point I stepped back and summoned some courage and gave him a look like – ‘this ends now.’ He stepped back and did his usual ‘cretin’ and ‘retard’ routine and told me after an awkward moment to leave.”
On August 2, 2011 4:33:20 PM EDT *Chuck* wrote:
You were sexually abused by Brother Irwin at Bergen Catholic. I was physically abused.
I lost my algebra book (actually stolen from my locker) and Brother Irwin told me to get another one. My family did not have the money to buy a new one.
On the afternoon of Tuesday October 16, 1962 (I know this because I was removed from Bergen Catholic by my parents after this incident) Brother Irwin came down the aisle and stood towering over me at my desk. He flipped the book open and saw another student’s name, Xxxx Xxxxxx, inside the cover. He made me go to the back of the room and bent me over a desk. He was known for lifting boy’s shirts and taking three fingers together and snapping them across the exposed flesh. Before he started he said he knew something better. He took a belt from another student, Xxxxx Xxxx, and started to whip me. Forty lashes with that belt. Forty really hard lashes. Nothing like I ever experienced in my life, before and ever since. Beyond pain.
Some of the students tried to come to my aid but he threatened them all that if they did anything they would get the same. You could get all their names by going to the 1962 Algebra class records and ask each of them. They were totally intimidated by him.
After he finished beating me (I was a complete mess, crying and almost unable to walk) he made me stand up and said, Mr. Xxxxxx, you didn’t seem to like your punishment. Would you rather have had a month’s worth of detentions? I nodded “yes” and he said, “You got it” and started to write them out. Xxxxx Xxxx and several other classmates protested, it felt as if a riot was going to break out but I couldn’t care less. I was beyond pain. He stopped writing and told everyone to sit at their desks and be quiet. I lay with my head on my desk, crying uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop no matter how hard I tried. The bell at the end of the period rang. We stayed in that classroom as the teachers rotated classes.
Brother O’Sullivan was the next teacher and came in and walked up to my desk and asked what happened. I couldn’t speak but one of the students told him what happened. He left the room and came back five minutes or so later and told everyone to read quietly. After that class, several students helped me get to the bus. I still was crying uncontrollably and it took me all the way home to finally control the crying.
We lived down the street from Xxxxxxxxx Church and Father Xxxxxxxx came to the house. His response was that “*Chuck* must have done something to deserve this”. My parents had me stay home the next day and on Thursday my father took off from work and took me to Bergen Catholic and confronted Brother Kean the principal and demanded that Brother Irwin come to the office. When Brother Irwin came in my father took his belt off and tried to go after Brother Irwin but was physically restrained by Brother Kean.
I was taken out of school and started at Xxxxxxxxxx High School the next Monday.
My life was never the same.
“He took a belt from another student, Xxxxx Xxxx, and started to whip me. Forty lashes with that belt. Forty really hard lashes. Nothing like I ever experienced in my life, before and ever since. Beyond pain.”
“My parents had me stay home the next day and on Thursday my father took off from work and took me to Bergen Catholic and confronted Brother Kean the principal and demanded that Brother Irwin come to the office. When Brother Irwin came in my father took his belt off and tried to go after Brother Irwin but was physically restrained by Brother Kean.”
“My life was never the same.”
|Br. Alfred X. Kean
A.K.A. “The Axe”
|Br. Charles B. Irwin
A.K.A. “The Chest”
Another man writes:
On Aug 3, 2011, at 12:36 PM, *Dennis* wrote:
Physical and verbal abuse was so common in Catholic Schools, but *Chuck’s* account here is the most intense I ever read or heard about other than in some novel or movie.
I went to Cardinal Hayes High School. In my freshman year (1965) the most severe abuse I witnessed was during announcements at the end of one spring day. A classmate was chatting away and was spotted by one of the priest teachers from the hallway. The priest came running in, grabbed the student out of his seat, carried / dragged him to the front of the room and smashed him face first into the blackboard. The priest then threatened to do the same to any of the rest of us. The kid was terrified, traumatized – his parents eventually removed him from the school.
Cardinal Hayes High School, Bronx, New York
THE EXECUTION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT Part One the story
by Kobutsu Malone
From the Link: http://www.bergencatholicabuse.com/
“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”
Serial Sexual Harassment, Assault & Battery by Irish Christian Brothers
at Bergen Catholic High School, Oradell, New Jersey: A memoir from 1964
Written on: January 20, 2002
The year was 1964. I was 14 years old and had just entered Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, New Jersey. I did not want to go to Bergen but my domineering father whose self-interests for me showed no concern whatsoever for mine, or anyone else’s, feelings forced me into the school. I remember taking a long test for placement in the school in the gymnasium and I recall receiving the acceptance form. I had mixed feelings about this, having just spent eight years under the tutelage of Dominican nuns and the Sisters of Charity.
The experiences with the nuns during those years were traumatic. Many of us kids were humiliated and intimidated by the nuns on an ongoing basis. The image of a stern nun in full habit, bearing down on you with ruler in hand is the stuff of nightmares. I graduated from the grasp of the Sisters of Charity from Our Lady of the Visitation Church School in Paramus, New Jersey in 1963. Unbeknownst to me then, my experiences with the nuns were nothing in comparison to what was to come at the hands of the Irish Christian Brothers in Bergen Catholic High School the following two years.
|Kevin Malone – 1964|
|(Ven. Kobutsu Malone)|
The first days in Bergen Catholic were disorienting. It was my first exposure to an all male environment and my first dealings with Brothers. I was assigned to Room 34 as my homeroom, in what was then the new extension to the original school building. It was intimidating at first meeting the teachers, Brothers and lay men, who taught at the school. Up until that point in time I had only had women as teachers and suddenly the teachers were all men.
As teenagers in the mid sixties, we were very naive, not having been exposed to much beyond the confines of the Catholic schools that most of us had attended before coming to Bergen Catholic. We had universally been taught that teachers, and especially, priests, nuns and brothers were to be held in high esteem and could do no wrong. To us, they represented the direct intervention of the Church and God himself. We had no knowledge of the psychology of oppression or the idea of child abuse, or even heard the word “pedophile.”
There was nothing in my life that prepared me for the horror that was to unfold in Bergen Catholic High School in the following two years. Only in retrospect, looking back at the experiences some thirty five years later can I even begin to communicate what I, and certainly many of my fellow students, went through in that place.
In our freshman class we were introduced to the teachers of the subjects on day one. We had Latin, History, Biology, Math, English and Religion. There were a few teachers I remember as likable, most were intimidating, one in particular was perhaps one of the more despicable creatures to ever wear a Brother’s cassock. Brother Charles Borromeo Irwin was his name; he taught us freshman mathematics and served as the school treasurer.
|Br. Charles Borromeo Irwin|
I remember clearly the first day this individual came to the classroom. He was unkempt, smelled of stale tobacco, with nicotine stained fingers, yellow teeth and had the most hateful demeanor I had ever encountered. He would make snorting noises in an attempt to clear his sinuses instead of using a handkerchief. He would wipe his nose with his hand and then wipe the snot from his hand on his clothes or into his hair. He would terrorize us orally with tirades of abuse, shouting out loudly without warning, calling individual students “cretin, retard, pot-head, idiot, bungler” and “toad.” He would at times spontaneously begin singing the ditty, “Mares eat oats And does eat oats And little lambs eat ivy. A kid’ll eat ivy too, Wouldn’t you?” His demeanor would change in an instant, bringing forth an outburst of vitriolic hatred directed at an individual student or the entire class. His behavior was bizarre to say the least; he built on the terror he projected, taking delight in the trauma and meanness he spewed forth on us kids.
“Charlie Irwin” AKA “The Chest” had an even darker side. This individual was given total authority over a class of thirty some odd adolescent boys. These young men were subject to him in private for forty minutes every day of the school week, we endured his presence through over 180 classes that year. His irrational behavior was obvious from the start; we all feared him right off the bat and as time progressed, our unmentionable fears became paramount in our days at school.
Irwin was a math teacher, and well accustomed to having his way with students. He had the habit of walking up and down the rows of the classroom while he talked or while we were doing tests or assignments. Periodically he would assign us work and retired to the back corner of the classroom near and open window and have a cigarette, heaven help the boy who dared to turn and look at him thus disposed.
Irwin’s most traumatic actions consisted of engaging in a verbal tirade over the stupidity of a particular student followed by a walk down the aisle next to the targeted student’s desk. Irwin was a tall skinny man, with an evident potbelly and pronounced slouch, he was far and away taller than all of the boys. His physical size coupled with his nasty demeanor and our lack of ability to communicate was totally intimidating.
I sat in the desk directly in front of the teacher’s desk in the classroom and we were required to sit at the same desks throughout the school year. I remember distinctly the first time Irwin molested a student in the classroom.
|Br. Charles Borromeo Irwin|
His first indecent assault and battery were tremendously shocking to me and I lived in fear from that moment on throughout my tenure in that school.
Irwin came down the isle next to mine and leaned over a young man and placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. He pushed down with some force so that the boy was forced forward into his seat, leaving a space between the boy’s back and the rear of the seat. Irwin did this with his left hand, approaching the boy from the boy’s rear left hand side. After pushing the young man down in his seat, Irwin reached behind the boy in the space created by the boy’s position in the chair and began pulling out the boy’s shirttail from his trousers. All during this episode Irwin was making wise cracks and calling the young man derogatory names in a hate filled voice. His final action, on the squirming victim, was to insert his hand into the boy’s pants and, placing it on the young man’s bare backside, squeezing his buttocks while the youth squirmed in terror and embarrassment in front of all his classmates.
I recall leaving that classroom that day feeling depressed and frightened at what had taken place in front of thirty other boys. None of us had the vocabulary or psychological sophistication to even talk about what we had witnessed, few said anything, and none of us had the courage to even address the issue.
Brother Irwin became bolder from that point on. He made threats to all of us as to revealing what took place in the classroom and engaged in wholesale terrorism for the remainder of the year. Irwin would repeat his molestation countless times on various students. He had certain favorites he would molest and assault repeatedly. His method always seemed to involve placing his hands down a boy’s pants and squeezing the boy’s buttocks while holding the child in his seat by a hand on the young man’s leg or by holding him down by his shoulder.
There was rarely a week that went by that Irwin did not molest someone in that classroom. We had no words to describe what we were experiencing and witnessing. The word “pedophile” was not in our vocabulary, nor was the word “molest.”
The closest we came to having a word for what we were experiencing was what some boys voiced as “MO” (short for “homosexual” that was barely, if at all, in our vocabulary)
Charlie Irwin had a biological brother, a lay teacher, named Thomas Irwin who was also a teacher in the school. I remember being in “Tommy” Irwin’s class in sophomore year, one day when one of the students called his brother (“Charlie”) a “MO”. Tommy Irwin denied that his brother was “like that”, indicating that even his brother had heard something and was in denial.
Looking back on it now, I find it impossible to fathom that no one in authority in that school or no parent ever took issue with what was taking place in the classroom and what we kids were being subjected to on a daily basis. I can only conclude that either not one of us communicated what was going on or that if anyone did, whatever repercussions ensued were suppressed and “handled quietly.” If the latter was the case, there are some issues of accountability outstanding. Thirty-five years later, I am the parent of two fine young men. If one of my boys came home from school with such a tale of abuse, assault, battery and sexual molestation, I would instantly remove my child from harm, seek immediate legal recourse and insure that the offender never ever entered another classroom or had any dealings with young people.
That is now… back then, at 14 years old, I for one would have been petrified to tell my parents of such things. The fear I had of my own father was a terror in its own right. I wanted as little to do with interacting with him as possible then. I most certainly could not have imagined ever bringing up what was happening to us in school by having to describe how an Irish Christian Brother, who my father held in high esteem just for the fact that he might wear a cassock and belong to the order, would regularly patrol the isles putting his hands down our pants, repeatedly molesting us during our math classes.
Back then things were not as open as they are now, there were many topics that were just not discussed in high school that are easily broached nowadays. Then, as victims, as Catholic school students, we were tremendously embarrassed to talk of any sexual matters, let alone homosexual matters, let alone being molested on a daily basis by a Brother in the School that our parents had selected because of its supposed superior educational qualities.
What happened to us was not our fault, but it could not have been any more embarrassing to talk about than any other topic imaginable. It was hard to understand why our parents wanted us so much to attend that place when we were being criminally assaulted and battered on an almost daily basis.
The damage some of us incurred in that place is inestimable. I presently live in the same area as the school and periodically in my travels I pass by the place. Each time I drive by, I remember the horror of those years. I think of the harm done by Irwin to hundreds of young boys over the years and I think of the institution that would allow such behavior to perpetuate. Mostly, I resent ever being sent into that hell hole and how relieved I was when I finally flunked out of there at the end of my sophomore year. I also remember the wrath of my father when my failure became known.
But who failed in reality? My father never had a clue what us kids were going through in there. He wasn’t there in the classroom when Brother Charlie Irwin came down the isle, sticking his hands in our pants, running his fingers in out butt cracks and then surreptitiously smelling his fingers afterwards. How do you tell that to your staunch Irish Catholic father in 1965?
|Br. Ronald Alexius Howe|
We lived in fear in that school, there were other Brothers there who taught us who were indeed sociopathic, violent men who frightened and intimidated us throughout the school year. I remember one of them, Brother Howe, pulling me out of my seat in the cafeteria one day because I was practicing hypnosis on another student. This individual lifted me bodily from the chair, threw me into a concrete block wall, lifted me up the wall by my arms, held me pinned to the wall by my neck while holding his right hand in a fist in front of my face. His words still resonate in me, “You fucker, you bring him out of that trance or I will drag you up to the principal’s office and beat the fucking shit out of you every step of the way.” This is an educator of young men? Brother Howe was well known for violent outbursts, his attack on me was not at all out of character, yet he continued to serve as a teacher in Bergen Catholic.
What happened to Charlie Irwin after I left Bergen Catholic I may never know. How many boys did he molest after that? How many young men were forced to endure his criminal attacks prior to my being there? How much damage did that vile individual do to innocent young men over his career as a so-called teacher? What of Brother Howe? I may never know the answers to these questions, none of us may ever know. I know one thing, it took me over thirty years to be able to put some of these experiences down on paper. I have spent a good portion of my life in introspection and self-examination and yet it has taken me more that three decades to be able to speak openly about Irwin.
For all I know, Irwin is long dead, if so he can no longer hurt any young boys. I know full well the implications of being a victim of that criminal in monk’s clothing, I know full well about survivor’s guilt and the sense of feeling dirty as a victim of such vile, degrading and filthy sexual abuse.
There is no closure, it does not just go away “in time” it is always a part of every victim’s life experience throughout the extent of their lives. So much pain, such shame, such unfairness, such betrayal. Forgiveness? It is a quaint notion, perhaps if faced with Irwin in person today; I might be able to manage such a feat. He is not in my life any more; he disappeared from my universe in 1966. Given his state of mind and general unhealthiness, I doubt he is still alive, but the memories of his abuse and battery linger.
It’s hard to forgive a memory, even more difficult as a victim to forgive a memory of terror and profound humiliation. I sincerely hope that in my putting these words on paper, other individuals who suffered as victims of Irwin and other pedophiles hiding in the Catholic Church will find the courage to come forward and elucidate their experiences.
Ven. Kobutsu Malone-Osho
Obituary Link for Br. Ronald Joseph Howe http://www.bergencatholicabuse.com/PDFs/20120124_Howe_Obit.pdf
Obituary Link for Br. Charles B. Irwin http://www.bergencatholicabuse.com/PDFs/IrwinObit.pdf