Marist Brothers admit suicides by some sex-abuse victims

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 1 October 2017

Broken Rites Australia is doing research about adults who have suffered a premature death while still feeling damaged by church child-abuse (and by the church's cover-up). For example, Broken Rites has discovered that two former pupils, from a prestigious Marist Brothers school, have died by suicide. Before dying, both men revealed that they had been sexually abused during their childhood by a long-serving teacher, Brother Aubrey Tobin.

The Marist Brothers leadership in Australia has confirmed these two suicides in a letter to another former Marist pupil. Broken Rites has inspected a copy of this letter.

In this article, to protect the identity of these two suicide victims, Broken Rites will refer to them as "Denzil" and "Rufus" (not their real names).

These two pupils encountered Brother Aubrey Tobin in the mid-1980s at Assumption College (a boarding school at Kilmore, 60 kilometres north of Melbourne), which catered for secondary-school boys from Year 7 to Year 12. As well as day pupils, this school accommodated boarders from distant regional areas. Brother Aubrey then was nearing the end of his teaching career.

As with most other church victims, the prevailing church culture discouraged "Denzil" and "Rufus" from revealing the abuse at the time. But this silence (plus the hypocrisy and the cover-up) disrupted their personal development in their late teens and in their twenties.

In 1996, when "Denzil" and "Rufus" were in their twenties, Brother Aubrey Tobin died and the Marists honoured him with the usual dignified funeral. For a further four years, "Denzil" continued his silence but in the year 2000 he finally contacted Marist headquarters in Melbourne, complaining how his life had been disrupted by Brother Aubrey Tobin's sexual abuse and by the church’s cover-up.

Within a few months of making this complaint, "Denzil" committed suicide.

Meanwhile, also around the year 2000, the other ex-pupil from Assumption College, "Rufus", committed suicide too.

As explained below, "Denzil" and "Rufus" were not the only pupils who were harmed by Brother Aubrey during his long career in Marist schools.

Not a saint

Research by Broken Rites has ascertained that Brother Aubrey's real name was Michael Benedict Tobin, born on 9 April 1913. He became "professed" as a Marist Brother in 1932, when he was aged 19. He was then turned loose on boys in Marist schools.

On joining the Marist order, it used to be normal for Marist Brothers to adopt a different first name, often the name of a saint. Brother "Aubrey" Tobin might have borrowed his saintly name from Saint Aubrey (sometimes spelt Albéric), who died in the year 1108.

But, judging from his abused students, Marist Brother Aubrey Tobin of Australia was certainly no saint.

Br Michael Benedict "Aubrey" Tobin died on 31 December 1996. Broken Rites has located his death notices, which appeared two days later in the Melbourne Herald Sun. He was aged 83.

One death notice referred to him an an "esteemed and respected member of the Marist Brothers".

An attempted suicide

Until the early 1980s, just before ending his career at Assumption College in Kilmore, Br Aubrey Tobin worked at St Paul's College, which was then a secondary school for boys at Traralgon, 150 km east of Melbourne. (St Paul's has since merged with a girls' school to become a part of the enlarged co-educational Lavalla Catholic College).

A former student from St Paul's College ("Jeremiah" — not his real name) has told Broken Rites that he, too, attempted suicide after his life was damaged by Brother Aubrey. When "Jeremiah" was aged 12 to 13, his class was taught mathematics by Brother Aubrey.

Jeremiah told Broken Rites: "Brother Aubrey sexually abused me over several months. It caused me to go downwards in a spiral of depression, and academically my schooling ended in failure. This disrupted my adolescence. My life since then has been one of mediocrity — ordinary jobs, with trouble hanging on to them. And I have had periods of unemployment.

"I attempted suicide around the time of my 21st birthday, and I had a long problem with addictions to sleeping pills and alcohol.

"Later, in early January 1997, while I was still struggling with adulthood, I learned that Brother Aubrey had recently died. There was an obituary in the Melbourne Herald Sun. It came as quite a shock when I read it. I felt — and still do — that he had escaped justice.

"After reading the obituary, I contacted the Marist headquarters and Melbourne and complained that Brother Aubrey had sexually abused me. The Marist leadership was evasive and defensive at first. I think they were frightened that I was going to sue them — but they eventually said 'Sorry' to me for the harm that I had suffered at their school. I wish now that I had extracted a more explicit apology from them."

"Two more suicides"

Jeremiah told Broken Rites: "It was widely known throughout St Paul's College that Brother Aubrey was a danger to boys.

"I know of two other students from St Paul's College who took their own lives several years after encountering Brother Aubrey.

"One of these young men was a year younger than me, and he was aged about 20 when he died. A few months later, the other student (who was younger) died while still doing doing Year 12.

"I do not know exactly what was troubling these two young men from St Paul's College at the time of their death but the Marists and Brother Aubrey Tobin have much to answer for."

More about Denzil’s suicide

It was Jeremiah who alerted Broken Rites about the suicides of "Denzil" and "Rufus" at Assumption College. 1n 2001, four years after receiving the Marists' verbal apology, "Jeremiah" received a letter that was sent to him by the Marist leadership in Melbourne.

The letter, dated 28 January 2001, is signed by Brother Jim Jolley, who was then the provincial superior of the Marist Brothers, Melbourne Province. Addressing Jeremiah by his real name (not "Jeremiah"), the letter says.

  • "I hope you don't mind my writing to you about the following matter. Last year [2000] a man by the name of ***** contacted me by email to let me know that he had been abused by Br Aubrey when he was a student at Assumption College in the mid-80s. I informed him that Br Aubrey had died in 1996 and offered to meet with him and to also offer him some counselling support if he wanted this. He said that he might contact me if he was down in Melbourne.

    "At Christmas time [2000] his wife emailed me to let me know that she had found his communications with me on his email. She passed on the very disturbing news that he had suicided a few months earlier…

    "This man's wife has asked if she could get in touch with you to find out how you have coped with the pain of what happened..."

[Brother Jolley's letter then requested permission to give Jeremiah’s postal address to the widow. Jeremiah granted the permission and he did indeed offer his condolences to the widow.]

The suicide of Rufus

This letter from Brother Jim Jolley also confirmed the other suicide, by "Rufus". The letter said:

"For me, this [the email from the widow of Denzil] was particularly disturbing since a similar thing had happened about a year ago with someone else who had contacted me about Br Aubrey.

"By the way, both of these people came to my attention only over the past twelve months — a few years after your initial contact with me."

    [This other victim is the one who Broken Rites is referring to as "Rufus". After receiving this letter, Jeremiah made further contact with the Marist leadership, during which the leadership confirmed to Jeremiah that the death of"Rufus" was indeed a suicide and that "Rufus" was an ex-pupil of Assumption College.]

    Br Jim Jolley's letter to Jeremiah of 21 January 2001 concluded:

    • "I hope this letter is not too disturbing for you. I hope things are going well for you these days.
      Yours sincerely,
      Br Jim Jolley,
      Provincial"

    Jeremiah did indeed find the letter disturbing. It was no consolation for him to receive confirmation that other ex-pupils of Brother Aubrey had taken their own lives, something that Jeremiah himself had attempted.

    Jeremiah was also puzzled by Brother Jolley’s hope "that things are going well for you these days."

    In fact, things were not going well for Jeremiah at all and he is still feeling hurt by what happened to him when he was a child in the custody of the Marist Brothers.

    The 'Marist way of life'

    In 1982, aged 69, Brother Aubrey celebrated his 50th years as a Marist Brother. A magazine from St Paul's College, Traralgon (Victoria), in 1982, says that in August that year "Br Aubrey spoke to the boys at an assembly, speaking simply and sincerely of his Marist way of life and expressing the hope that some of them would consider a similar vocation."

    Well, in view of the suicides of Brother Aubrey Tobin's ex-pupils, Broken Rites hopes that no more boys from any Marist school will become a member of the Marist Brothers. By harbouring Br Aubrey Tobin for all those years (and by giving him and other Brothers an aura of trust), the Marist Brothers were negligently putting children in danger.

    Marist Brothers schools

    Brother Aubrey Tobin belonged to the Marists' Melbourne Province (which conducts schools in the state of Victoria, plus some in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory and a Marist school at Forbes in New South Wales). The Marists have a separate Sydney Province (which conducts schools in Sydney, Canberra and Queensland).

    Broken Rites has ascertained that, during his long career, Brother Aubrey Tobin worked at the following Marist schools in Victoria:

    • Assumption College, Kilmore;
      Marist Brothers Bendigo;
      Marist Brothers Brunswick East;
      Marcellin College, Bulleen and Camberwell;
      Marist Brothers Preston;
      St Patrick's College, Sale;
      St Paul's College, Traralgon.

    Furthermore

    Brother Aubrey Tobin was no Robinson Crusoe — he was not the only sexually-abusive Brother who was harboured and protected by the cover-up within the Marist Order. Here are articles by Broken Rites about two more Marist Brothers from the Marists' Melbourne-based province:

    Another suicide

    Broken Rites has researched the story of Daniel William Powell, who was an altar boy in western Sydney. Daniel complained that his life had been damaged after sexual abuse by a local priest. In 2005, the Catholic Church was forced to pay reparation to Daniel. In 2007, still feeling hurt by the church's behaviour, Daniel took his own life, by hanging himself. See the story of Daniel HERE.