‘I think about the story of Mary the Mother of God who was a young and innocent Jewish girl, apparently schooled by her mother St Anne to be very accepting of her place in the World in those days more than 2000 years ago. Then centuries later these women come along saying they want to live a life of charity, chastity and poverty. They named their Order, The Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy after this beautiful, pure and virginal child, who became for all Catholic believers, the Mother of God.
But my experience of them is that they were anything but like Mary. Calling themselves Brides of Christ, they spread throughout the World and in Australia took over many schools and Orphanages. My sister Kathleen and I, in the mid 1940s, were taken from our beds by our mother one cold night and placed in the care of these Nuns. Our experience of those days is that the Nuns supposed to be caring for us, instead treated us in the most cruel, moronic way. Mary must have shuddered to see such evil acts being perpetrated on such innocent, vulnerable little children.
Because of the horrific abuse we both received during our time with the Mercy Nuns, and only able to think about them as evil perpetrators of abuse, it has always been difficult for me to see them as anything but horrible, cruel women and a disgrace to their profession. I cannot feel any respect for them to this day, even though I know that many of the current Mercy Nuns may not have even been born then and were not personally responsible for the abuse we received.
My cry is for people to understand that I and others who experienced the same cruelty at the hands of these Nuns, want and need the current Order of the Sisters of Mercy to acknowledge what happened to us, to believe us, and to take responsibility for the criminal actions of the Nuns wreaking abuse on little children in their “care” for decades right back to the 1930s when there was little or no recourse for children to tell what was happening and get help. Far from it, anyone who spoke against the Nuns, Priests or Brothers in those terrible days could be sure of suffering even worse abuse and being forced to either accept and go along with it, or possibly be irretrievably damaged physically, mentally and emotionally, and never, ever be able to get their story out no matter what supports became available, because the Nuns Priests and Brothers had made them Adults whose lives had been taken from them. So they still walk the earth in silent pain.
I myself tread carefully wherever I go. Nights are not nights – they are nightmares. Still to this day, I sleep with the light on, so that the horrifying dark figure that approaches my bed will not be able to get near me before I see her. Sometimes, when I have forgotten the light, the figure has come to my bed. As I turn in horror to escape her horribly distorted face, I feel that knee in my back and my face pushed into the mattress. And I scream and scream and try to get to the light. But it’s too late because all the memories are hitting me like spasms through my body and I am trembling once again with the fear of the poor little child that I was, waiting and wondering what the Nuns would do to me next.’
-TRISH CHARTER, NSW 2019
Survivor, Social Worker, Poet …and Great-grandmother