Louisa lived with her grandmother in regional New South Wales from when she was eight months old. In the early 1940s, when she was five, she was sent to a Catholic boarding school, but spent holidays with her grandmother. ‘My life would have been much different if I’d have just stayed with my grandmother and gone to the local public school’.
When she was in Grade 3, Louisa was transferred to a different Catholic boarding school on the outskirts of Sydney. She was targeted by the nuns who ran the school because her mother was divorced, and was often ‘sent to Father Maguire, [the local parish priest], who was supposed to straighten me out, I guess’.
‘The arrangement was that he used to come up to the convent once a fortnight and hear confession. So it was arranged that he would speak to me at one of these confessional sessions. It all went okay … The first couple of times it was fine. Then he started inviting me around to his side of the confessional …
‘I don’t remember being alarmed about that. And he would hug me and I remember feeling quite good about that because it’d been a long time since anyone had actually hugged me.’
Eventually, ‘it just graduated to becoming something more. So he would kiss me and then … he would touch my genitals … And I was always the last person in line for confession. I don’t know how that was organised … [and] after … it graduated to be something more, he would get me to lock the door the moment I came into the room, so he had this period of time to spend with me’.
The abuse continued for three years and only stopped when Louisa left the primary school. ‘I didn’t intend to [tell anybody] because he told me he would take care of me and he loved me and I was a good girl.’
One day, one of the nuns was ‘dressing me down about something and said that nobody loved me and I was the Devil’s child. I said, “Well, Father loves me. Father loves me”. She said, “Of course he doesn’t”. So I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember telling her that he hugged me and kissed me and he loved me.’
The Sister ‘went into [a] frenzy and called me a liar, and really I think I was a marked person, even more so, from that day on. I doubt she ever told Father Maguire … She just found ways to punish me’.
The nuns told Louisa’s mother that she was a liar, ‘because I was. I became quite difficult. There are a lot of things that I did … and I was punished for that, but what gives me joy today is that there were such a lot of things I did that they never knew about, and for some strange reason … it was the cruelty of the nuns that makes as much of an impression on me as anything else’.
Louisa also experienced physical and emotional abuse at the school. Because she was always hungry, she began sneaking around the school stealing food from the kitchen, altar breads from the sacristy, and treats sent by parents that were stored in the rotunda.
‘I did all these things like a one-person operation, and I was totally alone. I had nowhere to go because my mother believed what the nuns told her … and being abused just became part of the daily routine like the other things I might do, eat or shower … because I had nowhere to go.’
After leaving the school, Louisa went to live with her mother, who had re-married. She attended a local public school for a couple of months, where the principal went out of his way to teach Louisa to write. Every time she writes, she recalls his kindness. She then returned to her original Catholic school, where she finished her schooling as a day student.
Louisa married and had children. Her husband converted to Catholicism, and when the pair began experiencing difficulties in their marriage, they decided to go to counselling. The only counsellor that her husband would go to was the local parish priest.
When Louisa complained to the parish priest in a counselling session that she ‘was a bit upset … that [her husband] didn’t respond very kindly when I told him about the [sexual] abuse. I remember [the priest’s] response. He said to me, “Well, why would you expect him to? It happened a long time ago and why would you burden him with it?”’.
Louisa refused to go back to the counselling sessions. ‘I was shocked because every time I mentioned it to somebody … nobody wanted to hear and nobody actually once said, “I’m really sorry that happened to you” … So I actually refused to go back to him again and of course then my husband thought I was being totally unreasonable and unhelpful.’ The marriage didn’t last.
It was later discovered that the parish priest who counselled Louisa and her husband was himself guilty of child sexual abuse.
In recent years it was revealed that a teacher at the school where Louisa worked was a notorious child abuser, and she realised how the man had groomed not only children, but staff members as well. She recalled the glowing references some of these staff members gave at the man’s trial.
Louisa has tried to keep busy with work and other activities, so that she hasn’t had time to dwell on the sexual abuse she experienced. However, she realises ‘from time to time, that even though it’s not forward in my memory, that every part of my life is influenced by that experience – and that’s why I’ve come forward’.