Christian Brother L.C. McAllen abused Sydney schoolboys

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 21 October 2016

Some Australian men, now advancing in age, are still feeling the injustice of having been abused by Christian Brother L.C. McAllen when they were primary-school pupils in Sydney many years ago. McAllen died in 1965, but he has not been forgotten (or forgiven) by his victims.

Broken Rites does not know what McAllen's full name was at birth but we understand that in the Christian Brothers he was known as "Brother Cajetan McAllen". If so, Cajetan would be the religious name that he adopted when he joined the Christian Brothers. (In the late middle ages, there was a Saint Cajetan.) In school magazines and year books, Br McAllen was sometimes listed as Brother L.C. McAllen and other times as just Brother C. McAllen.

Brother McAllen taught at various Christian Brothers schools in New South Wales (and possibly also at a school in New Zealand). His final school was St Patrick’s Christian Brothers College, Strathfield (in Sydney’s inner-west), in 1960-1965.

A victim's story

Michael (born in 1950) encountered Brother McAllen at St Patrick’s College, Strathfield, in 1960 and 1961 when Michael was in the 5th Class and 6th Class. Michael has written the following article, published in the Nimbin News Quarterly, issue 2, summer 2008-2009, page 16:

"It’s pretty much the worst thing that could have happened. In front of the feared Brother M — I have forgotten my lines of poetry. Now I must come up to the front of the class and get the strap, three on each hand. My scourger is a fat, bald, red-faced, holy man, a Christian Brother. I am eleven years old, skinny, baby-faced. I leave my bare timber seat. It won’t have time to get cold, I’ll be back in under a minute. This sort of thing is routine. Thirty boys sit in hushed horror as I meet the teacher in front of the empty blackboard next to his desk. It won’t please him to have to get up. This, and the floggings to follow, will be his only exercise for the day. From his pocket comes a leather strap, sewn from many layers, two centimetres thick, standard issue and polished black. I know what to do and put my right hand out first. With a savage swipe the holy man tries to cut it in two. There is an art to this and he has had a lot of practice. First he might go for your wrist, crippling it for days, serious damage as there is almost no give when struck there. On a whim he may go for the fingertips where the most nerve endings are. It is a gamble as he risks missing, and there is pride involved in doing a competent job. If he fails to make contact, that stroke does not count. He will accuse you of pulling away and deliver the rest by holding your wrist in one hand and strapping with the other. Now when the strap comes down he jerks your hand up to meet it. The force is doubled. The pain is blinding and total. Properly disciplined, I am told to go back to my seat. All the boys look at my face for signs of distress, glad that it was me and not them. Even at this young age I know I must never cry again. Hands tucked into my arm pits, I walk back to my desk, ink well and closed poetry book. I cannot hold a pen. For the rest of the day I will be unable to write. Inside, my heart is broken."

Another victim

"Ricky" (born 1952 — two years after the above-mentioned Michael) told Broken Rites in 2016:

'I attended St Patrick's College Strathfield from 1960 to 1970. When I was 12, another boy and I were indecently abused by Brother McAllen.

'McAllen, when feeling frisky, would tell the class to open their books at a particular page and one student at a time would begin reading a paragraph each. McAllen held his classes with us in terror. Boys did not dare commit any infraction, as he was famous for his ability to inflict pain with the strap.

'While the reading was going on around the class, McAllen would select either me or one other particular boy to come and stand beside him while he sat at his desk, and he would maul our butt with his right hand. What he did with his other hand I can only speculate.

'McAllen's predilection for this behaviour was notorious throughout the school. One teacher advised us that this creature was a genius at making money for the school by holding Housey games. I think we were supposed to be mollified by that.

'Some time after he died, one of my friends noticed the school had featured McAllen on one its Holy Cards, printed with the Great Man's photo and available from the school bookstore. Later. a number of other kids and I collected as many of these as we could plead from the staff at the store, and we held a brief ceremony where McAllen's image was spat on and burned.

'We are also angry about the numerous teachers there who thought nothing of flogging us with those straps, children half their size. We copped it at home, and we copped it at school. This made us vulnerable to copping sexual abuse from perpetrators such as McAllen."

'How wonderful that our society has, belatedly, begun to realise that (according to the criminal laws) child-abuse is a crime."

A similar story in the 1940s

Leo Schofield (born in 1935) is an Australian writer and arts festival director. At the age of 11 in the 1940s, he was a pupil in the Sixth Class (primary) at Christian Brothers Lewisham in Sydney, where he encountered a Christian Brother who was nicknamed “Itchy”. Schofield wrote an account of “Itchy” in the Sydney Morning Herald on 7 September 1996. Schofield's article does not reveal Itchy's real name, and Broken Rites does not now if Itchy was Brother L.C. McAllen.

Schofield tells of Itchy’s “violent beatings, smutty talk, wandering fingers, the chilling sensation of his powerful left arm encircling one’s juvenile waist, drawing one towards him, pressing one’s slim, boy’s body against his fuller form while whispering obscenities into one’s ear.”

Schofield says Itchy obtained pleasure from thrashing boys with a thick, stiff leather strap. Taking a boy to an empty room, he would order the boy to drop his short trousers and bend over a bench. Schofield describes what happened next:

  • There followed a kind of foreplay as he thrust this surrogate penis [the strap] between one’s legs, diddling it around tiny, undescended testes, gently drawing the strap upwards between the cheeks of one’s backside. Then, suddenly and silently, he’d swing it up excitedly into mid-air and bring it down with extraordinary force in an almighty horizontal cut across juvenile buttocks. Again and again. Each time, the foreplay became more protracted and more varied and the subsequent blow more foreceful . . .

Schofield talks about how Itchy was protected by the church’s culture of cover-up:

  • I marvel that his superiors never twigged to his goings-on or, if they did, why they never cautioned him or attempted to curb his behaviour. His fellow teachers must surely have known of his propensity for touching up little boys. And some parents must have had wind of his exotic behaviour.

A few days after Schofield's article, the Herald published some readers' letters. One letter was from Christian Brother Peter Hester, who (when Schofield's article was published in 1996) was the principal of the Lewisham school. Hester criticised Schofield for allegedly "wallowing in the prurience that left mud on the writer" [that is, mud on Schofield, rather than on McAllen]. Hester claimed that the article left "no glory" on Schofield.

On the other hand, another letter-writer, David Hunt of Warriewood, said:

  • The anger has been with me for 35 years. After reading just four paragraphs of Leo Schofield’s article, I had to put it down. The identity of the creature he refers to as "Itchy" was unmistakable. He had a name — McAllen . . . Brother McAllen. Oh, how we laughed when he died.

Leo Schofield's article has been re-printed in a book edited by Steve Biddulph, Stories of Manhood: Journeys into the Hidden Hearts of Men (published in Sydney, 2000). Again, the book does not indicate Itchy's real name.

Was McAllen also in New Zealand?

The Irish Christian Brothers came to Australia in 1868. They established the Lewisham school (later re-named Lewisham Christian Brothers High School) in 1891 and the Strathfield school (St Patrick's College) in 1928.

The Christian Brothers, including some from Australia, also established schools in New Zealand. Broken Rites has noticed a church website in New Zealand which has listed a "Brother Lawrence Cajetan McAllen" (now deceased) who once worked with the Christian Brothers in New Zealand (in Rotorua).