Ex-bishop of Derry defends nuns’ work for children during ‘dangerous decades’

Sisters who cared for more than 5,000 children in need were ‘taken for granted’

Former bishop of Derry Edward Daly   at the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Banbridge yesterday. Photograph: PA

Former bishop of Derry Edward Daly at the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Banbridge yesterday. Photograph: PA


The former bishop of Derry has strongly defended the Sisters of Nazareth for “doing the work that nobody else was doing” in providing shelter for children during many “dangerous decades”.

Speaking at the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Banbridge, Dr Edward Daly said their work was also “taken for granted” and he asked what would have happened to some 5,000 children cared for by nuns over that time had they not done so.

Earlier yesterday, the Sisters of Nazareth, who ran two children’s homes in Derry, again admitted and apologised for physical and sexual abuses suffered by residents there.

A senior nun and representative for the Sisters of Nazareth repeated the order’s apology for abuses and neglect of children in their care.

Sr Brenda McCall, speaking on behalf of the order, was asked if it was accepted by the order that in some cases the standard of care was not acceptable. She admitted much of the testimony already heard by the inquiry into historical abuses at care homes was “shocking and harrowing”. Certain behaviour by some nuns was “just not right”, she said.

Asked was the order guilty of physical abuse, Sr Brenda said: “Unfortunately yes, I would accept that. Yes.”

She also admitted older boys and outside volunteer staff also committed physical abuse “in some instances”.

She agreed there was an awareness of peer abuse and sexual experimentation among boys at St Joseph’s home in Termonbacca, Derry.

Regarding the handling of claims of sex abuse by some children, Sr Brenda said some children may not have been believed if they made complaints, particularly of sex abuse.

Christine Smith QC, who is senior counsel to the inquiry, raised the congregation’s apology to former residents for any physical or sexual abuses and asked Sr Brenda if she would like to include in that apology an expression of remorse for emotional suffering and neglect. Sr Brenda replied: “Totally and absolutely.”

Finishing two days of evidence to the inquiry, Sr Brenda McCall said: “It was a very harrowing and challenging time for us as a congregation and to listen to the evidence given was very harrowing indeed.”

Addressing chairman Sir Anthony Hart she added: “We are a human group, a human organisation and we had people that were champions to the cause and we had people that were a bit weaker. All I can say is we had some wonderful, heroic, I would say inspirational, Sisters. I am proud to stand on their shoulders and carry on the work of the congregation started by our founder to work for the...weak of society.”

‘Particular sympathy’
Referring to abuses at the homes run by the Sisters the former Bishop of Derry said he had “particular sympathy for those who suffered at the hands of those who were committed to Christ”.

Only once between 1957 and 1993 did he receive a complaint about the nuns and this related to a woman who was sent to western Australia under the former child migration scheme.

He said he was surprised to learn during earlier evidence to the inquiry that only two Sisters were in charge of a large group of children at St Joseph’s, Termonbacca, in the city. He admitted that when he was a curate in Derry’s Bogside and later as bishop he, and others, took the work of the nuns for granted.

“The Sisters were there, we knew [the children] were being cared for, perhaps people in the community, leaders in the community like myself, took them for granted. They were doing work that needed to be done, that nobody else was doing.”

He added: “We are all responsible for not knowing but I was surprised that so few Sisters were involved and they looked after approximately 5,000 children. One wonders what would have happened to those kids had the Sisters not been there.”

Looking over the decades in Derry where the Sisters of Nazareth gave shelter to children in need, Dr Daly said they strived to provide care during years of “extreme violence”.

He said life for many in Derry became “extremely difficult” after 1968 with daily violence and arrests on top of pressing levels of social need. “Good people suffered horrendously during that period,” he told the inquiry.

“I don’t think anybody realised how underfunded they [ the nuns] were.”Dr Daly also said it was important to examine the nuns’ record in the context of attitudes towards child care many years ago.

He said he went to school in the 1940s when corporal punishment was part of life. “I’m not saying it was justified, but it was there,” he said.

He insisted the mother home of the Sisters of Nazareth was directly responsible for the running of St Joseph’s home, Termonbacca, and Nazareth House in the city and not the diocese which he led after 1974.