The De La Salle Brothers had a sex-abuser to recruit new Brothers

By a Broken Rites researcher

For 25 years, the Catholic order of De La Salle Brothers had a sex-offender (Brother Fintan Dwyer) as their "vocations director", recruiting Australian teenagers to become trainee Brothers. His story is an interesting case-study in how the church came to have sex-offenders within its religious orders.

Early in his teaching career, Brother Fintan Dwyer developed a reputation in several De La Salle schools around Australia (especially in boarding schools) for indecently and invasively touching boys' genitals. This is a criminal offence, for which the legal term is "indecent assault". But during Fintan Dwyer's career, the Catholic Church's holy image discouraged victims from reporting Dwyer's crimes to the police.

Eventually, Brother Fintan Dwyer was transferred from teaching to the new role of "vocations director", which involved visiting the De La Salle schools around Australia. He held this position for 25 years until he retired in 1970. He recruited many of the De La Salle Brothers who taught a generation of Australian boys in the succeeding decades.

Brother Fintan Dwyer's real name was Louis Victor Dwyer. He was born into an Irish-Catholic family in inner-Sydney's working-class Surry Hills area in 1905. That same year, the De La Salle order arrived in Australia from Ireland and began establishing schools here, including one in Surry Hills (St Peter's school), where Dwyer became a pupil. Thus, at the age of about five or so, Dwyer began his life-long association with the De La Salle order. After finishing at St Peter's school (probably after 8th class, at age 14 or 15), he was recruited into the De La Salle order as a trainee Brother.

Jobs in the church

According to his death notice (in the Sydney Morning Herald in April 1990), Fintan Dwyer was the seventh of ten children in the Dwyer family. Evidently the Catholic Church helped to solve the problem of how to feed, and provide for, such a large family. Of the ten Dwyer children, five took up careers in the church.

When he joined the De La Salle order, Louis Dwyer adopted the "religious" name Brother "Fintan" (in honour of Ireland's ancient "Saint Fintan".). But, as this article explains, Fintan Dwyer was no saint.

Likewise, Fintan's younger sibling, John Alphonsus Dwyer (Number 8 in the family, three years younger than Fintan) became Brother "Alban" in the De La Salle order (adopting the name of England's ancient "Saint Alban").

Of the remaining Dwyer siblings, two became priests and one became a nun.

Fintan Dwyer's career

Until 1920, the De La Salle Brothers in Australia were all from Ireland. Fintan Dwyer was among the first Australians to be trained for the order. His training took place in Cootamundra, a country town in southern New South Wales. There, the De La Salle Brothers ran a primary school, plus a residence for the Brothers. The residence was called a "novitiate", where they began training a few Australians to become Brothers.

Fintan Dwyer received "religious education" at the Cootamundra novitiate, plus some work experience as a trainee teacher at the primary school. By 24 December 1922, aged seventeen, Louis Victor Dwyer had completed his training and he became Brother Fintan.

Thus he began his life of "celibacy" and "chastity". Somewhere along the line, either in his schooldays or during his training or later, Fintan Dwyer learned tactics to cope with the Catholic Church's public image of "celibacy" and "chastity".

First teaching appointments

The De La Salle order then turned this teenager loose on pupils in De La Salle schools in New South Wales. In the 1920s, Brother Fintan taught at Cootamundra, Surry Hills (Sydney), Armidale (a De La Salle boarding school in northern New South Wales, now called O'Connor College) and Haberfield (a day school in Sydney).

The De La Salle expansion into Australia was a career opportunity for working-class boys in the 1920s and especially during the 1930s Depression. During the 1930s Brother Fintan became the principal of St Ignatius primary school in Richmond (in inner-Melbourne).

St Bede's College, Mentone

In 1938 he helped to establish a small De La Salle school (St Bede's College) at Mentone, in Melbourne's outer-south. St Bede's then consisted of an old derelict beachside house, surrounded by a few temporary wooden buildings.

Brother Fintan returned to St Bede's in 1942. St Bede's was then a low-status school. It did not then have the benefit of Federal Government funding that it began receiving thirty years later. In 1942, St Bede's was basically a primary school, catering mainly for students aged from seven to 14 years (Grades 3 to 8), with only a few older boys. In 1942 the school lacked sufficient pupils from the local catchment area, so it augmented its enrolment by taking in boarders from other areas. Some of the boarders in 1942 were disadvantaged boys from broken homes or boys whose families were disrupted by World War 2. For these disadvantaged boys, especially the very young ones, being a boarder at St Bede's in 1942 was like being in an orphanage.

In 1942 Brother Fintan was in charge of St Bede's boarders and was the most conspicuous Brother under the principal.

(Brother Fintan Dwyer should not be confused with another teacher, named Brother Finian Allman, who was born about 1920 — fifteen years later than Fintan Dwyer.)

The story of Bernard

One disadvantaged pupil, Bernard, says: "My father died, from an illness, in 1941, when I was seven, and my mother had to go to work to support my two young sisters — the younger sister had just been born. My baby sister was put into foster care, and a very devout Catholic aunt of mine arranged for me to be put into the 'care' of the De La Salle Brothers as a boarder at St Bede's for a year. My aunt said that the saintly Brothers could be trusted to look after me well.

"I was delivered to St Bede's (about 20 kilometres away from my family's house) after dark on the first Sunday night in February 1942. This was two days before classes began. Aged 7, I was due to start Grade 3, which was the youngest grade at St Bede's. I was one of the youngest boys in the school and possibly the youngest boarder.

"When I arrived, it was already past bed-time. The first (and only) adult I encountered there on that evening was Brother Fintan. He was not to be my class teacher but, as he was in charge of boarders, he took me to a small bedroom containing four beds. A couple of other young boys, who had arrived on the Sunday, like me, were already in bed in that room. Brother Fintan told me to get undressed and get into bed.

"Still grieving over the death of my father (and grieving over the separation from my mother), I burst into tears. Brother Fintan ordered me to stop crying. While I was half undressed, he dragged me to a bathroom, where he clumsily interfered with my genitals, while I cried and struggled. I knew, even then, that he was breaking the rules that my Catholic parents had taught me. I now know that his action was a criminal offence, called indecent assault. I also now realise that I was not the only boy whom he assaulted in this way.

"Finally, giving up on me, he ordered me back to bed, while I was still sobbing. Just then, another Brother came to the bedroom and asked Brother Fintan why I was crying. Fintan replied that I was a naughty boy and had been punished. Fintan had a perverted idea of punishment.

"Throughout the year, as a boarder, I was under Fintan's authority at all times outside the classroom, including an hour every evening while the primary-age boarders had to sit silently in a classroom until bedtime. Fintan never touched me again sexually but, throughout the year, he continued labelling me as naughty, as though it was I, not he, who was the offender. This prevented me from telling anybody about the sexual attack because any complaint would have resulted in me being punished for defaming a Brother.

"I have learned that Brother Fintan was aged 36 when I encountered him — about the same age as my father. Fintan's role was to supervise me as a replacement for my deceased father. The contrast between the abusive Fintan and my loving father made me grieve for my father even more.

"I was unable to tell anybody about Fintan's sexual attack. There was a prohibition on saying anything negative about the Brothers. Anyway, there was nobody to whom I could complain. When I went home for the Easter break and for the end-of-term holidays, I knew that I was not allowed to tell my mother. Anyway, she would not have believed that a Catholic religious Brother would do such a thing. Even if she did believe me, the news would hurt her and make her feel guilty for having agreed to send me to St Bede's. So, like most other young church-abuse victims, I remained silent — and feeling hurt. I was feeling hurt not only by Fintan's assault but also by the cover-up and by the gullibility of my relatives. I was also badly damaged and I had to make desperate efforts to survive. In fact, survival has been the main driving force in my life ever since then.

"At the end of the year at St Bede's, when I was just eight, my mother had recovered sufficiently from her bereavement to take me back to our house in inner-Melbourne with my sisters. I then transferred to a local parish school to do Grade 4. But I have never recovered from the cruelty and hypocrisy that I encountered under Brother Fintan Dwyer, during my time of bereavement, at the age of seven. I felt hurt not only by the clumsy sexual attack but also by the whole year of neglect and emotional cruelty. The neglect and cruelty were more damaging than the sexual attack. I was also hurt by the cover-up and the hypocrisy.

"After I returned to my mother, she forced me to keep going to Mass and Confession throughout my school years but (in order to evade this) I left school at 14 and left home at 16 and took jobs in the country, living in boarding houses. I was forced to raise myself. My experience of child-abuse at St Bede's (and the cover-up) left me cautious about trusting anybody ever again. I became a loner and my main instinct was survival.

"In my late teens I studied part-time on my own, and qualified for university entrance at age 21, gaining a government scholarship to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree. I then did post-graduate research, gaining higher degrees. Thereafter, I had a career as a full-time academic and researcher in social studies. I achieved these things on my own, despite my Catholic upbringing, not because of it.

"Later, when I had children of my own, the cruelty and neglect of 1942 became even clearer to me. When my children were in their teens, I told them about 1942 and the cover-up.

"My mother was always hurt by the fact that I steered clear of the Catholic Church and that I sent my children to government schools. In 1980, when I was 45, I finally told my mother, then aged 70, about the reality of 1942. She was devastated by the news and she felt guilty. She stopped attending the Catholic Church and changed to another denomination. She never went near a Catholic church again. The loss of her trust in the Catholic Church was a great upheaval for her. Later she developed dementia, so she had forgotten my story by the time she died.

"But I will never forget. And I will never forgive the Catholic cover-up and hypocrisy."

Armidale (NSW) and Malvern (Victoria)

Research by Broken Rites indicates that Brother Fintan was transferred from St Bede's at the end of 1942.

Brother Fintan Dwyer is not to be confused with another, younger De La Salle member (Brother Finian Allman, born about 1920), who took up a post at St Bede's in 1944.

In 1943, Brother Fintan Dwyer taught at De La Salle College in Armidale, New South Wales. Armidale was then a boys' boarding school, so Fintan had opportunities there for molesting, similar to the opportunities he had had at St Bede's. Nowadays, this Armidale school has been reconstituted as O'Connor Catholic College (also known as O'Connor Catholic High School), a co-educational school.

In 1944 Fintan Dwyer was located at De La Salle College, Malvern, in Melbourne (this was a day school).

Bernard says: "In 1948, I was friendly with a Malvern student, who remarked to me that there had been a Brother Fintan at Malvern, who was exposed as a child-molester. I was too embarrassed to tell this boy that I, too, was a Fintan victim."

One victim became a priest

Bernard has since met other ex-pupils from several De La Salle schools who remember Brother Fintan having a reputation as a molester.

In 1996 Bernard spoke to an Australian priest (Father "Jim", who had been a pupil at a De La Salle school in the 1940s). Father Jim told Bernard: "I too was a sexual victim of Fintan Dwyer at school when I was about ten."

Father Jim said that Brother Fintan mauled Jim's genitals, in an attempt at masturbation, in much the same way that Bernard was molested.

Recruiting officer

After 1944, Fintan Dwyer was removed from classroom teaching. The reason for this change is unclear. Was it because of complaints about his molesting of pupils? Was the De La Salle order seeking to protect itself from legal liability for its negligence in inflicting Fintan on victims?

In 1945, he was given the role of touring Australia as the De La Salle order's recruiting officer. He influenced a generation of De La Salle Brothers (and therefore students) before he died on 14 April 1990.

Other DLS offenders

As a De La Salle sexual offender, Brother Fintan Dwyer was no "Robinson Crusoe". One of Fintan's colleagues among the first bunch of Australians to be recruited as a De La Salle Brother was Brother Brendan Carroll, who became a molester of girls. The story of Brother Brendan Carroll can be seen HERE.

Brother Fintan Dwyer and Brother Brendan Carroll set the pattern for later De La Salle offenders, such as Brother Ibar Keating.

Broken Rites is continuing its research on Brother Fintan Dwyer (and also on his sibling, Brother Alban Dwyer, who worked at BoysTown in Beaudesert, Queensland, from 1961).