Michael Riddle – 4th Man of Mirfield – Gentlemanly Paedophile

by Brian Hennessy

Michael Riddle – The Gentlemanly, Grandfather Paedophile

The Comboni Missionary Order has no record, it seems, of the Fourth Man of Mirfield.

Whether that is the convenience of a failure of memory, or a contrivance, or simply because they have decided at some point in time to destroy his records, I cannot even guess.

One thing is certain and that is the Fourth Man of Mirfield did exist.

He was none other than Mr Michael Riddle – a secretive and discreet, gentlmanly paedophile with a penchant for small boys on the brink of their pubescence.

Boys whom, perhaps, he suspected of having a gay orientation, of which the boys themselves were quite unaware at the time – due to the innocence of their own immaturity.

Irish Riddle

Some say that Mr Riddle was Irish. We understand that he was married and he had a daughter and the family lived in York.

He also had influential friends in the Catholic Hierarchy and it appears that that may have assisted him in obtaining notable appointments in his career as a teacher of English Literature.

The general concensus is that he arrived at Mirfield from Ampleforth. It has even been stated that a one time Comboni Missionary Priest, Father Francis McCullough, was sent to collect him at Ampleforth and that he drove him back down to the Seminary.

The Ampleforth connection is certainly one of the stories that Mr Riddle told of himself. It cannot remain ummentioned, of course, that his transfer to Mirfield was at a period in Ampleforth’s history that was tainted with the widely broadcast facts of sexual abuse of its students by both Priests and Housemasters of that Benedictine establishment.

Ampleforth Connection?

All attempts to discover if he was truly at Ampleforth have failed, it is true to say.

They are silent about the matter. Perhaps, conveniently, they have no record of him either! Grandfather Riddle told other stories too – that at some time he had been working in East Africa in colonial appointments.

He even had a photograph of his house boy it is said – and he told tales of how he used to beat the boy because the boy preferred girls to old Grandfather Riddle. Who knows where he truly came from?

Perhaps it is all true. Perhaps none of it is true.”

Father Robert Hicks

Quite what credentials and letters of introduction Mr Riddle produced to Father Robert Hicks, the Rector of Mirfield, at the time of his arrival, we do not know.

Had there been any such references at all?

We do not know that also – as there are no extant records of his existence.

Perhaps it was all agreed on the Catholic Hierarchy’s “old boys net” – and a hand shake and a “nod” had secured his new position.

We do not know either whether any thought or care had been given to the personal credentials of the new arrival.

Child Safeguarding

Child safeguarding did not exist at the time.

Clerics appear not to have been that much bothered about their pupils being sexually abused.

Certainly, the whole extended hierarchy of the Comboni Missionary Order – who had drafted Fathers Pinkman, Valmaggia and Nardo off to other climes where they would have had the opportunity to continue to abuse children for decades at will and unnoticed, did not much care.

They had ignored reports of abuse for a decade and more by the time the Fourth Man arrived at Mirfield – and so what the Fourth Man might do to their pupils was clearly of no concern at all.

Bronte Sister Former School

So Mr Riddle was accepted into the community with open arms and was allocated a room during term times in the old house of the famed Bronte sisters’ former school.

He would have enjoyed the thought of treading the same floor boards that those gifted Victorian novelists and poets had walked upon before him – as he was very fond of books as well as of small boys.

His room was situated between those of Father Cerea and Father Wade on the dark corridor at the furthest point in the old house from the boys’ dormitories.

The corridor leading to it would have been on the left as you came through the door from the new section of the building on the upper floor, adjacent to the Infirmary which was said to have been the Bronte sisters’ room.

The Ghosts of Mirfield

Proceeding onwards from that point, small boys bound for Riddle’s room would proceed through a dimly lit corner on the first floor with only one pendant light.

The dinginess had a distinctly Dickensian feel about it.

One of the Bronte Sisters wrote of the ghost of a servant woman who haunted those corridors – when the building was called “Miss Wooler’s School for the Daughters of Anglican Clergy”.

That was more than a century before, but a sensitive boy on the way to Mr Riddle’s room might have hesitated momentarily as the wooden floor boards creaked when you walked over them. In the day time, a little natural light crept into the corridor from the internal quad that it overlooked.

Mr Riddle’s room was also dimly lit despite it having two windows.

The curtains were drawn when the boys were the guests in that room.

The furnishings were minimal: a sink in the corner of the room, a table next to the bed and a radiator under a window.

Shadows of Mirfield

Mr Riddle’s nature has been described as charming.

However, he was a man in the shadows at Mirfield. He was not a member of the Order. He kept to himself.

He was well read and caring, but slightly effeminate and was known by those whom he abused to have had a liking for silk underware.

Yet, his outer clothing was more traditional – cream trousers and blue checked shirts were his standard attire.

He was not a dashing figure, however, being relatively small in stature, with slightly bucked teeth and a distended stomach on a generally wiry frame.

Grandfatherly Figure

The boys thought he was a little “creepy” as his eyes darted about behind the lenses of his round spectacles as he habitually and closely studied them at a distance during morning exercises.

Nevertheless, he was “grandfatherly” enough to allay their fears and because of that age difference, the boys accepted his physical closeness without much apprehension.

So when the boys were invited to his room for an exercise in reading literature they were not on their guard.

The extra tuition took place in the late evening after the boys had already changed into their pyjamas and donned their dressing gowns and slippers – and then made their way through the dingy corridoors of the old house to Riddle’s room.

Mr Riddle would usually be similarly clad – and often lying propped up in his bed, be-spectacled and reading. They would get a friendly greeting and climb on to the bed beside him.

Reading Aloud

The boys would read aloud – and he would be attentive – occasionally gently correcting their diction and phrasing.

In this process, however, it is alleged that Mr Riddle’s hand nearest to the boy became active and it would gently caress the puerile bodies of these innocents – whilst his fingers sought out the openings in the boy’s nether garments and eventually found ways to the physical features of the boy’s anatomy in which those fingers found such delight and gratification.

Threat of Exposure

The boys would be alarmed initially, but his tenderness towards them soothed them – and his gently delivered threats of exposure sealed their lips.

Technically, in legal terms, he raped them.

Some were induced over time to engage in more demonstrative sexual behavour, but Riddle was always attentive and affectionate and careful not to give offence.

So much so, that one recalls how Riddle would always brush his teeth before he inserted his tonge into the boy’s mouth. How thoughtful of him!

Michael Riddle’s Reputation

After the lapse of years, of course, Riddle’s reputation has changed – as the mature minds of his Victims think beyond the benign mask of the Fourth Man of Mirfield, Grandfather Riddle.

Now he is seen for what he truly was: calculating and predatory.

His grooming was outrageously obvious.

He would even ask parents if he could take his favoured boys on a driving holiday – for example to Ireland – and when that opportunity was denied he would write caring letters to them during the holidays when they were separated from each other.

Riddle’s Letters Still Exist

Many of those letters still exist.

Even at the time of the abuse, the eleven and twelve year old Victims began to sense that what he was doing to them was wrong because of his insistence that they would both get into trouble if “their secret” was ever disclosed.

Riddle was even more direct for he would warn his boys, until they were convinced, that if they squealed on him, he would be removed from the college himself, which he said, sorrowfully, that he would not be able to bear.

From that the boys naturally sensed, also, that in some way their own destiny would also depend on their total loyalty to the kindly old man – and so their silence became guaranteed.

Paedophiles’ Control

The seductive threats of Mr Michael Riddle had been a distinctive sign of the control that paedophiles exert over their Victims.

The loyalty of the Victim is essential – and paedophiles work on that incessantly.

Thus, whilst the boys held the old man’s destiny in their hands – their solemnly enforced “secret” had become a sacred pact that was never to be devolved to another.

The cost of breaking the pact would have been the immediate and grave exposition of their secret – and the expulsion of both from the establishment. The abuse became a daily ritual, but the boys’ silence was assured – for they were trapped in the old man’s snare.

Riddle’s Room

I have spoken to three Victims of Riddle’s abuse and seen the Witness Statement of the fourth. I have been told of other Victims also – and it has even been said by one Victim that he was present in Riddle’s room at the same time as a second Victim.

For most, the abuse was continual over extended periods of the time that the boys were present at Mirfield and almost daily during term time.

There came a point, however, that discovery or reports to the Superior of the Seminary by one of the Victims, was increasingly likely. He could not get away with his abuse forever.

He would have known that himself – and so his cautious threats to the young boys would have certainly been recounted regularly to avoid that prospect. Well, ultimately, that moment of discovery and separation, did come.

The Rector, Father Robert Hicks, whom we all know has an exceedingly bad memory and so he probably cannot recall it, called an assembly one day and he forbade all the boys to visit Mr Riddle in his room again.

The witness to that assembly is a priest today, but he was a boy then. He has stated in a witness account that he was also abused by Mr Riddle.

Michael Riddle Dismissed by Father Hicks

The result, ultimately, was that Father Robert Hicks dismissed the Fourth Man of Mirfield, Grandfather Riddle, from the seminary.

We know this for certain, too, because one of Mr Riddle’s favoured boys received a letter from Mr Riddle following his sudden disappearance from Mirfield – in which he stated this as a fact – and that letter still exists.

Father Martin Devenish

So that is just one more nail in the coffin of the statement to the UK press persistently made by Father Martin Devenish that there are priests alive today at Mirfield at the time of the abuse, but they have no knowledge of the abuse.

Is it not about time Father Devenish corrected that statement to the press?

As for Mr Michael Riddle, we know very little of Mr Riddle’s life after Mirfield – but we do know that paedophiles do not stop their activities against innocents.

Active Paedophile

Once a paedophile – always an active paedophile – unless subjected to constant treatment and monitoring.

The Fourth Man of Mirfield, I understand, died, a widower at the age of 93, at his birth-place in Ireland in 1999. I just hope that he made amends to his God, despite having made no amends to his Victims, before his death.

For other Victims of Mr Riddle that may read this story – and who thought, as so many Victims of abuse do, that they were the only child to have been abused by their Abuser, be assured that you were not.

Child Victims

Be also assured that there is no such thing as complicity of child Victims at the hands of a paedophile.

Child Victims suffer from unrelenting, emotional blackmail on top of the sexual abuse perpetrated upon them. Irrespective of what abuse young Victims came to habitually accept at the hands of a paedophile, they are never complicit.

No Judge will ever accept a challenge in a Paedophile’s defence that a child was complicit. In law, even as it stood in Mr Michael Riddle’s time, a child was not able to give legal consent to any form of sexual abuse if the child was under the age of sixteen years.

My Happy memories of Mirfield

by Frank McGinnis

More Good Memories

These stories bring back many of the happier memories of Mirfield.

Feast-days were good as we ate well for a day (not so good for the farm pigs/chickens) and all washed down with real fizzy orange juice.

Having no singing voice my job on such days was to hold one of the six enormous candle-sticks at the special Mass. I was always placed to the immediate left of Eddie Roberts as he swung the incense-belching orb thingy.

Every fifth or sixth swing he would let it ‘just touch’ my hand to ensure the hot overspill from my candle would flow down my arm.

I can still hear his sniggers, a brilliant guy, oh happy days.

Mirfield Priests

I hated Fr Cerea, but he started it. The only nice comment I can muster is the memory of the rich tobacco aroma he emanated as he thumped the back of my head (often).

I liked Fr Grace, he looked ancient & content.

His Anglican minister to Catholic priest story puzzled me.

As a product of the West of Scotland I was sure it was against the rules.

Jumping-ship was unheard of, you had to stick to what you arrived with, you were either Catholic or Protestant.

Father Grace

An Indian kid started at our Primary school when I was about eight, no problem.

He was a Muslim but assured us he was a ‘Catholic’ Muslim. Clever wee guy.

I eventually just figured that Fr Grace must have got fed-up not getting his prayers answered whilst in the wrong outfit.

He was keen to see the Tories win the 1966 General Election so his Catholic prayers didn’t work all that great either.
We had a three day ‘Silent Retreat’ early in 1967. The good memory there is that Pinkie was unable to talk to wee boys about his unique interest in explaining the facts of life. Oh happy three days.
PS We have moved on in the West of Scotland since those days. One is now simply either a YES or a NO. But don’t worry we NO who they are 🙂

If anyone else has any good or bad memories of Mirfield just stick them in the Comments section after this article.

Becoming a Child Abuse victim at the Age of 55

Becoming a Child Sexual Abuse Victim at the Age of 55

I have changed the name of the ‘Boy’ involved.

John Smith wasn’t aware that he was a child abuse victim till he passed his 55th birthday. It’s really strange but I was never able to put the different pieces of the jigsaw together for myself until I was much older. Once we left the college we did other things and although we looked back it tended to be on the good side of it. We certainly didn’t do much analysis of what happened to us.

It was only when we went back for reunions that we talked and thought of old times. Previously we had only put the data of what happened to us through the minds of 11-14 year olds. It was amazing the difference it made to us when we fed the same data through the minds of adults.

Lived Locally

On the second of our two day reunion weekend it was discovered that John Smith, who was in the year above me, lived locally. I don’t know how it was discovered, but discovered it was. On the final night he came along with his wife.

It’s very strange but we didn’t really talk about things when there were outsiders there (i.e. wives and kids). It was only when John’s wife went for a smoke that we started talking again about the priests.

I asked John if anything like that had happened to him. He said it hadn’t. ‘Nothing at all?’ I asked him.

You could see him looking far back into the past. “There was only one incident, perhaps”, he said.

Astonishing Revelation

We were all so amazed by what he said next that we all burst out into near hysterical laughter. I couldn’t help myself. The tears were streaming out of my eyes. John’s such a great guy that he didn’t take it badly. However, I hope this illustrates what I mean about re-inputting the same data through the ‘processor’ of an adult mind rather than an 11-14 year-old’s mind.

John told us that the only incident that would possibly qualify was when he had just finished playing football on a muddy day. In that part of the world it can get very muddy and you can often come off the football pitch absolutely caked in mud.

In the ‘only slightly suspicious’ incident, Pinkie told John to come round the back of the stage which was at the far end of the Junior Common room where the players got changed. It was out of sight of all the boys who would have been in the recreation room getting changed.

There Pinkie had set up two buckets of hot water. I said to Joe, slightly incredulously and not really believing that it could possibly be true “he didn’t make you take off your football strip and put one leg each in the two buckets of hot water and then clean the mud from you, did he?

Washday Blues

It was the first thing that came to mind when he said it but I couldn’t possibly think it was true as John had said nothing of that kind of thing had ever happened to him and that there was just one possible slightly suspicious incident.

“Yeah” said John.

That was exactly what had happened. We laughed our asses off. We weren’t laughing at John or what had happened to him. We were laughing at the incongruity of Joe not realising what had actually happened. Of course we all instinctively knew the explanation.

John had only ever examined what had happened through the eyes of a trusting 13-year-old. Although he hadn’t forgotten about it he hadn’t given it any great thought since it had happened. Although probably embarrassing at the time, he would have concluded that the priest would have been doing it for his own good.

Through a New Lens

It’s strange but, although it was a 55-year-old talking, both the memory of the incident and the analysis of the incident (which he had stored in his memory) were the memory and analysis of a 13-year-old.

Part of what was so funny was that you could see, as he talked and we laughed, that he could suddenly see how obvious it was that he had had been abused in some kind of way.

His wife came back in then and asked what we were all laughing at. The ‘club’ closed up again and made some kind of explanation which she accepted. Whilst she was busy talking to someone else I asked John if he had ever told his wife of the incident.

He shook his head in a kind of ‘you’re joking’ way. I asked him if he ever would and he gave the same response. That part of his life will forever remain unknown to his wife and his grown up children.

I understand. I have never told anybody of these things – not my parents, not my brothers and sisters, not my friends, not my children and not my wife.

As this is the early stage of writing this I’m not sure if it will ever be known to anyone outside those that were there and experienced it.

Comboni Missionaries Snub Pope Francis

No Place for Those Who Abuse Minors

Pope Francis sent out a letter on February 5th which stated that, in the Catholic Church, there is “no place for those who abuse minors”.

This letter appeared on the Comboni Missionaries own website http://www.Combonianum.org.

Yet the Comboni MIssionaries have always had plenty of places for those of their Order who abuse minors.

For Mirfield Infirmarian, Father Domenico Valmaggia, who abused many, many boys at the seminary in Mirfield, there was his home parish in the diocese of Como in Italy. That was one place that the Comboni missionaries found for those who abuse minors.

He was sent there after several boys told Father Robert Hicks that they had been abused by him. Needless to say the UK and Italian police were not told of his crimes and the Comboni Missionaries’ and Catholic Church’s procedures were not followed.

Father Pinkman

Then there was Father Pinkman, who was sent away after being reported by several of the boys at Mirfield. He abused, and ruined, the lives of many of the boys at Mirfield.

Once again the police were not told about his crimes and he was found places at other Comboni Missionary places such as in South Africa and also in the Westminster Diocese. It seems he worked for the Jumbulance.

According to Mark Murray “He was based at 39 Eccleston Square. I remember being told by a Comboni that he worked for the Catholic Bishop’s Conference”.

According to Brian Hennessy “After Westminster he went to Palestine. This was a deal between the Superior General and the then Archbishop of Boston which was arranged at a personal meeting between the two when the Superior General did a tour of the North American Province. From there he went to South Africa. There’s no indication that his Paedophilia was ever discussed with the Boston Archbishop of course”.

When he died, a Mass of Celebration was said, in, of all places, the chapel at the Seminary at Mirfield, just yards from the bedroom where he had perpetrated so many acts of sexual abuse aganst boys as young as 11 years of age. We are told that the homily for this monster was given by Father Robert Hicks.

Catholic Reformation

So, have the Comboni Missionaries reformed? Is this abuse and its cover-up a legacy of the past?

No, it is not!

Despite Pope Francis saying that there was ‘no place for those who abuse minors” as recently as February, the Comboni Missionaries still have at least one place for them as recently as May 2015.

That is in the Comboni Missionaries mother house in Verona in Italy where multi-abuser Father Romano Nardo is hidden out by the Comboni Missionaries.

Romano Nardo

Above is Father Romano Nardo concelebrating Mass with other priests in 2008 – long after he had been diagnosed as mentally unfit to answer police questions.

Sexual Abuse at Mirfield

For many years at Mirfield he sexually abused many boys, including Mark Murray.

When, many years later, in 1997, Mark reported this to the Comboni Missionaries, they immediately brought Father Nardo home from Uganda and told Mark that he would never have access to children again. It seems that he admitted his abuse.

However, once again, the Comboni Missionaries did not report this crime to the police – even though they appeared to act, on it themselves, as though they believed it and Father Nardo appears to have admitted it.

Father Romano Nardo saying Mass in 2008

Father Romano Nardo saying Mass in 2008 in his home town of Pordenone

West Yorkshire Police

Mark reported all this to West Yorkshire Police who have said that they believe that a ‘crime had been committed’. They put in place extradition procedures so that they could bring Father Nardo back to the UK for questioning.

They were refused permission, with the Comboni Missionaries saying his time in Uganda had made him incapable, mentally, of being interviewed.

This is despite the Comboni Missionaries leaving Father Nardo in a position of authority in Uganda for 20 years till 1977 until Mark Murray’s complaint. Surely if he had been affected badly by what had happened in Uganda many years before, they had failed in their duty of care to him by not bringing him home before Mark’s complaint.

Mother House in Verona

Indeed they brought him back to work at the hospital that the mother house in Verona has now become, where he has been till Mark’s recent trip to Verona.. That’s surely not a job for someone who is mentally incapable of answering questions.

Despite Mark’s recent visit to Verona to meet up with Father Nardo, the Comboni Missionaries still snub Pope Francis by providing a place for an abuser of young boys.

Said Pope Francis, in a letter this year which the Comboni Missionaries published, there is “no place for those who abuse minors”.

It appears that the Comboni Missionaries don’t ascribe to that view and continue to snub the Pope’s stated wishes.

Supreme Head of the Catholic Church Snubbed

Are they a schism?

Do the Comboni Missionaries not follow the Supreme Head of the Catholic Church?

If not, then whom do they follow – or are they a law unto themselves, both as regards the laws of the lands where they operate, and, as regards the laws and procedures of the Catholic Church and the stated wishes of its Supreme Head?

To see the letter from the Pope on the Comboni Missionaries own website click on http://combonianum.org/2015/02/05/no-place-for-those-who-abuse-minors/

Father Pinkman Makes Me a Big Offer

Do you want to be a Good Boy?

I had heard that Pinkie had his favourite boys. They used to go regularly to his room. I thought nothing of it at the time. I just thought that there was an ‘in crowd’ and they were in it. They were the Good Boys.

I had left home at the age of eleven to become a priest. I wanted to be one of the good boys. I also wanted to be one of the ‘chosen ones’ as well and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t included.

I was also far from my family and parents and Pinkie was as close to a parent as I had here – but we had to share him between us all. It would have been nice to have been appreciated and thought well of.

Not In WIth the In Crowd

People had started to speak about this ‘in crowd’ though. They didn’t say anything about what might happen up in Pinkie’s room. Even if they had I wouldn’t have understood anyway.

Very often when you are not accepted as one of the ‘in crowd’ you go the other way, becoming one of the ‘out crowd’ and become rebellious and anti-authority.

Pinkie always knew what was going on amongst The Boys of the Junior School. I presume now that his informers, the ‘in crowd’ who went to his room regularly were his eyes and ears.

He used to give a weekly speech to The Boys in the form room in which he would both tell us what was upcoming and inveigh against the bad things that had been happening in the past week. He seemed to know everything although he was seldom there when it happened.

Providing Information

I remember, being up in his room once, and he asked me what people thought of his selections for the football team of which I was a member at the time. I told him they more or less agreed with his selections.

“There’s no area of the team that they think could be improved, no one they would rather have in the team?”, he asked.

“I suppose the only thing some people say is that Spike Brown should be in the team”.

The very next week when he was giving his speech he got stuck into those people who questioned his picking of the team, even mentioning the fact that some people were criticising him for leaving Spike Brown out of the team.

No Critcism of the Regime Wanted

It’s one thing that I’ve noticed about people who have almost absolute power. They don’t like criticism and they certainly don’t take it as constructive criticism. All criticism is the same whether it is constructive or otherwise. They suffer from paranoia.

Pinkie had thanked me for the information before letting me go from the room.

I wasn’t a rebel by nature. I really did want to be a Good Boy. I did want to go back to being one of the admired ones rather than being considered an outcast. I wanted it desperately. I wanted to become a priest. I wanted to be worthy of his approval.

Making The Offer

One night I was walking along the top corridor at bedtime. I was coming out of the upstairs toilets where I had been getting washed and heading towards the dormitory to go to bed.

The corridor was usually busy at that time of night with all The Boys going backwards and forwards between washing themselves in the toilet and the dormitory.

But just at that moment there was only myself and Pinkie.

I was heading towards the dormitory and he was heading in the other direction towards me reading his breviary, as was his wont.

He looked behind him quickly to see if there was anyone there and then he turned to me and said with great intent “Do you want to become a good boy?”

I did. I did. I did indeed.

Here at last was the opportunity to join the ‘in crowd’ of the good. At last I had been asked. I wondered and wondered why I hadn’t been asked before.

Giving My Answer

I would not be thought of as a bad boy any longer. Pinkie could teach me to be a good boy and I could go to his room and get his approval the way I used to get it early in second year when I was on his Suggestions Committee and when I caught the first year boy who had been trying to escape. I would be back on track for the Holy Grail of the Priesthood. I would become one of the Chosen Ones again.

The obvious answer was “Yes. Yes, please.”

But I didn’t say it.

I said “No” and walked on by. As I walked by I saw that he was more than a little taken aback. I don’t think he expected it. Perhaps he hadn’t been turned down before. Why would anyone not want to be a good boy? It was a great lure. The only obvious answer was “Yes”.

After that, all that is needed is the explanation of how he can help you become good. I never ever learned what that would be as some of the others must have done.

Seminal Moments

In everyone’s life there are the seminal moments – and this was one of mine.

I knew immediately that it was a huge thing to say and to do. Even at the age of twelve I knew that I had burned down a huge, huge bridge.

Why did I say ‘No’ instead of the ‘Yes’ that I had really wanted to say?

I thought a lot about it in the days after that and again at junctures in my adult life.

I think there were several reasons. The first was that I was a bit of a contrarian sometimes doing or saying the opposite of what people expected. Secondly there was something funny or strange about the way he asked the question. It was the same as when he wanted to wash me in the cold shower when I was in first year.

Alarm Bells

An alarm bell went off somewhere in my head. My subconscious radar had detected something.

He wasn’t smiling and friendly and relaxed as you would expect someone to be who was offering to help someone to become a ‘good boy’.

Also, he was now asking me to join a group that people were starting to talk about and to make jokes about. Those on the outside always mock those on the inside. Many of them would like to be in the inside but make up for their rejection by mocking those who actually are on the inside.

All of those things added up together didn’t cancel out or come close to canceling out the ‘Yes’ option. I was here to be a priest, I wanted to be a Good Boy, and I wanted to be liked by, and get the approval of, our substitute ‘father’. I wanted to be one of the Good Boys.

‘Yes’ was the first answer which came to mind. However, I just could not say it.

“No” I said and walked on past taking the first steps along the path which would lead to the end of my priesthood vocation.

Looking back, now, I would guess the terrible Conduct marks were part of a softening up exercise, to make me feel bad about myself before being ‘shown the way’ and accepted back into the fold as one of the ‘Good Boys’. It must have seemed certain that I would have accepted the invitation to ‘come into the light’ again.

It must have been a shock to Pinkie when I said “No!”

Comboni Missionaries – How I Became a ‘Bad Boy’

Conduct Marks

Twice a year we were all assembled into the Junior Form room to be given our Conduct Marks out of ten. I remember two of the marks which were for Diligence and Obedience. The other one might have been for Good Manners.

I think an organisation can be judged on how they mark and judge others. They give rewards or marks for what they think is important. So, these were the three things that they considered most important in a boy going on to the priesthood.

I’ll let readers judge themselves whether they think these are the three attributes most needed in a successful missionary priest.

Marks in First Year

Everyone wants to do well. Everyone wants high marks. My first ever marks were 6, 5, and 6, which was not too bad but were a little on the low side. I remember the ‘good boys’ got a lot more. They tended to get 8’s and 9’s and David Glenday, who went on to become the first ever British leader of the Verona Fathers got 10, 9 and 10.

I don’t remember my second set of marks in first year but I do remember that I did get at least one 7. It might have been 7, 6 and 7.

The first set of marks in 2nd year had been similar. I now waited for my second and final set of marks for the year.

No one was ever given a failure.

The marks were read out by Father Rector but had been prepared by Pinkie.

Second Year Marks

I settled to down to hear then when my turn came. Most of the marks were in the 6-8 range with the Good Boys getting in the 8s and 9s.

My turn now.

“Five” said Fr. Rector. There was an audible communal gasp in the room as the mark was announced. This was low.

“Four” said Fr. Rector for the next mark. All eyes in the room were on me now.

“Five” said Fr. Rector for the last mark.

What Happened?

I couldn’t understand why. What had I done? Wasn’t I 2nd top of the class? Wasn’t I Fr Cerea’s favourite pupil with some calling me his pet?

When the marks ended, people came over to commiserate with me. They were as surprised as I was. “What did you do?” was the favourite question. “Nothing” I said bemusedly. They thought I must have done something as they couldn’t see anything that could cause those low marks.

One of the older boys then told me that this was probably the lowest set of conduct marks ever in the history of the school. He had been talking to some of the other older boys and none could remember anyone ever getting such a low set of Conduct Marks before.

If I didn’t feel bad enough already I really felt as low as the Dead Sea after that.

Worst Boy Ever

Was I really the worst boy who had ever walked up the driveway at St. Peter Claver’s College, wanting to do his bit for Africa and to become a priest?

I couldn’t believe it? How could I have got this bad? How could they think I was this bad? Was I this bad?

I couldn’t work it out at all. After all, I was processing the data through a twelve-year-old’s brain.

Looking at it again through the eyes of a 53-year-old I think I can now.

I got the worst conduct marks ever in the school’s history.

I was devastated at the time. I wear it as a badge of honour now.

Soon, however, Pinie was going to reveal a plan for my redemption.

Playing Football for the Verona Fathers

Playing for the Football Team

The alternative dream that I had to become a priest was to be a footballer, like, I’m sure, lots of little boys. I wanted to play for Celtic and Scotland. I was a decent enough footballer but I would never have made the grade. However, you don’t think like that when you are that age.

So, it was a great to find out that the college had a football team. It was the first year ever for them in the local football league. I think Pinkie may have had some involvement in setting it up. The league was a church league and all the teams were from the local churches. We were the only Catholics in the league.

I can’t remember whether they asked or told the boys that there was to be a trial for the team. They never really asked very much. They almost always told.

Trial for Football Team

Anyway, I played in the trials but didn’t play particularly well. I thought I might well just miss out and that turned out to be the case. They read out the names of the people that they expected to be in the team and called them the Probables. I had never heard of the term before and didn’t realise that where there are Probables there are also Possibles.

Pinkie read out the names of the Probables slowly and with intent and drama. He would have made a good compere of Big Brother or Survivor or the X Factor four decades later. As the ninth and tenth names were read out and none of them were mine I began to fear that I would lose out. When the eleventh name was read out and I was missing from the list I felt awful.

Then Pinkie said that before the first match the Probables would play a match against the Possibles. I played a blinder in that match. I scored both goals, both of them solo efforts, as the Possibles went 2-0 up. We held that till late in the match when the Probables pulled one goal back and then a second.

They claimed that they scored a third but it was disputed. We reckoned it was offside and they didn’t. There was no referee and no one to solve the dispute. They said they won 3-2 and we said it was 2-2. Still it was a magnificent performance by the 2nd eleven against the 1st.

Pinkie’s Team Selection

People were telling me for days afterwards that I’d definitely be in the team. I didn’t believe it. Pinkie wasn’t even there, I told them, like he had been at the original trial. This was just a practice match for the A team for the first game.

Before the first game Pinkie read out the names, one by one, of the team.

I was picked. I was in the side. I was going to play. Magic!

We actually played in the Inter Milan strip. One of the Fathers was an Inter Milan fan and that is why we played in the strips. I can’t remember which one of the Fathers it was. It wasn’t Fr. Cerea who supported Fiorentina.

It was nothing like the other strips that the other teams played in. Inter Milan were probably the top club in Europe at the time. We felt a bit special pulling on the strip.

And we were good – very good.

We won the league at our first attempt. Boy did that feel so good. I still remember quite a few of the individual matches though they were more than four decades ago.

It was heaven to be on the football team. The other boys came to all our matches home and away and cheered us on. Even though it was compulsory the vast majority would have come anyway.

There were two things to be in, the football team and the choir, and I was in both.

Oh happy days!

Greatest Joy

The football team was the source of my greatest joy when I was at the college and also my greatest sadness – but more of that later.

I am sure that people will read this book and look at all the sexual abuse, the psychological torture, the military regime and the strict and regimented rules and conclude that this was a terrible thing to do to young boys and a terrible place to be.

However, I loved it there and didn’t want to leave. Even at the time I thought it was the best and happiest period of my life. I still believe it today. It was definitely the best and key years of my life. I wouldn’t swap that experience for anything.

All Glad We Came

It was interesting that at the last college reunion I went to that when I asked everyone “do you wish that episode of your life had never happened, that you had simply went to your local secondary school and avoided all the stuff that went on at the college?” the answer was a unanimous No.

The bad things that happened, to me anyway, however bad they were, were irregular intrusions in a happy time of my life. I remember I worked with a guy who had been to sea before he worked in computers. He told us the things that he had done and the things he had seen at sea.

It seemed a great life. “Where could we sign on?”, those listening thought. We were wasting our lives working in computers. However, he hated the life at sea. All those things happened over a ten year period. The in-between bits (most of the time) were awful for him. He hated it almost immediately after he had signed up for ten years.

He said that he thought that he couldn’t get out and that he had to go through with all of it. It basically screwed him up for life. He told us that he didn’t realize, then, that he could have got himself out. However, he didn’t know, so he spent ten horrible years in a job he hated from the very start.

It was the same but in an opposite way at the college. When I tell here of all the bad things that happened it sounds like an awful life. However, the bad things happened over a period of a few years. The bulk of the time was good.