Feel Free and Feel Safe

Degs back again.

Welcome to all the new contributors and thanks for comments and input. People are beginning to find the site. I cannot imagine the strength and courage it must have taken to post some of these, my heart goes out to you. My hope is that through this site some steps towards closure may be achieved. There are people who are listening to you on this site. Remember that you are not alone and through unity there is strength.

Reading some of the comments concerning harsh treatment by some of the priests I have come to the conclusion that it is not the severity of the act but the impact that the act had on the individual that counts.

My experiences with Cerea consisted of several harsh words and on a few occasions a backhander across the head or face. One occasion comes to mind. Cerea caught us mid-water fight down at the greenhouse, so he frog marched us around to the incinerator where we had to kneel down in the ashes in a line. I was at the front of the line and another big lad, Melvyn Thompson, was at the back. Between us two there must have been about six or seven other lads. As I remember, Melvyn was always a target for Ched, he was always the fall guy in the Latin class.

Ched began to berate us in his normal fashion, telling us how disappointed our parents would be, etc. But while he did this he walked back and forth. When he reached the front of the line he would slap me across the head and on reaching the back of the line he would slap Melvyn, with the boys in-between cowering but remaining untouched. I remember Ched made several trips up and down the line that day!!

Events like that did not have the same impact on me as similar events had on others. Was I thicker skinned or just thick? The point is that, as an adult, Ched should have been aware of the effect that his behaviour was having on individuals and moderate it accordingly. His teaching technique was quite primitive with only the academically bright lads achieving. I seem to remember that he did have a 100% pass rate in GCSE due to the fact that if you were not a sure bet you were persuaded to drop the subject, which by that time you were only too willing to do.

Once again my heart goes out to all the Mirfield boys who did not have the same shared experience of the majority and who had to suffer the darker side of Mirfield in isolation. I cannot begin to imagine what you have been through. My thoughts are with you and I hope in some small way that the fact that you can talk about it on the site will help.

As a foot note I was there when Ched lost control of one group of lads in the early seventies who managed to see through his diguise and expose a rather insecure little old man who broke down in tears incapable of relating to and molding these boys rather than beating them into submission.

All the best to everyone and once again feel free and feel safe to comment, criticise or simply walk down memory lane here on this blog.


18 responses to “Feel Free and Feel Safe

  1. I wondered at first who “Ched” was. We called him “Cherry.” I think he, more than any other was responsible for, in my time, up to 50% of the boys leaving during or after their first year. I have always wondered at the intelligence of some of the Verona Fathers, going to all that effort and expense of recruiting, only to have this man undo all their efforts and lose their recruits. It’s hard to believe that the other fathers dis no realise what was going on, but that was the trouble, they did not seem to care. Making a complaint about him to the rector would have meant instant expulsion in my day, when around 10% of the students were expelled each year, surely a record for any school or college. Often one of your friends would disappear one day and an announcement would be made that he had been expelled, with no explanation given, deliberately leaving you to assume the worst, that he had been caught committing some heinous crime.

    • Cherry?I am guessing that you must have been before my time.When I first arrived at Mirfield it was towards the end of a very austier period ,stricked dress code with almost a prison kind of live style coupled with the odd “free day” when we could venture into Huddersfield on are own in small groups and spend our precious pocket money and return before a curfew.The older lads that I remember from that era where Joe Colbey, Bernard ?,Liam Gribbens, Danny Curran,Paddy Oneil,Paul Felix,Stephen Burnip and others whose names drift in and out of my memmory like the tide.
      Several of these names bring back fond memmories of kindness and friendship,like the time a second hand shop owner tried to rip me off and Danny and Liam came to my rescue.At a past reunion I did get the chance to thank them even though they could not recall the event it has remaind with me all my life and was much appreciated by a very intimmidated 11yr old ,very far away from his home and the security of his family.This was the time of Pinkman and Valmaggia,whom thankfuly I had very few dealings with.It is funny how things changed within this “Band of brothers”.
      I remember at one gathering of old boys people had been asked to “keep their eyes and ears open” by one old boy who was now quite high ranking in the order..What had the order to fear? It is now becoming clear..But what has turned these good decent inocent lads into fearful complicit acomplises of a few warped indivduals. They have used the order and the misguided loyalty of the majority of its members as a sheild from which they can still hide from justice and perhaps still perpitrate such acts .
      I believe that through this blog and reunions the old boys will work through this and friends who suffered will find support and some kind of closure..
      But what will you find in the small dark hours of the night,alone with your thoughts, praying to your god for guidance ?.Listen to his answer.You cannot sit on the fence ,to be silent is to be guilty

      So to any of the order who are following this blog engage and comment there are some of us who are looking for answers and explanations only you can give
      Because if you still believe in the god that I believed in then there will be a reconing and if that is so then you do indeed need to be fearful.

      I can be contacted on my e mail kevindeignan@live.co.uk

      degs . .

      • I was at the seminary from 1965 -1970. I have some good memories which are overshadowed by instances of sexual abuse and degradation. Strangely enough such experiences made me a stronger person, which is why I managed to “survive” for 5 years. I know choose my words carefully. I would be happy to meet or speak with any member of the staff between the above years. Unfortunately, I guess the majority of them have died. More than prepared to look anyone in the eye and explain to them their appalling behavior and abuse of authority. This is not a question of one or two abusers but a “brotherhood” complicit either intentionally or recklessly. In April 1970, I spoke to the rector at that time and advised him very clearly of the abuse still ongoing. I was expelled the same day, only allowed to return to sit my o-levels. Not bad for a 15 year old young boy. The rector never once looked in my eyes while he wrote a letter advising my parents of my expulsion. “Ora et Labora” I think the term my children would put here is lol.

        We are now all grown-ups. The fathers there were a disgrace and nothing more than bullies and abusers. None of them dare claim they knew “nothing” even if they simply did “nothing”

  2. We never had a free day of any kind, were never allowed out of the college gates at all except for a strictly supervised walk on a Wednesday afternoon, and were not allowed to have or to spend ant money ever. What you describe, having a free day and being allowed to go to Huddersfield would have been heaven to us. When I was there there was a whole year of students “gated” for some offence or other by the maniacal and vile tempered Hierons, the rector at the time, whose unprovoked and uncontrollable rages and totally irrational actions were dreaded by everyone. This meant they were never allowed out of the college gates at all, apart from Christmas ans summer holidays, for a full year. Jail would have been preferable to this.
    Looking back with hindsight this imprisonment was totally and absolutely illegal, and criminal charges of false imprisonment could have been brought if a complaint had been made to the authorities.
    Also after leaving I learnt about fire regulations – again criminal acts were committed by ignoring them. Fifty boys in one dormitory with only one exit, no fire alarms, no fire escapes, everyone being locked in at night – some very evil priests would have gone to jail for a long time if the place had ever been investigated. I hate to think what the consequences of a fire would have been in that place.Even apart from the physical and sexual abuse, the conditions the boys were kept in were downright illegal.

    • To Another Mirfield Boy
      You wrote about speaking to the the rector in 1970 about the abuse that was happening at Mirfield, and then having to leave that day as a result.

      What priest, or priests, were abusing?

      They are not all dead. Nardo is, as far i know, still alive, still a priest, and still living in the order’s house in Verona.

      • Pinkman, Valmaggio were the main culprits. Although PInkman left by my third year Valmaggio continued to use his position as person responsible for health problems and in charge of the infirmary. He did not even have to persuade boys to visit his room, he simply advised they needed to stay in the infirmary over night. I remember a friend of mine spending a week there due to a high temperature?

        To be truthful, I never had anything to do with Nardo? Again I do not even recollect him so I am unsure whether he was actually at the college between those dates? Was he known by another name? Pinkman was the clever one, he would give you a book explaining the quaintly named “facts of life” I think this was probably a legitimate part of his pastoral role. However, he then proceeded to give you a physical examination involving a “practical” demonstration of how an erection is achieved. You were invited or should I say forced to then reciprocate the “practical” upon PInkman himself who was by then completely naked. I am not sure the detail is important nor helpful now. Alternatively, if any official or member of staff need to hear it, I can give them the whole sordid truth if it helps anyone.

      • I had two experiences of sexual abuse by Valmaggia, within a couple of days of each other. I went to him with flu symptoms, and was subjected to a very intimate examination (including groping of private parts) which had nothing to do with the flu. A few days later he again ordered me to strip, although this time he did not touch, he just stared. Up till then I had heard what I had thought were just jokes from the college comedians “Father Valmaggia, I’ve got toothache” “Well get your trousers off and let me have a look” but then realised that these “jokes” were based on fact and that others had had similar experiences.
        With hindsight it seems possible that many or most of the unexplained expulsions were to silence students who tried to report this sexual abuse, the victims rather than the perpetrators being punished.
        It also seem absolutely certain that the superiors knew or at least suspected that this was going on and did nothing about it, so were equally guilty.

  3. In the early days at Mirfield there was an outbreak of bed wetting among the very young boys. Any psychiatrist will tell you that this is a result of emotional distress. This distress was caused by the abuse they, eleven year old boys away from their parents for the first time, suffered. However Hierons’ answer to this was to expose them to public ridicule making them a laughing stock in front of their fellow students, calling them babies and berating them for not being able to control themselves. They were made to sleep in the infirmary instead of the dormitories, and told what a disgrace this was.Naturally the increased stress of this treatment made their condition worse. Hierons even boasted to the boys that he had expelled a boy for not reporting that he had wet the bed. The poor boy was probably paralysed with fear and too afraid to report it.
    All the boys with this problem left during their first year or did not return after the holidays. We always suspected they were taken away by horrified parents when they discovered this treatment.

  4. Just a short observation here Chris .
    I am sure that the detail is important and very helpful. The old boys and order members, who I am sure are monitoring this site ,will now be aware that these acts that were perpetrated on these young men were not insignificant and so cannot be ignored.Perhaps the grusome detail may be what is required in order for a lot more people to come off the fence and stop looking thru pink tinted glasses and aknowledge that there was a darker side to mirfield.
    Even if we did not experience it we can at least aknowledge it and work towards some kind of closure and support for those who did..
    This is the least that you deserve.

    all the best


    • Thanks for that Degs and for maintaining the site.

      If you are correct and members of the Order are monitoring the site, I say to them contact me, let’s meet up here or I am happy to travel to Italy. However be aware that you will get “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!” Also, I will advise you now I am a practicing lawyer and if the opportunity arises I will pursue the people responsible, to the best of my ability.

      On a positive note, there were good times at the seminary. I remember how cool it was in the mid 60s to play football in the Inter Milan Strip. I continued to play football for as many years as I could as an adult, not to a very. God standard I hasten to add. I also managed a junior football team for about 6 years, while my son was playing. Interestingly every adult associated with the team had to have a full CRB check to work with children. How times have changed from adults caring for children at the seminary. Oh I can’t finish without saying I passed Latin A level grade B (I think) not because of Father Cerea but “in spite” of Father Cerea.

  5. An incident I always remember was within a week or two of first going to Mirfield in the early 60s. The rector at that time was Fr. Hierons. He used to fold a weekly “conference” where he would address the boys for about half an hour or so, although wasn’t a real “conference” as no questions were allowed.
    He quoted the gospel where Jesus said “no-one who pouts his hand to the plough and turns back will enter the kingdom of God” or words to that effect. He told us that meant us. By entering the seminary we had put our hands to the plough. If we turned back, i.e., left, for any reason at all we could not enter the kingdom of God, i.e., would go to Hell. He then went on to tell us the other gospel story about the young man who was called by Jesus but turned away sad because he was rich. He want on to add, with words so terrifying that I still remember them over fifty years later “and we know for a fact that that young man went to Hell. And so will any of you who turn away and leave.” We were very young and naive to believe these cruel threats. We had been taught to believe everything a priest told us, and those of us who were beginning to realise the huge mistake we had made in going to Mirfield were too terrified by this threat of Hell to do anything about it. I often much wondered how he knew this man went to Hell.
    The threat of Hell was made frequently to the boys. It seemed that going to Mirfield increased your chances of damnation a thousand fold, so often was the threat made. The other example I remember was when I was about fourteen or fifteen years old and my voice was breaking, meaning I could not sing in tune. The choirmaster, Fr. Cerea, heard my croaking voice and told me I was “insulting God” by singing in that “big fat voice” as he put it, and to stop, or I would go to Hell for this insult. The vice-rector, Fr. Ceresoli, then spotted me not singing and told me that not singing was refusing to pray, which was “apostasy” so by doing as I was told by another priest I had committed a terrible mortal sin, which would land me in Hell. Trying to explain top either what the other said was futile, thwey were acting like men possessed and would not listen.. This went on for months, one manic screaming at me to sing and the other not to, so my eternal damnation was assured, since whatever I did I was disobeying one of the other of them. It’s something I still have nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks about this incident many years later, especially brought on by hearing hymns sung in church. Hell was never far away at Mirfield.

  6. The link below is to a site any ex Mirfield by should read. I only came across it recently. Although I (vaguely) remembered Mick Wainhouse, I knew nothing of this story, so it came as a huge shock to me. My memories of Mick from the very short time I knew him were of a very quiet and gentle person. Especially shocking was the fact that many Africans died as the ultimate result of the treatment meted out to Mick by an order supposedly dedicated to Africans.This story may of course be familiar to you all but was new to me.

  7. Last Days At Mirfield

    I remember my last few weeks at Mirfield. We finished our “A” Levels about four weeks before the end of the term time. There was no school after that, no lessons. We were given manual work to do for this time, as there was no they would relax the “rules for rules’ sake” attitude and let is home early, even though keeping us at Mirfield was pointless and achieved nothing. After about three weeks of this I was summoned to the office of the Rector, Ambrogio. He seemed in a rage, and I could tell from his face that I was in disfavour, and must have done something seriously wrong. I wondered what great offence I had unwittingly committed. He told me he had just had a phone call from my father.
    I had an old aunt who was a nun in a convent in Canada in an enclosed order. When she joined, the rules were that they were never allowed home, and she had spent 60 years in the convent. However, Vatican II had just finished and there was a slight liberalisation. They were allowed one trip home in their lifetime. She had expressed a desire to meet me, since I was a seminarian, and my parents and grandmother were anxious for me to meet her. Because of her age, and only having a week at home, there was no chance of her coming o Mirfield to see me. She was due to return to her convent two days before I came home on holiday.
    My father knew that the academic year was over, so without my knowledge, he phoned Ambrogio and asked I could be allowed to go home a few days, not even a week early. I was berated for this and told it was a disgrace to be expected to get away early, although my presence at Mirfield at this time was totally pointless. My father should have known not to phone and ask, and my old aunt, being a nun, should have known that deviation from rules would never be possible. I was given a thorough dressing down for an innocent request by my father and my aunt, of which I had had no knowledge before this. I had only a few days left at Mirfield, and the chance of a last bit of pointless cruelty was too good a chance for him to miss. A few years later my aunt died with me having never met her.
    My final few days at Mirfield left a really bad taste in my mouth.

  8. I was at Stillington and then Mirfield between 1959 – 1962/3. Just totally amazed at these recollections.I have only the fondest memories of my time with the Verona Fathers. I especially remember Fr.Grace,Fr Hierons and Fr Colombo. All were very very decent to me .I have to say that Fr Valmaggio did make me undress to examine me when I had the flu and was confined to the clinic. Seemed a bit strange at the time but nothing untoward took place. This revelation now has been a complete shock as I regarded my time there as one of the best times in my life.In fact it introduced me to Yorkshire and England that made me move down south a few years after when I was about 22 yrs of age. What can I say ? I feel very sorry for those abused and for me my memories are destroyed.To think that I always said how angry I was at abuse by priests.Then told anyone who would listen about how good a time I had at Stillington and Mirfield. I am an agnostic and have been for many years. This has been reinforced. Pat Colhoun. patcolhoun@blueyonder.co.uk

    • Hi Pat
      thanks a lot for your comment.These mirror my sentements.I feel a huge sense of betrayal even though my experience at junior seminary was a positive one . I have said in the past that a few have blighted and negatively impacted on a lot of peoples lives .The church and the order must become transparent if they are to regain their credibility.It is difficult to remember the good that has been done in their name when the acts of these few, seemingly ignored by so many, have cast a long dark shadow over the order.Only they can help heal the scar that has formed.

      All the best Pat

    • I think I remember you, you were a very keen Celtic supporter, were you not? This seemed to be Valmaggia’s way of working. Sometimes he seemed to be content looking at naked boys, other times he was more physical, but either way he abused his position of trust. Ask yourself, was there any possible legitimate reason for him to get you (and many other boys) to undress for a flu check? None at all. His very sudden departure from the order must be explained.

      • I remember Pat Colhoun – in my class I am sure. I think I even have some photographs with him and others. Well! Well! I was locked in the infirmary for a week Pat and sexually abused by Valmaggia. I can’t believe how naive I was – but I justnever thought that a priest could do any wrong – and when he said he needed to “check things out to see if they were working properly – I just let him get on with it!!! Iwent on to Sunningdale – then to a psychiatrist!!! It was years later when it suddenly hit me that Valmaggia was abusing me. A few years back I wrote to the Verona Fathers. They said Valmaggia had left the Order – and was probably dead! I wrote to the Archbishop of Westminster – he said it was not a matter for him!!!

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