I am a 39 year-old male currently living in Massachusetts. I was born in 1968. I attended Nazareth Home For Boys in Leicester, MA, from 1974 through 1980, from the ages of 6 to 12 years old. Nazareth has been in existence for over 100 years, and continues to exist primarily as a foster home for troubled children from separated and divorced parents, and also for so-called “problem children,” as well as some children with developmental disabilities like cerebral palsy and autism.
I was a “day student” at Nazareth, which meant that I attended the Catholic parochial school that Nazareth maintained weekdays from 8 AM – 2 PM. Every day, I would go to school at Nazareth, then go back to my adoptive home (I was adopted as an infant). With rare exception, the teachers were all nuns; there were a few non-religious lay teachers as well. Most of these teachers were excellent, and genuinely enjoyed teaching their students. There were, however, some notable exceptions.
Sister Mary Justina was the most notorious example of what was inherently wrong with Catholic schools. She ruled her classroom with a 12” ruler and a long pointer, and freely disciplined us whenever she felt the need. She was cruel, sadistic, and heartless, and I believe she truly despised her students, and children in general. Her favorite past-time seemed to be casting ugly looks at us children, humiliating and insulting us, and beating us into submission if we did not comply with her capricious demands. Fortunately, as a day student, my punishments were limited to ear twisting, knuckle-rapping for nail biting, and insulting comments and yelling by Sister Justina. I think she knew that I would go home and tell my parents everything that went on, so she felt constrained not to do anything particularly severe to me.
Not so for the foster children. They lived in a four-unit building, and each unit, or “house,” had a housemother that lived with them and supervised them. Often, while eating lunch with some of the foster children at one of these houses, I would hear my friend, Wayne, being chased by his housemother. We were both approximately 6 or 7 years old at this time. One time, Wayne’s housemother even showed up in our classroom wielding a large paddle, telling Sister Justina that she “wanted to see Wayne after class.” It was clear to me then that that was what all the chasing and noise and yelling were about previously at Wayne’s house – Wayne was being punished by his housemother. Once, I witnessed Sister Yvette, the housemother of the house I ate lunch in, tackle and pin down my friend Brian by kneeling on his back, and paddle him repeatedly on the seat of his pants with a thick paddle that must have been a good 2” thick and about 5” or 6” long.
Yet, the worst offense occurred one day in Sister Justina’s class. We stayed in one classroom the whole class day, every day. The janitor had put a large pineboard partition in front of Wayne’s desk prior to this incident, ostensibly to “calm Wayne down.” Wayne was full of rage, had a filthy expletive-laden mouth, and had all the signs of being sexually abused, most likely by this same janitor, who would take Wayne down to his basement workshop, and the sounds of power tools and Wayne’s yelling would echo through the halls of the school as we all listened from our classrooms in shock and terror.
A fellow student and friend of mine, Mark, went to the opposite side of the classroom with me this particular day, to ask the Mother Superior, Mother Alonzo, if she had a “flesh-colored crayon” (we were coloring then). Her desk was opposite Sister Justina’s desk on the other side of the room. She told Mark there was no such thing, and to sit down, in a very derisive and insulting manner (Mother Alonzo died from old age one year after this, most likely because of how much she hated children). In the background, we could hear Wayne growing angrier by the minute, as Sister Justina repeatedly demanded that he follow her instructions to the letter. Wayne eventually flew into a rage, kicked the partition in front of his desk over on the floor, and screamed “F*** YOU” at Sister Justina. Mark and I were near Wayne’s desk in the corner of the classroom where we were standing at Mother Alonzo’s desk.
Sister Justina flew to her desk, opened her desk drawer, grabbed her favorite 12” ruler, and flew across the classroom like she had wings. I stood watching in shock and horror as she reached Wayne, and stripped off his pants and underwear. I have a very confusing memory of Wayne being held upside down by both ankles by Sister Justina, yet I know that this is technically not possible, since Wayne was a good-sized little boy, and Sister Justina was very diminutive, and elderly as well, though incredibly strong and determined, however. Whatever the case, the next sight that filled my vision was the image of the ruler repeatedly smacking Wayne’s buttocks, and the sharp “crack” of the ruler as it impacted his backside, as well as Wayne’s screams of pain and rage. These sounds and images haunt me to this day. I still remember seeing Wayne’s clothing lying in a heap on the floor in the corner. The sight of Wayne being smacked with the ruler is burned into my brain to this day, like it just happened five minutes ago. I am certain that if Wayne didn’t commit suicide in later years, he most likely murdered someone, because he was so full of rage, and this incident most assuredly only added to all that rage and resentment.
I was personally never spanked at home, though my mother had a peculiar way of disciplining me that I would like to report within the body of this article. After having sent me to my room, I would have to wait for her for what seemed like hours, though she always claimed afterward that it was “only a few minutes.” I never knew what I had done wrong to deserve this treatment. I worried endlessly about what I could have possibly done wrong, and began to panic about what she would do to me when she came to my room. Eventually, I would hear one certain kitchen drawer open next to the kitchen sink downstairs, and I knew she was getting the paddle. It was a small leather paddle that my father’s friend had made at work out of old shoe leather “as a joke.” It was no joke to us kids growing up, as it was used on all three of my older siblings at least once over the years, so my mother somewhat gleefully would tell me when I was older (I was the youngest, and the only adopted child, in the family).
My mother would calmly and silently climb the stairs, then appear in the doorway of my bedroom, wielding the paddle. Without any emotion or any words, she would just as calmly sit down beside me on my bed, and begin interrogating me as to what I had done wrong. Of course, I could only guess, not knowing what I had done wrong to merit her wrath. I would tell her a good guess, then I would receive a slap on my right arm with the paddle for “lying.” This would continue until my arm had a red welt on it, and she was satisfied. Then I would be left alone to deal with the emotions boiling inside of me. I didn’t know whether I wanted to cry or to hit someone. She never spanked me in the traditional sense, though these paddle-laden interrogations were far worse, as they traumatized me and caused me severe mental anguish. Worse still, I was also incested with enemas regularly by my adoptive mother, ostensibly for constipation, which actually originated from a suspicious medical condition I had as a small child that would today be a clear sign of a sexual assault.
Early on as a child, I even began spanking myself, because I felt that I deserved it for being so bad. I felt so worthless and dirty and ashamed, especially for experimenting with my body and for developing sexually as I grew older. One thing never changed, however, and that was my universal and unwavering desire to attempt to protect children from the same torments and abuses that I suffered as a child. Both my adoptive parents are now long deceased, and my adoptive siblings continue to deny that anything abusive ever happened, though my eldest sister has admitted that my adoptive mother did physically abuse one of the foster children in her care, and I personally witnessed my adoptive mother spanking a disabled foster girl that was in her care when I was a teenager.
I am saying all of these things because, somehow, I am hoping that others who read about my personal experiences, will be deterred from harming children if they are parents or caregivers or teachers, or perhaps prevent cruelty and abuse from happening to children that they know – nieces, nephews, friend’s children, etc. No child deserves to be hurt, humiliated, slapped, insulted, traumatized, abused, molested, or anything else!!! Children deserve to be loved, respected, embraced, and treated as the special sons and daughters of God that they truly are. It is my hope and my sincerest wish that PTAVE and all those who support this organization will put protection of children as their highest ethic and goal – so that children can grow up to be healthy, loved, happy, adults.
- S. B.
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