Saturday, April 16, 2011

From St. John's Orphange to St. Joseph's House for Boys 1950-1960's

John Joseph , Mary Ann Theresa , Mother Deborah Nora Leddy Bangert, Deborah Eleanor  Bangert- Brooks, Joseph Vincent Bangert circa 1990 at our father's funeral Mass in Our Lady of The Cape RC Church in  Brewster, MA

My twin brother Joe and I were driven to St. John's in 1953  administered  by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, when we were only 5 years old, and later at age of 11, we were transferred to the "big boys" home of St. Joseph's House for Homeless and Industrious Boys administered by the Holy Ghost Fathers.
The Four Bangert Children  -Mary Ann, Debbie, Johnny and Joe

St. John's Orphan Asylum 49th St. and Wyalusing Ave. West Philadelphia

St. John's Prayer Time 1920's, note the good sister have a wooden chapel kneelers, but not those in their care!
1963 color Kodachrome of St. John's pool

Our childhood lives were extremely cold and we were brokenhearted as we were separated by the courts and given as wards for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to do what they wanted with out state inspections and any consumer recourse, and many of the nuns were cruel as I remember it, and we had many unspeakable acts of violence, with very unfair and unnecessary corporal punishment, and were neglected on a daily basis. 


These situations were perpetuated by a arcane system which went unchecked by any reformers. When I give thought to this era it still is very painful and extremely hard for me to understand how caregivers were not taking care of us?  

Where was their innate humanity? Were the victims and the victimizes part of a religious system that was very far from Christian, moral, decent or humane, but yes very "catholic" in the strictest meaning of being 'universal' in both the post war era on the United States and Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

The nuns would ask us to offer up these acts because they were Acts of mortification to the Sacred Heart of Jesus!

So Be It Then, but NOT NOW!

Today I pray that my abusers have opened their own hearts, to find truth and knowledge and remember that we were put into their sacred trust and care for our minds, bodies and souls. 

May our abusers may have their own redemption in an awareness that logic and science now rules modernity


Not the olden days of sense of sin, repentance and suffering. 


Spirit rules, the survivorship spirit of life longing for itself, like roots seeking water in city pipes, or the plants which turns it's leaf toward the sun of warmth and photo-syntheses.

Beside this what if eternity- is only for a second? 

How would one live your life again? For self - or for others?

I pray that all of our own tortured and broken hearts, souls and minds, as well as our own intellects and spirits - share in part of our interconnectedness and collective healing for both victim survivors, and victimizers.


Here was my favorite place, the pool with little or too much chlorine treatment, and how about those wet woolen bathing trunks! I still itch today.

Here is a color picture of the old brick school building. This was the dungeon of doom and punishment.

In some psychological ways it follows us today in the form know as PTSD / Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It seems like a re-occurring dream state outside of our bodies, in another life time and never too soon forgotten, but with one small smell, or words or images and that wickedly broken world come rushing's back into my awakened consciousness and yet I feel it happened to someone else, very disconnected from our present day reality of love and respect.

To this day I keep in touch with many of the home boys (homies) who recount and shared their memories from those days. Our daily corporal punishments, kneeling in a corner with our hands under our knees for taking in the dormitory after lights out.  

If we were caught using the wall for support we would have been strapped with a belt.

Click on the link for a other abuse story's! Warning! Contains child violence, and rape!

| Old Homie for St. Joe's The Hut | Corporal Punishment  | Irish Child & Sexual Abuse | Catholic Nuns, Child Abuse and Vows


If we ever considered running away and many brave boys did, the nuns would shave our heads and make us wear long flannel nightshirts to all day in school and out on the yard. 

For repeat runaways they were savagely beaten and locked in the dungeons beneath the schoolyard, where giant coal furnaces were and next to the mammoth coal boilers and coal bins. The subterranean underworld, was a place close to the heat and flames of hell indeed. 

St. John's Orphan Asylum for Boys opened in 1797 in Philadelphia and was followed the next year by St. John's Orphan Asylum for Girls. 

The first non-sectarian institution was the Orphan Society of Philadelphia founded in 1814. 

 The growth of religious and non-sectarian orphanages proliferated. By 1850, there were nine such institutions in Pennsylvania. Some dormitory nuns were so old that in retirement they would be assigned to caregivers for the boys at St. John’s. 

When we went to visit the graves at the SSJ’s Mother House, at Mount St. Joseph;s at Chestnut Hill College where we were shocked to find some of the nuns birth years were 1876 and earlier. That means they we in their 80’s in the 1950’s!

Another of the many examples of the corporal punishment dished out by the nuns, for silly stuff like not keeping our bedspreads pulled up and straightened an example of one such nun, Sr. Mary of Consolation, SSJ, (of which she was neither), doled out her beatings until we would bleed from our constantly hurt hands and knuckles which would be chapped from no paper towels, and only cold water. I can feel the hot and cold injurers to this day. May she and all the faithlessly departed not rest in peace, but rather RIH (rest in hell of their own choosing).

She would ask us to select one of her 4 shillelaghs would taunt us with remarks like   

” Put you hands out now, you dirty old nigger ” 

In the 1950'  we had no desk in our dormitory
For minor offenses like getting out of bed on Saturday morning, the only non Mass day of the week, to swap comic books with others kids at the end of the dormitory or for interrupting, her she would hit you firmly across the knuckles, but it your knuckles were still hurting from the classroom nun, you could fool this old nun by turning your hands over and getting whacked across your palms, still stung but better than getting your knuckles hurt especially if they were cracked from being out in the play yard in the winter weather from 3 - 6pm every night!

Mary, our Mother and the Mother of Jesus, 

Mary, our Mother of Consolation,

Mary, the source of our hope,

Mary, the refuge of sinners,

Mary, the guiding star of our lives,

Mary, source of strength in our weakness,

Mary, source of light in our darkness,

Mary, source of consolation in our sorrows,

Mary, source of victory in our temptations,

Mary, who leads us to Jesus,

Mary, who keeps us with Jesus,

Mary, who redeems us through Jesus,

Mary, Mother of Consolation, our Patroness,

This was the "church speak" as to why suffering was something innocents had to endure. (This is the good reason which I have rejected the concept of original sin, as like it was ordained from a god, or deity.)

"Mary's motherhood had been full of mystery from it very beginning. Then, when it all seemed to end in meaningless cruelty and destruction on Calvary, as her innocent Son suffered a criminal's death, the Spirit once more overshadowed her and another astonishing word came from God: Woman, behold your son. In silence she gave herself anew to a motherhood set free from the limitations of flesh and blood, time and space, to embrace all the disciples of her Risen Son and Lord. The tradition of praying to the Mother of God for the gift of consolation dates back to the early centuries, an expression of the Church's belief that the cloud of witnesses, the elect in glory, never cease to pray for the Church on earth. The first written evidence of prayer to the Mother of God, theotokos, is written in Greek on a scrap of Egyptian papyrus dating from between 300-540. And she is invoked as the compassionate one!
On many occasions the Sister's behaviors were certainly not one acting out of compassion for her charges, and therefore hectically to her name sake.

Fr. John J Bangert O. Pream center with his classmates seminarians from Daylesford Priory

 Later I would buy into the ideas of Roman Catholicism, the church was always my home, my comfort, and hope until April 1971.  I was asked to leave my comfortable life in this monastery, because I had filled my own thoughts of what was moral, being against the war in Vietnam, or which my twin brother had just survive. It reminds me of a Irish joke "Dear God, If you send back my brother from war, I will serve you in as priest, Oh! never mind, God - I found him in Philadelphia.  The very anti-war Joe was now connected to Vietnam Veterans Against War VVAW, and I joined them as an associate member in Philadelphia, in 1970 at the AFSC American Friends Service Committee.  The formation team saw my very independent sense of moral development, and when I clamored for social justice, after reading the works of the Catholic Worker Movement and non sainted Dorothy Day I was once again asked to leave the pedagogy of the pedophiles training. I left and my brother Joe came to Daylesford in the cover of darkness in a rented U-Haul truck driven by a rich Vietnam Veteran from Boston who was camped out in nearby Valley Forge, John Kerry.

In the William Golding's 1964 novel, Lord of the Flies it was a truer sense of how we boys governed ourselves, away from the authorities, we ourselves were the authority. Some were kind, most were too scared to buck the system, and besides that the system was ever changing with the personality and the effects of abuse. I too regret for being part of the group when we were mean to the new fat kids, or one of the kids that we sent to the mental institutions for treatment, had returned and we called them names like retard, nut-so.
*"Readers and critics have interpreted Lord of the Flies in widely varying ways over the years since its publication. During the 1950s and 1960s, many readings of the novel claimed that Lord of the Flies dramatizes the history of civilization. Some believed that the novel explores fundamental religious issues, such as original sin and the nature of good and evil. Others approached Lord of the Flies through the theories of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who taught that the human mind was the site of a constant battle among different impulses—the id (instinctual needs and desires), the ego (the conscious, rational mind), and the superego (the sense of conscience and morality). Still others maintained that Golding wrote the novel as a criticism of the political and social institutions of the West. Ultimately, there is some validity to each of these different readings and interpretations of Lord of the Flies. Although Golding’s story is confined to the microcosm of a group of boys, it resounds with implications far beyond the bounds of the small island and explores problems and questions universal to the human experience."
  *SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Lord of the Flies.” SparkNotes LLC. 2007. (accessed March 17, 2011).

A culture of the boy eat boy, or dog eat dog- survival of the fittest, and the fastest. 
The biggest kid demanded the most food, and they got seconds, or you had the back your reaching hand stabbed with a folk, much like the Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist.  Glenn Watkins had his head stabbed at lunch when he asked for more food from the table bullies.

My abuse started in the first grade when the old Irish nun, Sister Mary Finbarr, SSJ, our dormitory nun for the youngest children sections  "H" for kindergartners "L" first graders.  

She would beat us if our beds were wet, or if we could not tie our own shoes. Every month, we would have family visitation on the fourth Sunday. We were issued new clothing that we locked away, and on that Sunday we would have showers after the noon meal, and walk over to the school building and await our visitors card calling us to visit. 

The messengers who would run between the gym and school were orphans with no visitors. Our aunt Edie and uncle Bob, would usually come, every month, and sometimes our older sisters Mary Ann & Deborah, would come with our mother. 
The nuns would have a candy concession table in the back of the gym, and I remember crying all during the visit, wanting to be able to go back home on the trolley car which brought them from across the city from North Philadelphia. Aunt Edythe & Uncle Bob, would bring story books or a flannel felt boards with story characters to entertain us. 

My aunt, Edythe E. Mearns, was the president of the Philadelphia Story League and would bring "Dinah the dancing doll" to persuade us off the sad funk we would be in. 

Sister Finbarr would be stationed of the outside of the stage door, and if she saw us crying she would tare us away as we kicked and screamed holding on to our mother stocking legs, "Please Mommy don't leave us here, Please Mommy! "We will be good." "Now leave your poor mother alone would you," and remind us that we should be brave, because some boys never get visitors.

Sister Alice Patricia, SSJ, was my first grade teacher who Joe and I were assigned at St. John’s.

Not only was Sr. Alice Patricia our teacher, she also escorted us to and from school, study hall, dinning hall and to the play yard. When it was time to line up the yard nun would asks one of us to get into the building and get the hand bell and on occasions she would let one of us ring it aloud.  

On one such day I remember this rather rotund women, Sister Alice, grabbed my head between her adult hands, while violently holding my head against her black woolen, pleated and habited bosom to prevent me from turning my head away from my fate. 

This 'holy nun' was now was chocking me. I was then only a skinny undernourished a small 1st grader, seeing her fat rounded thumbs as she rammed the plate’s mixture down my throat.  I gagged and then vomited what was fed me, and then she made me clean up my own vomit, and forced me to eat it again. I cannot forgive her for that seared in memory as of yet.