My Name is Eddie Roberts. I Was at the Verona Fathers in Mirfield

Eddie (Edwin) Roberts

Who is this visitor to the blog you may ask?

I am now 66 years old and walked the corridors of Mirfield from 1963 to 1967 and then moved up to Allanton  for a year from where I was dishonourably discharged as a result of an unhealthy (still a matter of opinion) encounter with beer and ladies.

I shared the classroom often with John Docherty, Leonard Rowland, and  David Glenday in particular and had a close association with Fritz and Bickers among others.

The list of names would go on. My pride and joy as for  others was pulling on the Inter Milan strip and roaming the right side of the field.

My laundry number was 94!

MC at Mirfield

I was elevated to the lofty position of  MC which was  the pinnacle of my then career, and though I thought it was because of my unquestioned saintliness, in truth it was because I was the worst singer since Moses tried to sing the Ten Commandments and I could swing a thurible like no other.

My class reports had a common theme of “too frivolous in class” and ” must take his duties more seriously ” !

Via a circuitous route through Israel, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Stockton-on-Tees, I arrived in Australia.

Eddie Roberts - a Verona Fathers Mirfield Boy

Eddie Roberts – a Verona Fathers Mirfield Boy

Mirfield Blog

I came upon this blog quite by accident . I was engaged in routine internet activity and like many others suddenly decided to go off task and do a bit of Google research.

Now for some as yet unconfirmed reason I entered Verona Fathers.

What  I found was an emotional tremor to say the least! How was I unaware of what was going on then and now?

Names , my name! and events from an age gone by leapt out of the pages and excited as I was , my heart became heavy as I read on.

Corridors and Dormitories

I have reflected deeply since the discovery and with the benefit of that wonderful friend hindsight, yes the signs were there, the clues were in the corridors and dormitories.

Why not me? Who knows?

I thought till now a routine weigh by an avuncular medically trained Father was quite normal. It  is hard to attach a 66 year old head to a 13 year old kid destined for the papacy.

A Time of Happiness and Fun

As my contact with some of you grows, I think of a time, for me, of happiness and fun, of challenge and camaraderie that forged my path for the future.

I must now dwell on other things, sad things, and my thoughts are with you.

I talked with Gerry recently for over an hour after a gap of around 49 years!

I don’t know the man, yet we talked of happy days, memories plucked from storage in the depths of some cerebral hemisphere.And we still have  a bond, more in common than with some people I have known for decades.

From a land down under, I wish you well and speed the day I don that Inter strip and see you again.

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Comboni Missionaries Seminary | The Daily Grind

Comboni Missionaries – The Daily Grind

One thing that struck me at the reunions was how well many of the Boys had done. Many of them had become successful entrepreneurs or had become successful within their chosen professions. When you think of it, it isn’t really surprising.

Here is a bunch of people, who, at the age of eleven volunteered to leave behind their families and friends and to move to a part of the country that many of them didn’t know, to live with a bunch of strangers with the end result of joining the priesthood and going out to the missions in Africa.

That’s got to take a bit of balls. I’ve got a 16-year-old daughter and by her age I’d already done all of his and been kicked out and was back in the system again.

I’ve also got a 11-year-old son who is a few months older than when I volunteered for this lifestyle and I couldn’t dream of sending him off to another country away from family and friends to live amongst strangers, to live amongst them for many years, only coming back to visit during the holidays and then going off to a life in the missions of Africa. I couldn’t even think of volunteering him for that or even approving it of he suggested it himself.

So, it’s not surprising that many of those who did volunteer for just such a thing at the age of eleven became entrepreneurs or pursued successful careers.

If people were looking for potential risk takers of the future that would have been a good place to go hunting.

Mick Wainhouse

One guy, who became an extreme risk taker but in a different way, was Mick Wainhouse.

Mick was actually a bit of a quiet guy in school and a bit of a gentle giant but he went on to join the Paras in Northern Ireland, got kicked out for robbing a Post Office whilst pretending to be the IRA, serving five years in jail.

He went on to become a mercenary in Angola serving as Captain with the notorious mercenary Colonel Callan, dispensing rural justice and shooting to death at least one inexperienced mercenary and then fleeing Angola whilst Colonel Callan and others were being captured and sentenced to death.

Verona Fathers Regimented Life

Mick would have fitted very well into the very regimented life of 1st Para after the grounding he had at the Verona Fathers. Every weekday was the same. It went:-

6:35 – Bell goes and everybody gets up and washes. Bedclothes pulled down
7:00 – Mass
7:45 – Bedclothes pulled up, get changed into shorts, T shirts and plimsolls and run around the building down to the seniors playground followed by PE in the cold morning air
8:15 – Breakfast
9:00 – School starts
13:-00 – School finishes
13:00 – Lunch
13:40 – Work
14:15 – Recreation
15:00 – Study
16:00 – Meditation
16:20 – Tea
17:00 – School starts again
19:00 – School finishes
19:00 – Supper
19:40 – Recreation
21:00 – Evening Service
21:40 – Wash and get ready for bed
22:00 – Lights Out

It was a little different at the weekend when he would have been allowed a lie in till 7am.

Mealtimes at the Comboni Missionaries Seminary

The spartan food would also have been an ideal preparation. Mick was tall for his age and even the smaller boys went a bit hungry.

There was a priest in charge of the junior boys, a Father Pinkman, who was later to be moved from his duties after some of older boys led a deputation to the Spiritual Advisor to prevent him doing to the new junior boys what he had done to some of them when in the juniors.

Let’s leave it at that for the moment!

Fascist Sympathies

The rules were very strict. The order was Italian and many of the priests at Mirfield were Italian including the Father Rector. Some of them expressed Fascist sympathies. After all, this was only 18 years after the end of the Second World War.

They liked rules. Indeed, they liked strict rules.

It was only really during Recreation, Work and Mealtimes that you could talk to one another.

Books at Mealtimes

Even during Supper they would get a guy to read from a book for a while before the two priests, the one in charge of the Junior Boys and the one in charge of the Senior Boys, rang a bell to say you could talk.

Even when the book reading finished they sometimes delayed ringing the bell and even made motions as if to ring it before pulling back. It was all about power and control.

The books were always boring and they would be about things like Good Manners and Etiquette. We were dying to talk. When the book reading had ended everyone had their eyes on the two priests to see when they would ring the bell and they could then start chatting with their pals.

Great swathes of the day were spent with The Boys unable to talk. It was a great release when they could. As you can imagine a lot of whispering was done.

No Talking or Whistling

You couldn’t talk in the corridor. Whistling was completely banned.

The senior Boys and the junior Boys were not allowed to talk to each other even though they often encountered each other. They would be in the Refectory at the same time but with the juniors on one side of it and the seniors on the other.

They would also be in church at the same time – but with the seniors on one side of the church and the juniors on the other.

They had separate recreation Rooms and had separate dormitories.

Seminary was Good Training for Paras

When young guys join the Paras, many of those who do may have come from home comforts to a strictly regimented regime – but for Mick it was very much a home from home.

Mick used to team up with a guy called Mick Palmer who was in the same year as he was. When he moved up to second year the two of them teamed up with a guy called John ‘Titch’ Carey who was from Doncaster.

The three of them were inseparable. As you can guess ‘Titch’ was one of the smaller Boys. It was strange to see them walking around together. Mick was slightly above medium height but it was like seeing a Little, Medium and Large walking around.

Gentle Giant

Mick Wainhouse was very much a gentle giant, though. He seldom got into any trouble or scrapes. He was a nice guy and I don’t think anyone disliked him at all.

It still seems very strange that he later joined the Parachute Regiment, went to Northern Ireland and his regiment were involved in the Bloody Sunday massacre of unarmed Catholics on a peaceful protest march.

An embargo has been put on the names of the Paras who were actually engaged on Bloody Sunday so we won’t know whether Mick was there on that fateful day or not, but as he was in the regiment and there at the time of Bloody Sunday, it is almost certain that he was.

It is even more strange to think of him as one of the big four Angolan Mercenaries. Indeed Colonel Callan, Costas Georgiou, even made him his captain.

It seemed totally unlike the Mick Wainhouse that we knew and liked.

Comboni Missionaries | How I was ‘Called By God’ – My Vocation

Comboni Missionaries – The Sell

I had already decided, mainly because of Fr. Maloney and my mother’s pride, that I wanted to enter the priesthood, that I was sold on the idea of being a priest. It seemed like a great career move. It had status. I had also wanted to be a footballer and play for Scotland but this seemed equally as good.

So, when Fr. Tavano hit town when I was just 10 years of age I was an easy sell. He had been sent by the missionary order the Verona Fathers, an offshoot of the Jesuits, to find boys who would become priests.

Greenock was a fertile area for him as he grabbed five boys on the trip. Greenock was a place, in those days, where the British Army were able to grab lots of boys to join up. It sounded great – certainly compared to a life in Greenock. OK, you night go to war and have people shoot at you – but at least in the Army that was just a might.

Great Salesman for Comboni Missionaries

Fr. Tavano really sold. He would have made an excellent salesman in another profession. He sold and he sold and he sold. He made the college, where we would be living, sound like an upmarket holiday resort. Then there was the opportunity of foreign travel to exotic Africa when you became a priest.

He told us that we would have a tour of the surrounding district every Wednesday. Little did we know that this would be virtually the only time we were allowed out of the grounds. Even this was heavily supervised. The junior head boy would be at the front and the priest who was head of the junior school, Fr. Pinkman (of him, more later), would be at the back.

Liam Gribben

One of the Greenock boys, Liam Gribben, who joined at the same time as I did felt hard done by as regards the walk around the locale. He had thought that these would be bus tours. After all the local bus company in Greenock, Doigs, regularly advertised tours to places like Loch Lomond at advantageous rates. Unfortunately for us these rates were well beyond the means of our parents.

Maybe he had yearned to do something like that. Maybe he had seen the ads and begged his parents to go. Now there was an opportunity to go on a tour every week.

However, Fr, Tavano was a born salesman and a tour was how he described the weekly walk. I bet he would have sold lots of houses or second hand cars. Unfortunately for us he was not just selling us a commodity that we could sell on. He was selling us a philosophy and a way of life.

With slides of the college and Africa and a description of the lifestyle, he was on a winner. At the end he asked the 10 and 11-year-old boys who wanted to come. I remember that quite a few hands went up. Mine was one of them.

I don’t know what happened to the others. Perhaps their parents told them not to be so daft. Mine were proud of me and proud that the local priests were so proud as well. I volunteered myself they said. It wasn’t down to any of them at all.

Special Summer

It was a great summer. I was special. I was going to become a priest. I had a vocation. I was chosen by God. I was specially picked out of so many other people by God. I was to be his chosen one.

By God those were heady days for a ten / eleven year old (my birthday was in June).

Other people were desperate to know what a vocation was like. How did I know I was called by God? What did it feel like? It was like I had the secret of life, the Holy Grail.

To be perfectly frank I was as in the dark as they were but I explained it all to them – like it was explained to me. They nodded as I explained – but I could see that they still felt a bit on the outside.

My Vocation to the Priesthood

I was not on the outside. I was right bang on the inside. I was chosen and they were not. I must admit it was hard not to get a superiority complex. How could you not when God had specially picked you out? He wanted you and not the rest of them. He didn’t want them. He wanted you.

And I was only just reaching my eleventh birthday. Life was so full of hope. This was the sixties when hope abounded among the young anyway. And the rest of them weren’t even God’s chosen ones.

We had it in spades!

A Gang of Brothers

I was put in touch with the other guys who would be ‘entering the priesthood’ as we thought at the time. In total there were five boys from Greenock, including myself. It was a particularly good catch by Fr. Tavano. I don’t think that he got as many anywhere else including London.

We spent the summer together – the Chosen Few. It was a time of great optimism. We had a whale of a time together. I remember that we hit it off greatly and we laughed a lot – in fact a hell of a lot. It seemed that people chosen specially by God had quite a lot in common. We were like brothers in arms. In fact looking back perhaps that was the greatest summer of my life. Life stretched out long in front of us – and we were going to be in God’s special legion.

We really believed that we were all going to be priests – the whole five us. We felt that we had already passed the audition. We believed that we had already been selected, that all we needed now was the training.

Vocations Lost

Fr. Tavano didn’t tell us otherwise – although he must have known. It seems that only about one in twenty of the boys ‘chosen by God’ in this way actually make it through to the priesthood.

Some of them leave having ‘lost their vocation’ along the way. The majority, though, are simply ignominiously dumped. There remains the strong suspicion that some were dumped to save paedophile priests from being found out when the boys got a little older and wiser.

Can you imagine how it feels to be selected by God and then dumped by his emissaries on earth?

What would you do after that?

I remember once reading that John Lennon said that when the Beatles broke up when he was in his late twenties he wondered “what do you do after you’ve been a Beatle?”

When Your Vocation is Gone

I think that, to an even greater extent, we could ask the same question. “What do you do after you’ve been specially chosen By God – and then he no longer wants you”?

The answer sadly for many of those who were rejected is ‘not much’.

As I said, only about one-in-twenty of those ‘chosen by God’ actually make it through to the priesthood and Fr. Tavano didn’t tell us about that when we signed up. We thought we were already there.

We were called by God – and then, seemingly, he dumped us because we had become’defiled’ by one of his servants.

Comboni Missionaries |The Rise and Fall of My Vocation

Comboni Missionaries

This website was set up, originally, so that people could post their memories of the Comboni Missionaries (ex-Verona Fathers) and especially of their seminary in Mirfield from the early sixties to the mid eighties.

It has been dominated, recently, by bad memories of the appalling sexual abuse perpetrated by Comboni Missionary priests on young boys as young as 11 in their care. The cover up by the Comboni Missionaries continues to this day.

I had set down my memories of Mirfield and the seminary of St Peter Claver at Mirfield, Yorkshire a few years ago. I haven’t done anyting with them. They have just been lying in my Word folder, although I have sent them to a few of the ex-Boys.

Good and Bad Memories

What I’ve decided to do is to serialise them here. There are good memories and bad memories. I hope they entertain you.

It, also, shows the methods that Father Pinkman and Father Valmaggia used to lure, and groom, young boys. At the time I thought I was the only one. Now, it seems, that it was rife.

I have learned, that someone that I considered my best friend at Mirfield, Frank McGinnis, was being abused by Father Pinkman. I learned this around fifty years after the events took place – although he said some things to me, at the time, about it which I wodered at and didn’t understand at the time – but it seems obvious what he was talking about now.

I’ll publish the first episode shortly.

Paedophile Priests / Great Friendships

Incidentally, if anyone has any good memories of Mirfield, please send them in to us and we’ll publish them.

To me, it was a place with some bad memories but also lots of good memories. I made lots of friendships there – as well as being chased by paedophile priests.

Let’s hear your memories, good and bad.

Inquiry Finds Senior Cleric Protected Paedophile Priest

Paedophile Priest

The Australians appear to be ahead of the UK in terms of Rheir royal Commission into Clerical Child Abuse. However, we have an example here of the type of verdict that the looming UK Home Office might reach.

It seems that the senior cleric had a conversation with a paedophile priest, which would have reulted in a jail sentence for the paedophile priest if it had been reported to the police. This was part of a report released by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Father John Nestor

It seems that Father John Nestor had assaulted youngsters in Wollongong during the Nineties. A senior cleric in that diocese ensured that no writtem record was ever kept of the conversation which were an admission of criminal conduct. The senior cleric did this because he wanted to protect not only the paedophile priest but the church.

 Even though it was known that Nestor was a paedophile from the early Nineties, it took over 5 years for the Vatican to remove him from the priesthood in 2008.

Clerical Sexual Abuse

There were runours in the Nineties about camps Nestor ran where the boys swam naked in the open. Nestor talked to boys about the size of their genitalia.

Father Lucas, the General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops was found guilty of “not recording or reporting Father Nestor’s inappropriate conduct”. He knew about what occurred after a major talk with Nestor in 1993.

“An outcome of Father Lucas’ practice was to ensure that there was no written record of any admissions of criminal conduct in order to protect the priest and the Church,” according to the report.

He even told Nestor that the conversation they had of his confession of his crimes would remain confidential and no record would be kept of it. Nestor reckoned it would impinge on Nestor’s right to silence to record the conversation.

Child Sex Abuse Accusations

The first accusation of child sex abuse was levelled at Nestor in 1996. He was convicted of ‘aggravted indecent assault as well as an aggravated act of indecency on an individual under 16 years of age’. However, he got acquitted the following year on appeal.

Complaints continued to be made against Nestor. This led to the church reconsidering and eventually removing Nestor as a priest. The report states that when he was removed the congregation were told that the reason was his involvement in several abuse cases against minors.

Food for Thought for Comboni Missionaries

This should give food for though for those who have been, or are in, positions of authority in the Comboni Missionaries and who were told about clrecial sexual abuse by boys at the seminary, them or later, or by the priests admitting it.

Although paedophile priests, Fathe john Pinkman and Father Domenico Valmaggia, are now dead, many of those, at senior level, who were told about it and covered it up are now in the cross sights of the Home Office Panel.

They won’t sleep so soundly in their beds.

The truth will out!

The Home Office Inquiry is in its early stages here but is taking shape.

In Nardo’s Bedroom

Occasionally the ‘God Squad’ would say our evening prayers in Nardo’s bedroom. This did not happen that often at first – the chapel was still Nardo’s preferred place to pray with “his group.”  I remember he had an electric organ and our evening sessions of singing, saying prayers and generally spending time in Nardo’s room became more frequent.

I remember, in particular, the folk hymn ‘Kum Ba Yah – this was one of our favourites – and we would sing it with gusto and enthusiasm.

It was around this time that some of us – myself included – would go and see him alone in his room.  I and, I suspect others, became quite jealous if we knew that other members of the group – “The God Squad Group” – had been in his room or were with him.

For my part, Nardo began asking me to come to his room at specific times during free time in the evenings and weekends.

Self Harming

During the first term at Mirfield I just lived for the free day. As far as I remember, this took place during the middle of the term, and on a Saturday. Instead of spending the morning doing cleaning and housework, we were able to have ‘ free time’ from after morning mass until the evening service. On my first such day, I planned to get the train from Huddersfield to Liverpool and then spend time with my mum and dad in Liverpool City Centre. I could not wait, that Saturday could not come soon enough.

Because of my homesickness my studies during this period suffered, and I struggled in all aspects of the school curriculum.

I went through a period of self harming and became quite bald as a result of it. I would gently pull clumps of my hair out, put them together and then slowly stick them in my ear to give me a tickling effect. I would do this at various times of the day. However, I seem to remember that I did this, more often than not, during classroom lessons and during chapel services.

What I find incredible now, is that nobody at that time noticed what I was going through and how homesick and unhappy I was, and consequently how I was suffering mentally because of it. It was a very difficult and lonely time for me and I was pleased when Nardo arrived at Mirfield – he was attentive to me, and that took away the pain that accompanied my homesickness.