The Christian Brothers…now there is a name that will live on in infamy


The things one learns long after the fact…when I was a boy, my father had a favorite fishing spot, an oxbow in the Green River north of Kent, Washington, where we lived. It was a lovely place, a little bit of a walk from the road, but you were surrounded by river and trees and grass. I remember well this one trip where we’d been spectacularly successful and had caught a pair of 10-12 pound steelhead, and we were walking back to the car; I was carrying one of the fish, my fingers hooked in the gills, Dad was carrying the other, and my brother Jim was carrying the tackle box, and he saw this thick trickle of dark red blood dripping over my fingers and down the flank of the steelhead, and he puked all over the tackle box. He always had a delicate stomach. I also used to tease him about how he’d get seasick on ferry rides.

Of course, then when he grew up he got a job as a commercial fisherman and spent all his time on a heaving boat in the North Pacific hauling in massive quantities of aquatic beasties, so he’ll probably deny that event.

Anyway, those were good times. The site also had a crumbling wreck in the middle of it, an old school that was decaying walls and broken windows surrounding a gutted interior. My father wouldn’t let us go anywhere near it. He didn’t like the place at all; he’d name it with a little snarl, because it apparently had an ugly history with people who grew up in Kent in the 40s and 50s. I vaguely recall being taunted by other kids about being shipped off to Briscoe if I was bad, but that was about it. All I knew was that it was a step above a ruin, and there was a statue of Jesus in the courtyard, which I was surprised to see erected in the Catholic churchyard in town some years later.

The place was called the Briscoe School for Boys. It was a Catholic reform school where the delinquent kids were sent. That was all I knew about it. A bit out of the way, good fishing, decaying building, occasional whispers of dislike from my parents’ generation.

That’s an impressively oppressive sorta Gothic building to have been plunked down in a small farming town in the Pacific Northwest. I guess the long reach of the Catholic Church meant all kinds of nightmares were assembled in out-ot-the-way places. Even now, the small town I live in in Minnesota has a Catholic history, with the Sisters of Mercy building an Indian boarding school right here in the middle of the prairie. It’s as if some malignant cosmic entity has sprinkled Stephen King bait all across the country.

It was just last tonight that I stumbled across the story of the place. It was founded by the Christian Brothers of Ireland — and you already know what horrors dwelt there, just from that name. Hogwarts it wasn’t; it was a torture factory.

Decades ago, society was much more accepting of corporal punishment, the men alleging abuse acknowledge.

But what happened to them at Briscoe “weren’t beatings, they were torture,” said John Green, a 59-year-old technology consultant who lives near Everett and boarded at Briscoe in the 1950s. “It continued into self-gratification and rage. It had nothing to do with punishment.”

The brothers carried leather straps — about a foot long and an inch or two wide — with which they hit students, the men say.

Jerry Blinn, 65, a retired business manager in Placitas, N.M., said students were punished for anything from getting wrong answers in class to talking in meal lines.

He said one brother would strap students so hard his feet would leave the ground. Blinn, who was sent to Briscoe in 1946 after his widowed, ill and impoverished mother was unable to take care of him, said some brothers also grabbed students by their ears or cheeks and shook them “like a bass on a hook.”

Davison, of Seattle, who ended up at Briscoe about 40 years ago after he ran away from home, remembers being beaten with straps and fists — sometimes so hard he was knocked unconscious. “They beat me half to death there,” he said.

He and some of the other men say they saw brothers beating naked boys with wooden paddles in the showers, and that some brothers had students fight each other.

“It was a truly brutal place,” said Earl Dye, 60, a mental-health counselor in Seattle whose mother sent him to Briscoe around 1955 at the urging of nuns. “In the morning, you would think: ‘I hope I don’t get beaten today.’ And every night you would hope you wouldn’t be one of those boys that the brothers would pull out of bed.”

Several of the men say they would sometimes see brothers take one or two boys out of their dorm-room beds for a while at night.

Pat Gogerty, retired executive director of Childhaven, a local agency serving abused and neglected children, said that happened to his brother, William Gogerty. William lived at Briscoe from about 1937 to 1945. Once, when Pat stayed overnight during a visit, he saw a brother take William out of the room.

“He was gone for a while,” Pat Gogerty said. “He didn’t talk about what happened (then). In those days, you never talked about anything like that.” Years later, his brother told him he had been sexually abused at Briscoe, starting from his first day there at age 8.

Jesus. I had no idea. I’ve known of the Christian Brothers, an evil cabal of self-righteous perverts and sadists, but I always associated them with other places, other countries. But they’d set up shop in my hometown and had creeped out my father years ago? Eerie. Survivors of sexual abuse are still talking about went on there. And what is it with the Catholic Church building prisons for young boys all around the world, and staffing them with psychopaths?

Comments

  1. weylguy says

    Fucking Jesus, how sickening. But I’m sure that Catholics believe that nothing but good came out of all this, and that Jesus Himself was right there with the children during the torture, reminding them that He went through much the same thing on His way to salvation and glory. And since God is a forgiving God, all this should be forgotten about. Let’s not talk or even think about it any more.

    Alabama’s Roy Moore believes the same way. Sure, multiple witnesses are coming out about how Moore sexually molested children as a 30-something adult, but Moore knows God is a forgiving God, so let’s let this thing pass and make him a senator, shall we?

  2. says

    Not just young boys. Back in the day, catholics were big believers in brutality. I was in catholic school for 8 years, and we were routinely beaten. It took many decades for scars from metal-edged rulers to fade from my hands and neck. Monsignor Bradley was a great one for grabbing anyone by the ears, shaking them, pulling them along, or twirling them around. Nuns would make us girls kneel on rough asphalt every day to check our skirts were the proper length. Sister Augustine used to have full melt down tantrums, at least twice a week. She would ball up her fists, squinch her eyes closed, and stamp her feet. Then she’d grab a desk from the front row, with whoever was in it, and fling it. One time, she threw so hard, most of us in our desks were flung to the side, and poor Tim C and his desk went flying into the cloakroom at the back of the room, where he and his desk broke 2 of the doors.

    We were beaten with yardsticks, paddles, and sometimes canes.
    As for parents, eh, they figured the nuns and priests were always right, if we were ‘punished’, we must have done something wrong.

  3. numerobis says

    weylguy@2:

    I’m sure that Catholics believe that nothing but good came out of all this

    Do you know any Catholics who believe that?

    The leadership (who I have not met) seem to be split between fixing the problem or hiding it; the latter party was in charge before but have lost a lot of power. Parishioners (who I knew a few of) are split between quitting the church and wanting to fix the church. In all cases, the abuse is recognized as a huge problem.

    It’s different from the police scandals where the FoP argues until it’s blue in the face that the abuse and murders are actually a good thing.

  4. numerobis says

    squab@5: the most shocking part to me is how the Inuit are almost all Anglican, despite that history. (Some of the younger Inuit also find that confusing.)

  5. says

    I’m going to have to talk with my university administration. They keep talking about our 5 year graduation rate, but they’re missing an opportunity — we should be bragging about our survival rate, which is almost 100%.

  6. richardemmanuel says

    This seems biased. You should teach the controversy. Is worshipping torture unhealthy? Could the worshipping of torture be ameliorated by including ritual cannibalism? Will blood-drinking help? Is infanticide right or wrong? These are all difficult questions, and would require the data from say roughly two millennia. Perhaps we’ll never know.

  7. wondering says

    numerobis@7

    weylguy@2:
    I’m sure that Catholics believe that nothing but good came out of all this

    Do you know any Catholics who believe that?

    My mum’s not Catholic, just super fundie. But when my little sister brought up the Canadian residential schools because she’d heard about them on the radio, my mum said, “I’m sure they meant well.” So, entirely anecdotal and not the same as believing only good came out of it, but still a belief that all of that horror happened for “a good reason” and those brutal bastards “had good hearts”. Fuck.

  8. methuseus says

    numerobis@7

    weylguy@2:

    I’m sure that Catholics believe that nothing but good came out of all this

    Do you know any Catholics who believe that?

    Yes, I personally do. I knew now deceased ones that did as well. I knew and know others who don’t, but they’re in the minority, especially when considering those born before 1960 and especially before 1940.
    Obviously, “not all Catholics”, but there were and are plenty to this day.

  9. jamesmaib says

    I remember those long leathers ( I even have one I stole as a souvenir ) from my school days in the 1970s and 1980s in Ireland. Not a reform school but a school where you had to pass entrance exams and have good Catholic middle class parents to get in. While I was rarely hit by the brothers, they were all too old at that stage, the lay teachers made up for it. As a person with Dyslexia I would receive leathers to the hands or back for bad spelling or for my questioning of points of faith or the rabid nationalism that was promoted at the time. The culture of violence permeated the school and while some teachers saw it as a regretful , but necessary part of their job, other teachers relished the opportunity to inflict pain on those less powerful. Even as a child I knew it is not normal for a human to salivate excitedly while beating another human. All this was condoned by the society in which I grew up in and was considered normal. Thankfully corporal punishment was banned before the end of my student career but not before I understood that it had no place in a school environment. What happened to the poor inmates of the industrial schools run by similar groups was beyond horror.

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