A Catholic Girl


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She set his table and took in his food and placed it on the table before him. He yanked down her panties, touched her backside, and told her that she had cute buns. The next time he tried it, the headstrong girl spilled the soup in his lap.

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Sally declined his invitation to undermine herself. As Sartore and Sally moved from past to present and back again, small, vivid memories punctuated the larger grim narratives. Sally recalled, still mystified, that sometimes in summer a nun would wake the children in the middle of the night because an ice cream truck had come by with leftovers.

The children had to eat as much as they could, right there on the spot, because there was nowhere at St.

Sally had brought some old photos. Here was Doris Jacob in the kindergarten; it must have been around Here was Sally in a tiny cap and gown that Irene made for kindergarten graduation. Sartore asked about when Sally saw Patty Zeno pushed out the window: How had Sally forgotten that day? An expert witness that Widman had called explained that for more than years, psychologists and psychiatrists working with victims of trauma had documented buried memories that burst out into the open, as well as troubling gaps where time had seemingly vanished.

Bessel van der Kolk, a Harvard psychiatrist, testified that people like Sally and her fellow orphans are doubly hurt — by the original abuse and then also by the litigation. Sally had been inconsistent in some of her claims. She said her memories came flooding back at the reunion, but she had given an interview detailing some of the abuses a year before that.

When shown a report of that interview, in her deposition, she said she had no recollection of giving it. Also, she said she was around 4 or 6 when she kissed the boy in the coffin, and that Sister Noelle had been present. Sally said at first that Sister Jane of the Rosary was the only nun she really liked. Later she described Sister Jane as an oppressive and abusive figure. And in her account of the day that one adult after another was told to beat Sally but could not bring themselves to do it, some details and a name varied over time. But Anna Salter, an expert in the psychology of predators and victims, testified that it was common for a child to be attached to someone who abused them, and that what tended to come through with recovered memories was the overall narrative — not necessarily all the specific details.

Even if they were remembered, they might be too embarrassing to describe.


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Nonetheless, Sartore kept returning to the point. Had Sally consciously pushed her memories away? Could Sally have called up her memory of seeing the boy who fell if someone had asked her about it before the reunion? Or rather, buried.

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On the fourth hour of the third day of their deposition, when Sartore came back round to the boy, he sounded a bit bored by the events. But he was fully engaged when he asked Sally what allowed her to summon those recollections. How did Sally remember events that she said she forgot 50 years ago? Could she now recall any memories she had between and of events that she said occurred in the early s?

When did her memories become repressed? When did she forget the thing that she forgot? Borsykowsky gave a quick and unequivocal no and didn't respond to written questions I sent him afterward. Sartore initially said no, but then to my surprise invited me to his office in downtown Burlington, which I visited on an autumn day. After a few minutes, the man whose voice I recognized so well from the deposition tapes came sweeping into the reception area, guiding me into his wood-paneled office and offering me a seat at a green table.

I had wanted to meet him for a long time, and now here he was — Darth Vader, in business casual. Sixteen years after the St. Responding to my inquiries, he paused occasionally, kept his face perfectly expressionless, and fixed me with a very long, uncomfortable stare. As the seconds ticked by, I felt I was being sized up, inspected for weak spots. When the litigation began, he would sit in his office late at night, just trying to get a handle on who was who.

Over the course of five or six years, Sartore said, he interviewed nearly nuns. The depositions were a chance to learn the facts.

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What happened psychologically? What happened sexually? And who was there and who knew it? They were also, he said, a dry run for the combat of a trial, a chance to see how witnesses would present, whether they would cry, whether they seemed genuine. He compared it to a medical examination. Does this hurt? She had been so stoic, yet I could see his poking and prodding caused her a great deal of pain. I wondered if he had reservations about going after her that hard? Did we ultimately go to the lengths of verifying those documentations?

But there was rational documentation.

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You can spin any kind of speculation out of that. Things that grew up to be the mythology of the organization. About four years after the St. I wanted to know how his convictions had fared since then. Surely it had become more possible to imagine that a nun might say something untrue? And that was as far as he would go. Sartore stayed rigorously professional. If he had any doubts, it was clear he would not share them.

One woman, who was so fond of the mother superior that she had stayed in touch with her for years, recalled that she was made to slap herself in the mouth. She said it was because she talked too much. In the s, said another, some children were sent to the attic in punishment and it scared them, but she felt they had been sent there because they were hateful. Being hit with the clappers, said another woman, made her a better person. A man said it was what he deserved. One woman recalled being thrown in the lake from a boat.

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One said her sister was shut in the closet. One was punished for wetting the bed, and another was made to sleep in the same direction as the other girls with her hands under her head. The priests on the witness list were comfortable being questioned — never defensive, just resolute — and they gave nothing up.

Father Foster, by then a monsignor, waited until the end of his deposition, then chided the lawyers for failing to ask him about one important topic. Taking control of the moment, he delivered an impassioned speech praising all the sacrifices the nuns had made. The women had worked so hard, laboring through the day and sitting up till dawn with the children if they were sick. Nobody was perfect, and goodness knows, the children at St. Widman and Morris deposed about 20 nuns. Many had been born in Canada and were raised speaking French.

They joined the order when they were teenagers or young women, and from the time they entered the order, taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Sisters of Providence nuns wore the same uniform and ate the same food. They talked about being proud of their long years of service, and about being moved around for most of their lives. Some had taught at local Catholic day schools or at another orphanage in Chicago or had returned to the motherhouse in Montreal. They were moved around inside the orphanage as well. In the s, Sister Noelle became a coiffeur — a beautician — for the nuns.

For the most part, the emotional tenor of the depositions was muted. The nuns were tentative, polite, careful.

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