That was in 1991 – 1992… when I was teaching English at the Irish Institute in Rome. I had been to Providence, Rhode Island in August ’91. I’m not sure of all the different labels used to define us… there was a candidacy program, I was older than most of the women there … we had courses.. sort of. I remember one morning we were told to dress well as our pictures were going to be taken as ‘founders’ of the school there in Rhode Island.
Three American girls and I, from Canada, were considered to be
volunteers, we were called ‘collaborators’, at the Rhode Island Centre where they were looking for English teachers. There were also positions at their Irish International School on Via Guistiniana in Rome to be filled. None of us had determined a vocation to be consecrated.
We were told in Providence Rhode Island that we would be given lesson plans, books etc. for teaching. I believe I was the only one qualified to teach English … the four of us saw it as a kind of year we were giving to God and the Church… with no pay… but there was to be an allowance of some kind and we were to have the weekends completely free to explore Rome.
Several things just weren’t true. After having quit our jobs, situations, schools, etc. in North America we found that we didn’t have the weekends free, there was no allowance, and absolutely no text books. We made lesson plans and for me this was not very difficult; I modeled my course in English for my grade one, 6 – 7 year olds after one I had taken in Italian before coming to Rome.
My first apprehension began one morning when I arrived a little earlier than usual downstairs where the Italian students came in to school. One of the pre-school aged children had thrown-up and was crying terribly. I asked around what was going on and was told
they do it all the time… miss their mothers. In fact that was true… the younger children were probably about ages 2 or 3 and they didn’t adjust any better to the situation in the coming weeks.
I saw something else that made me very concerned within the first month of teaching; I was headed toward the younger students area downstairs and came upon a strange scene… a child without clothes on, standing by a young woman that I could not remember having seen at the school before … I sort of made the assumption that the child had gotten in to a mess of some sort and was being cleaned up, but it didn’t really sit right with me. Soon I was told that the kids make a horrible mess at lunch times … this could be true.
Within a week or two of school starting I was told by one of the consecrated women who headed the school that they had a problem with children masturbating… I was completely shocked…. I hadn’t seen anything like that I told her.
Then came the legal matter. Probably about three months after I had been teaching, I was told that some Italian government officials were coming to inspect the kitchens. Later that day one of the volunteers told me that she and the other two American girls had spent the morning keeping their Italian students from yelling and crying up in the attic. She said they had to hide the children in a storeroom because the Italian government did not allow children under the age of 6 to attend schools.
Thinking about the distressed sick babies and this event I went to the priest. I wanted some answers about the situation. I didn’t like it that these Italian babies were suffering and that the Italian government, knowing its people, did not want kids under age 6 away from their families. He not only fobbed me off, but was indignant and angry at me for questioning the Legion on such a matter. He called a meeting of the four of us from North America and informed us that the Italian government was just plain stupid and hated priests and Catholics who were trying to do good. He himself being American seemed to think he needed to explain how stupid these foreigners were. He didn’t think that the Legion should have to obey all these foreign laws, they were above the laws. He gave the example of Mexico… where priests were not allowed to wear cassocks. He also humiliated me and seemed to gain the confidence of the other three against me in a way. Not caring much what they thought of me, I was surprised when soon after this the principal of the school asked me to be the playground supervisor.
Some weeks after that I was on the second floor of the school going back to my class room to get books I had left upstairs. It was lunch time for the kids and the class rooms and halls were completely empty… hearing voices I looked into a class room and saw the principle of the school, one of the consecrated, holding her blouse, that was unbuttoned, closed. A boy student, whom I didn’t know, was standing in the class room with her near the door against the wall. I said hello to her and walked on, at the time I was just not able to believe what I had seen.
Not long after that I was called in to talk to her on another matter and she took it upon herself to offer a sort of explanation… she said she was in love with the boy’s father. I don’t really know why she told me this, it seems completely strange to me now. Anyway, I saw it as a desire to confide in me, or put to me at ease, as at that time I was under some kind of mild suspicion about having meetings with the male gym teacher to exchange English for Italian lessons… all totally innocent and in full view of everyone. She claimed that students were telling their parents stories about me… so I agreed.. no more Italian/English with the gym teacher.
I had another experience. I had high fever, was incredibly tired and slept for a few days. No one else was ill. When I was awake during this time, I felt strange, unable to move and just laid there, I was not even hungry – unusual for me!
I also was told there would be a doctor calling, but none ever came… and I was later told that I had a virus (I don’t know how they would have figured that, as I had no other symptoms except the fever, which was obvious) …no antibiotics were given to me. I don’t think aspirin for reducing the fever was given to me either, but I was so out of it, I’m not sure. I wasn’t afraid, I had given my life up to God in a simple way.
I was told to go back home shortly after these events. There are other things that happened as well that drew out my suspicions about the deceitfulness of the priest and some of the leaders at the school, but none are as materially obvious, or as easy to explain as the ones I’ve told here.
The Legionary priest met me at the gate as I returned to the Irish Institute from spending Saturday with my Canadian friend Linda Robetaille who was studying at the Gregorian. The priest told me that they had gotten a return plane ticket to Canada for me so that I could set things in order there and we discussed my return to teach if I discerned God’s will was for me to finish my year at the Irish Institute. He told me to say nothing to anyone about my leaving.
It was strange, but on that very afternoon as I had been walking with my friend Linda in Rome, a motorcycle with two boys on it came by and ripped my purse off my arm and got away with my passport, all my money and the only credit and bank card that I had.
I thank God that I didn’t have to leave… I was kicked out abruptly after questioning a huge deceit they had going with the parents of the children and the Italian government in the school I taught at … big surprise. There I was out on the streets of Rome with all my suit cases. They kindly gave me cab fare.
When I got back to Canada I was able to make good the arrangements needed and felt that it was God’s will that I return to the Irish and finish out the few months teaching for the year. All things seemed to lead me to that conclusion because my old job was filled and people there were getting on with their lives without me certainly.
I had bought several English books for the non-existent youth library at the Irish school as well as gifts of pencils and other work books in English for the students. I wonder if they got them.
When I got to the Irish I was told that I was not allowed to finish the year. No concern was taken as to the fact that I had about $20 Canadian on me, and no way to get any money at all. The ‘consecrated woman’ who paid a cab for me into Rome felt I must be a wealthy person I supposed — her parting words were something about how I knew Linda Robitaille (a student of Canon Law/Jurisprudence at the Gregorian University) …that I should contact her, and that I stood to go into a deep depression from which I would never recover if I didn’t get back to Canada within the week.
I will always be deeply grateful to Linda Robataille and the other women at the Foyer Unitas Casa for all that they did for me… two weeks gratis accommodation at the Foyer… introducing me to Fr. Marcel Chapin and helping me to find a bank where I could have money wired to me by my father. I stayed in Rome for three years and studied at the Gregorian. That changed my life and directed me into the life’s work that was always to be mine. I love the Jesuits.
I felt I was pulled in a lot deeper than I actually intended to be. I admit it, I was really interested in going to Rome to teach English. But I wasn’t just using them to get there… I had been trying to discern a vocation for several years, I only knew about RC for a month before I went to Rhode Island. Months after I had taught in Rome at the Irish Institute there was pressure put on me to sign up with Regnum Christi… and this is stupid, but I don’t remember if I actually signed the paper or not! I was sure that I shouldn’t become one of the ‘consecrated’ as I still had deep interest in the Benedictines whom I had visited in Colorado and I thought it was weird that they couldn’t touch food. I had made a consecration to the Blessed Virgin and to the Sacred Heart, so in my heart I already had made a consecration to God, but not to RC. It’s been so many years ago. Once out of it, I felt I had turned the corner on a bad time in my life… I truly hope I never got anyone else interested in this bunch of nuts … and now that I think of it, two women whom I knew went on — one to be consecrated and another spent time teaching in Rhode Island. I suppose I gave credibility to the RC as I enjoyed Rome and probably the good food gave me a particularly good appearance of well being and healthful goodness. It makes me sick to believe that anyone would have been persuaded to get into RC because of anything that I did. But I probably didn’t talk enough about all the bad experiences and the things I saw for anyone to know to beware of them.
I should have reported it to Italian authorities immediately. I might have done so if the way that they dumped me had not been so confusing and overwhelmingly difficult to deal with. What happened at the Irish Institute haunted me for over 10 years after I found myself on the streets of Rome with only my suit cases and cab fare. After that I was scrambling around trying to put my life together and it was months, years before I was able to think how I might make the Irish Institute a better place.
Any time I thought about it, I was inevitably aware that I had no evidence. I was just a little loser in Rome with no connections… and the Legionaries… they were a huge world wide religious order with connections to incredibly wealthy people, the Pope, Cardinal Sodano etc. … so they told us.
I am ashamed of my cowardice. I don’t know why these things take so long to come out into the light. But now it is beginning — with the exposure of Marcial Maciel and his expulsion from Rome. I believe good will prevail over evil; that innocents will have rightness in their lives and God knows how to deal with the guilty ones.
I read the Psalms for comfort, King David understood
That didn’t occur to me until I read it… I felt so alone and afraid, actually I think I became mentally ill… paranoid? maybe… or maybe there is reason and wisdom in the fear. For years, when I spoke of what had happened, which was rare, I couldn’t help reverting to thinking it was all my fault, and that they would catch up to me and punish me for talking. Actually, I’m still afraid of that and it’s been 14 years!