Sunday, January 10, 2016

'It could have been any one of us'

A shorter version of this ran on the op-ed pages of the January 10, 2016, Providence Journal.

UPDATE, July 18, 2019: 
The man I describe further into this essay as "another brother who lived among them in one dorm – and they told stories of him inviting them to his room for illicit cigarettes and requests to shower naked with him in his private bathroom" has been publicly identified as being credibly accused of sexually abusing minors abuse. So I now have more to say. To read, jump to the end.

Watching Spotlight, the Oscar-bound movie about The Boston Globe’s investigation of Massachusetts clergy who raped children, and reading about employees of St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island, who sexually abused students has prompted memories of my 1960s and ‘70s childhood.

Only luck, I have concluded, spared me and my friends the fate of these many victims here in New England and others like them across America.

Back then, we were youngsters in a world where authority was accepted without question, and where certain authorities with sanctioned access to children – clergy, teachers, coaches and scout leaders among them – were almost god-like in stature. In the case of priests, they may as well have been God, at least in the view of adults like my mother, a daughter of Irish immigrants who was born and raised in Boston and who brought up her children with the Baltimore Catechism. You won’t find a hint that clergy could be anything but pure in that book.

It was a world of blind obedience and absolute trust of elders. And it was a world where monsters cloaked in authority roamed free, although no grownup warned us of that.

A resident of Wakefield, Mass., a suburb of Boston, from birth until college, I spent eight years at Saint Joseph parochial school and was an altar boy during much of that time at the parish church, which was under the control of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The priests I knew best at St. Joseph were good stewards, and one remained an acquaintance for decades. But another, William F. Maloney, who I saw only at Mass, was later publicly accused of sexually abusing someone in the late ‘60s at another parish in North Reading, four miles from my home.

A ten-minute drive would have brought me to another church, St. Patrick’s in neighboring Stoneham, where my parents could just as easily have settled when buying their first house outside the city. I would have been an altar boy there -- with Bryan Schultz, who was repeatedly and grotesquely abused by Paul R. Shanley, one of the worst serial pedophile priests, assigned to St. Patrick’s for seven years in the 1960s. Father James R. Porter, another monster, was briefly with Shanley at the Stoneham parish in 1967.

As the investigative reporter played by Mark Ruffalo declares in Spotlight: “It could have been you! It could have been me! It could have been any one of us!”

We did not need religion to be near an apparent molester. A local journalist who regularly visited schools, the YMCA, youth athletics and other places was said to have a creepy interest in boys, touching them inappropriately and sneaking into their tents after nightfall on scouting trips. Neither I nor my close friends were scouts, but we heard these stories so frequently we held them to be true. We never told an adult, for who would have believed a kid with such a story?

In eighth grade, I won a scholarship to St. John’s Prep, in Danvers, Mass., an all-boys school run the the Xaverian Brothers where I would receive a superb education. I remember meeting with headmaster Brother Ricardo before I enrolled; he wanted to personally share his delight at my good fortune with me and my parents. He seemed a warm, charming man who was devoted to God and the well-being of children. And that remained my perception during my years at St. John’s.

I was a day student, and thus never saw Brother Ricardo outside the classroom context. But boarders did. They saw also another brother who lived among them in one dorm – and they told stories of him inviting them to his room for illicit cigarettes and requests to shower naked with him in his private bathroom. To my knowledge, this man was never formally accused of sexually abusing a student. [UPDATE, July 19, 2019: He now has been, and his name was Brother Rudolph, born Thomas Holihan; for more, jump to end.] But Brother Ricardo, whose given name was Richard Kerressey, was.

In 1994, a former student accused Kerressey of sodomizing him in the school infirmary in 1966, after the headmaster had brought him back to campus following hospital treatment for injuries sustained when another student bullied and beat him. After the rape, according to the former student, Kerressey threatened to keep him, a senior, from graduating if he told anyone. The grown man claimed his life had been ruined, with suffering from “…depression, affective disorder, rage attacks, sleep apnea… attention/concentration deficit… is unable to hold a job or even at this point work… has a poor self-image, and has been through three divorces,” according to a Sept. 22, 1994, letter by the law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, which represented victims of Porter and Shanley.

From the 1969 St. John's Prep yearbook

Did Kerressey have more victims? The letter, available on, states: “Mr. [redacted] informs us that it was well known among the students at St. John’s that Br. Ricardo favored certain people. Br. Ricardo’s favoritism was based upon the student’s availability to be sexually abused by Br. Ricardo. If one succumbed to Br. Ricardo’s abuses, one was more successful at St. John’s.”

I look very differently now at Brother Ricardo’s smiling face in my Prep yearbooks.

As with other cases, we likely will never know the full truth, since some of an abuser’s victims take their secrets with them to the grave. Indeed, it is possible that some of my childhood friends and classmates were abused but have never disclosed it. If so, I hope they, together with all victims, can find peace in their later years, and if their healing involves reporting long-ago abuse to law enforcement, I encourage them to do so. It is never too late.

The record is unclear on what action, if any, was taken against Kerressey, who left St. John’s in 1971 after my junior year and died 26 years later. To its credit, St. John’s in a more recent time moved responsibly against another brother and a priest chaplain who were accused of abusing students. And the Archdiocese of Boston -- headed now by a holy man, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who succeeded the unholy and unrepentant Cardinal Bernard Law, in charge when many of the more than 800 known victims allege they were abused -- has apologized, paid damages, sought justice and enacted real protections.

We say this must never happen again. One way toward that goal is never forgetting what happened, and what didn’t. Luck is not enough to protect children.

POSTSCRIPT: In August 2018, Xaverian Brother Robert Flaherty was placed on indefinite administrative leave from St. John's after allegations he abused a child in Baltimore years ago. This follows the release of the grand jury report showing the horrific abuse in Pennsylvania of more than 1,000 victims by more than 300 priests and the church-wide cover up for decades.

UPDATE, July 19, 2019:

The late Brother Rudolph, born Thomas Holihan, is the person I referred to without name in my original essay. Among my classmates, he was held to be “creepy,” in the way adolescents describe someone they do not trust and who they suspect -- with a child's sixth sense of such things -- might use adult authority for ill purpose. Inviting boys to come up to his residential suite for an illicit cigarette, which Holihan might follow with a request to get naked and shower with him, for example.

Brother Rudolph, born Thomas Holihan.
I was a day student, not a resident, but I did once visit in his room. In 1971-72, Holihan was the faculty adviser for a small group of seniors, including me, who would be spending the spring semester off-campus (I as an intern in a microbiology lab near Harvard Medical School). In the late fall of 1971, I, like the others, had to meet with him to go over my spring plans.

He could have conducted this session in an office, but he did not; he told me to meet him in his suite, in Ryken Hall, which, according to the prep history, “housed 150 students both in private rooms and in an open dormitory.” A paradise for a predator such as him.

I remember vividly being anxious climbing the stairs to his suite, being let in, and then sitting facing him, the smell of old cigarettes filling the room. I had already formulated a plan were he to try to touch me or more: I would run for the door, hoping he could not stop me and that the door did not have a double lock.

And of course, this being almost a half century ago, I would have told no one but perhaps a close friend.  I certainly would have told no school official, nor made a report to police.

I can only imagine the horror of those boys who were sexually molested. I hope now, as always, that they have been able to heal and find peace. And I believe naming this monster may help in that regard, if only to confirm what they could not then tell the authorities. For Brother Rudolph, superficially, was revered: a so-called man of the cloth and longtime legendary campus figure, at St. John’s already some three decades when I arrived.

And in that, lay the sick power of these despicable people.

In a posting long before the Xaverian Brothers last week to their credit publicized Thomas Holihan’s true nature, St. John’s quoted him from his own writing:

“I tried to remember, sometimes desperately, that the boy is more important than the student; learned to realize that most college professors of adolescent psychology never had to teach adolescents; felt compensated for all teaching traumas by the glimmer of wonder I was lucky enough to awaken in a few students’ eyes; fell in love with most of the poetry I taught, both English and Latin; reached a point as the years went by when the sound of the bell in September that signaled the beginning of another school year was a joyous sound that spoke of happy hours and happy days to come.”

I have read and re-read that passage, taking in every word. They speak, hypocritically and diabolically, of evil.

To its credit, St. John’s with the revelation of Holihan and others at the school in years past, sent a message to the large and far-flung prep community. Below is what headmaster Ed Hardiman, a good man with whom I have an acquaintance, wrote. My hope is that opening the windows and letting in the fresh air will be cleansing, so that in the future, other children will not be victimized at any school, church, or anywhere.

I was one of the lucky ones: I received a wonderful education at St. John’s, and it instilled values I still hold and launched me to a long and successful career. My life would have been very different had I been unlucky.

"As a school community, we humbly acknowledge the pain this information may cause for victims of abuse as well as for the larger Prep community as we continue to grapple with feelings of betrayal, anger, and grief about the suffering of victims of sexual abuse and the cover-up by members of the church hierarchy, clergy, and religious orders," Ed Hardiman wrote. "We are grateful for the transparency and efforts to promote healing by the Xaverian Brothers."

The Boston Globe published a story listing Holihan and other brothers at Xaverian Brothers schools in Massachusetts:

Providence Journal staff writer and author G. Wayne Miller graduated from St. John’s Prep in 1972 and Harvard College in 1976. 

Read Horror at St. Georges, a Providence journal editorial on the unfolding scandal at that school.

Monday, January 4, 2016

More media, a giveaway, & another Amazon spike for #CarCrazy!

The holiday season was kind to Car Crazy: The Battle for Supremacy Between Ford and Olds and the Dawn of the Automobile Age.

-- On January 2, 2016, CSPAN rebroadcast my remarks, and audience question-and-answer, on writing and automobiles at the launch party, at the Pell Center in Newport, Rhode Island.

-- Rhode Island Monthly in its January 2016 issue named Car Crazy a "Rhody Read."

-- The Australian motoring bookshop Pitstop featured the book on its home page.

-- On January 1, 2016, we began an Amazon giveaway for the book!

--  And on January 3, 2016, Car Crazy spiked -- again -- on Amazon Kindle.