We have just returned from a holiday in Europe so to all those people I should have contacted but did not , my apologies. (Tony Rowe if you are reading this I will be in touch ) I know that things are slowly gathering momentum behind the scenes, however the blog needs feeding to survive .
The blog is serving many purposes. It has become a catalyst , a contact point ,a memoir, a therapeutic aid and primarily a platform where anyone can air their opinions and thoughts . Input is what is needed to stop the blog stagnating . With the April reunion fast becoming a distant memory and everyone settling down to the everyday grind things can be put on the “back burner”. So lets hope that we can swell the ranks of the regulars with some input from the watchers .
So here is a small contribution. Firstly I was very saddened and shocked by the news of Aiden Donovan’s illness , and I much appreciate Eamon and Michael’s efforts in keeping everyone up to date with a very difficult situation for Dono and his family . It also gladdened my heart to hear that several MOBS had visited and others intend to visit if circumstances allow . I am sure that all our thoughts are with him and his family. If anyone has visited and feels that it is appropriate , please post , or perhaps if Aiden is up to it could someone let me have his email address . I have also heard on the grape vine that Fr Bob Hicks has experienced a period of bad health , I hope that he will soon be back to good health.
On our return I was surprised to find out that the inevitable had happened, several newspapers had run with a piece on the abuse at Mirfield. Everyday the papers seem to carry some new articles on abuse in some form, perpetrated by abusers from all walks of life . However the more celeb status the perpetrator has the greater the media coverage is . The Roman catholic church has quite a celeb status , but abuse carried out under it’s protection has now almost become commonplace with cases being reported on a daily basis . Every case needs to be heard and acted on . One thread that runs through a lot of these cases is that these events were at sometime brought to someone’s attention , and that someone did not believe or did not act on the information . I cannot imagine the distress and anguish that this must cause but by the same token I am in awe of the courage required to persist,” the truth will out ” . One thing that I have noted with pieces about abuse within the church , is the church’s muted comments .They should be very vocal in their condemnation and very open in their efforts to stop these events . Or is it that the rot has gone too far??
It occurred to me the other day that at past reunions when the subject of abuse was being talked about it was being discussed by a group of 50- 60 year old men in a pub after a pint or two . The events happened decades ago. Is this the reason that we can talk about it now ? Has time dulled the pain, taken the raw edge off ? . If so let me refresh our collective memories , because the abuse happened not to the 50-60 year old men but to 11-14 year old bewildered and frightened boys . Let me tell you part of my story-
I was born in Jarrow in 1955 .My family were involved in the heavy engineering industry . When my father was promoted to welding shop manager we bought a house in Felling and moved . Our local parish church was St Patrick’s and the local R C primary St John’s . These name should stir the memories of some of the old boys as Ambrose Mullroy , George Anderson , Gerald Meene and Gerald Murphy (Muff) were all recruited from the parish over a two or three year period . Fr Strong was the parish priest , strong by name strong by nature .
At that time and in that area the church’s hold was considerable ,congregations were huge , the clergy played to full houses , they instilled the fear of god into all. The parish priest was all powerful his position in his parish was second only to that of god himself . Hard men even like my father (who had quite a reputation amongst the men at welding shops 1 2,and 3 at Reyrolls , they called him Metal Mickey ! ) were in awe of all clergy. The day after Fr Fulvi made a recruiting drive at St John’s I declared to my family that I was going to become a Verona Father. Kevin Deignan was going to Africa to convert the Masai and the Karamajong after he had spent several years playing football, doing the Duke of Edinburgh award , building and sailing canoes ,swimming , table tennis , billiards ,snooker, volley ball ,basket ball, camping , walking , singing, larking about in the woods , and generally having a great time with a little bit of academic work thrown in for good measure . Or that was my interpretation of what Fr Fulvi had said?
After the initial shock my parents warmed to the idea. I can only imagine the kudos that having a son as a priest would bring to a devout catholic family at that time and in that close knit community . Perhaps this was among the reasons why there was no great effort to dissuade an 11yr old boy from this momentous decision . Ringing any bells anyone ? any similarities ? . After a letter of interest , references from the parish and school , the die was set , a letter of acceptance was received and my life changing adventure was about to start .
In September in the late 1960’s I arrived at Mirfield my parents dropped me off with more handkerchiefs and underwear than I had ever seen in my life as well as something called a serviette and a ring in which to keep the mysterious object . We said our goodbyes and I watched my family disappear down the Roe Head drive in our old Ford Anglia , what would I have given to be with them ? .The die was cast ,I knew (even at 11yrs old ) that too much emotionally and financially had been invested for me to fall at the first fence . I turned and walked into the totally alien environment of the seminary which was to become my surrogate home for the next 6yrs or so . ( yes I was one of the select band who repeated the first year) .
The early days were good for me , new friends , new routines ,new freedom , I was my own man . At the age of 11 it was up to me to make my own place in this small community to stand on my own two feet. At night in the dorm after lights out , once the shadowy figure of a priest floating from one night-light to the other had disappeared ,the muffled noises of homesick new boys could be heard . No solace would be given , it would not be talked about in the welcomed daylight . Each boy would deal with it in their own way . The old hands had been through it they knew that it would pass , a few would falter and leave . Homesickness crept up on me and hit me like a train. I can remember the exact moment . I had come through the first fortnight relatively unscathed , kept a low profile , made a few friends , avoided confrontation , did not show any weakness that could be exploited and found out what a serviette was for !!. At rosary one Sunday evening without warning I started to cry ,sobbing uncontrollably , my whole being suddenly craved home . That little piece of Felling called me back to the comfort and security of my family who accepted me just because I was Kevin , younger brother to Michael ,older brother to Joan and Maria ,and son to proud parents Big Michael and Big Joan . I walked out of that service to the rectors room , Fr Frazer , and told him that I did not belong here and I should return immediately home . After a brief discussion and a tearful telephone call home ,the decision was made that I should sleep on it and speak to Frazer in the morning . That night I probably contributed to the nocturnal sniffling , but I can’t remember. However I do remember that the next morning my homesickness had disappeared without a trace . I had joined the elite band of survivors , I had overcome the first and most difficult obstacle .
It now occurs to me that at this point ,at my most vulnerable , through sheer chance I spoke to the right person . I know some lads were less fortunate. A predator stalks his prey he feeds on the vulnerable and the isolated . Having spent all of my working life as a shepherd I can tell you that in all that time I never seen a fox take a healthy lamb , he is an opportunist. A fox will hunt alone at night seeking out the weak and motherless , the defenceless . A junior seminary at intake time must have been the perfect hunting ground for anyone with paedophile tendencies . A priest in this environment could act unchallenged for they were untouchable, infallible , the ambassadors of god himself in the flesh . Like lambs to the slaughter boys in the exact situation I was in would even seek them out for solace and reassurance , boys who took that little bit longer to fit in , find their feet could be easy prey . To continue my analogy at lambing time shepherds are at their most vigilant .Any weak or mis-mothered lamb is caught and brought in ,treatments are given and foster mothers found . Any lamb unable to be fostered will be hand reared until it is able to rejoin the flock . Gamekeepers are contacted and rogue foxes dealt with . The safety and wellbeing of the flock is paramount. Where were our shepherds , our guardians , our surrogate parents?? Who came to the defence of the vunerable ?. Who came to denounce and surrender the perpetrators to the correct authorities ?
To those who say or think that the order did its best ,lets put things into context . Abuse did not happen to the gnarley old buggers singing their hearts out at the New Inn but to young frightened isolated children who through a devout belief trusted implicitly that the order would protect them .They were let down . If even one of them was let down then we were all let down .Remember your darkest moments at Mirfield ? We all had one , but we who came out unscathed cannot imagine the depths of despair that those who were abused felt . So they deserve our support , and the Combonis what do they deserve ?? I will let your conscience answer that .
All the best Degs (Kevin Deignan)