In the early 1950s, when Maeve was only a baby, her mother dropped her off at a girls’ home run by Catholic nuns. Maeve told the Commissioner it was a cruel place where she was victimised, beaten, thrown into the cellar for no reason and forced to do ‘slave labour’.
Part of the home functioned as an aged care facility and Maeve and the other girls were often made to look after the old people. Many of them were friendly and Maeve didn’t mind helping them, but others were abusive.
‘We were only little kids and then this old man would come out and he’d have his pants coming down and he’d be chasing us. We’d have to try and get away from him, and he’d spray stuff from his pants all over us.’
Maeve’s father tried to take her from the home but the nuns prevented him because he wasn’t married. Still, after some time Maeve was allowed to visit him once a month. For a while her life improved. Then, at age 12, she was sent to live at a Catholic boarding school.
Like the home, the boarding school was run by nuns. Maeve said that there were close ties between the two. ‘They were all in cahoots with one another so I was targeted from the first five minutes I was up there.’
Some of the girls started teasing her as soon as she arrived. One of the nuns, Sister Rachel, overheard their laughter and came into the room and started teasing Maeve, too. That night Maeve looked out through her curtains to see two of the older girls ‘hugging and kissing’.
‘I just got curious and I just walked up and looked around a bit more, and Sister Rachel was sitting there watching them. And she saw me and she growled at me so I took off. I got to the steps and she called me back and I got to the top step and she kicked me down the step. She said, “Don’t you say a word”. She said, “You’d be dead. We know how to get rid of trouble like you”.’
Sometime later there was another incident when Maeve locked herself in the bathroom to try to deal with her period. Sister Rachel burst in.
‘She said, “Stand up”. And I stood up because I was scared of her and she made me turn around and around and around. And I looked at the wall and she made me look at her and she said, “You filthy bastard”. She said, “You’re just filth”.’
Sister Rachel continued to insult and threaten Maeve for some time. Eventually she ordered her to clean up the bathroom and left. Maeve said, ‘I don’t know what happened but I never got a period after that, ever. Until I was put on the pill’.
As soon as she finished Year 10, Maeve left the boarding school and lived with her dad for several years until she got married. ‘I married the first boy I went out with. Not because I wanted to. I didn’t want to’.
Maeve’s husband was psychologically abusive and became more so when he realised that she couldn’t conceive. Maeve asked her doctor for some advice about adopting, and he referred her to a hospital. Unfortunately, Maeve didn’t realise until later that it was a Catholic hospital.
‘This lady gave us a letter and when I read it it had in it that I was unfit to be a parent because I was reared by the nuns; I was institutionalised and hence I was unfit. I couldn’t believe it. I was still being punished.’
After that Maeve’s health began to suffer.
‘I became a real night owl. I was too scared to sleep.’ She internalised all the things the nuns had said about her and started to believe them. ‘I know I’ll be in Hell with them’, she said. ‘Oh yes, I will. I’ve said that all my life.’
Her husband’s behaviour worsened over time. ‘Then it got to the point I couldn’t take another minute and that’s it. I got the courage to just put a stop to all that. I couldn’t handle any more.’
Maeve is now divorced and lives on her own, though she’s managed to reconnect with many of her family members over the years. She also has her dog, Minty, who’s always there to support her. She told the Commissioner of one occasion when she came home after a tough day.
‘I just went into the bedroom and laid down and Minty got up on the bed, over to me, a paw on my shoulder and his chin on my cheek and we stayed there for hours. And after that I didn’t have the heart not to let him on the bed. He was it – he stopped all the fellas. The thing is, if I was such a bad person, was so evil, why would a dog be like that with me?’