A Marist Brother committed child-sex crimes at a "top" Sydney school — and there are also complaints about him in Queensland

By a Broken Rites researcher

For years, the Marist Brothers tolerated a child-abuser (Brother John Dennis Maguire) as a teacher and dormitory master at their high-profile St Joseph's College boys' boarding school in Hunters Hill, Sydney. Maguire allegedly would target the youngest boarders (perhaps eleven years old) who were homesick – comforting them and then sexually assaulting them. In 2002, police charged Maguire with assaulting six of these boys but the Marist Brothers defeated each of these charges. In 2014, after a total of nine jury trials, a seventh ex-student succeeded in getting Maguire convicted in court. Finally, on 20 March 2015, Maguire (then aged 71) was sentenced to at least 21 months in prison. There have also been complaints about Maguire in Queensland which would need to be handled by the Queensland police. Maguire was a danger to girls as well as boys.

Brother John Dennis Maguire (born on 13 December 1943) has spent his career in the Catholic order of Marist Brothers, working in schools in New South Wales and Queensland. Between 1978 and the mid-1980s he worked at St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, Sydney, which took students from Year 7 to Year 12. The court was told that Maguire was in charge of 50 boarders who arrived for Year 7. He had a bedroom of his own, adjoining the boys' dormitory, the court was told, and a boy would be taken to this bedroom.

In the 2014 case, in Sydney's Downing Centre District Court, Maguire was charged with committing acts of indecency against one St Joseph's student in 1982 and 1983, when the boy was 11 and 12 years old (Maguire was then aged 39 and 40). Maguire pleaded not guilty and therefore a jury trial was necessary.

On 25 November 2014, after hearing evidence for several days, the jury found Maguire guilty regarding six incidents involving this one boy.

At a pre-sentence hearing (held by Judge Peter Whitford on 27 February 2015), the prosecutor and the defence lawyer both made verbal submissions.

The court was told that this boy had oral sex performed on him and, on four occasions, was lured into a room where Maguire rubbed cream on his genitals.

While the boy was sleeping in a school dorm, which Maguire was in charge of, he woke up to find Brother Maguire (then aged 39) half-naked, crouching next to his bed performing oral sex on him.

Maguire then took the boy into his office and continued the abuse, the court was told.

Crown prosecutor Hugh Baker told the court that the offences were grave and serious and Maguire deserved jail time.

"The offender abused the trust of the victim in circumstances where the victim was homesick, isolated and vulnerable," Mr Baker said.

The church defence lawyer, Greg Walsh, requested a suspended sentence (that is, no time behind bars).

The victim in the case was sitting in court, observing the pre-sentence proceedings. Several other ex-students of Maguire (who were victims in previous trials) were present. Also present in court was the mother of another ex-student who has alleged that he was sexually abused by Maguire (but this boy's case never reached a jury trial). Several Marist Brothers were present in court, supporting Maguire (instead of supporting the victim).

The police investigator in the Maguire case is Detective Senior Constable James Robertson, of the Eastwood Detectives Office, Sydney. It is still possible for any other victim to take the opportunity of having a confidential chat with NSW Police detectives.

Jailed in 2015

In sentencing Maguire at Sydney's District Court on 20 March 2015, Judge Peter Whitford said that the victim had cried when his parents first took him to the school at the start of that year, and that Maguire had "promised to look after him".

"The offender was like a father-figure to the victim," the judge said. "The offender violated that trust. His motive was sexual gratification and he pursued this over an extended period without regard for the victim's childhood, wellbeing or future."

Judge Whitford said there was a degree of pre-planning in Maguire's offending because he had carefully groomed the chosen victim and his parents, and had later moved the boy's bed closer to Maguire's adjoining room.

Referring to the defence lawyer's request for a non-custodial sentence, Judge Whitford said that there was a need for general deterrence and to show that "yielding to sexual impulses towards children" would end in punishment.

Judge Whitford sentenced Maguire to at least one year and nine months' imprisonment and a maximum of three years. He will be eligible for parole in December 2016.

Judge Whitford said that the sentence would have been higher but he was restricted by the fact that penalties at the time the offence was committed were significantly less severe than they are now.

Maguire's previous court appearances, regarding six boys

The 2014-5 court case was not Brother John Dennis Maguire first experience of sexual-assault charges regarding St Joseph's College. Twelve years earlier, in October 2002, Maguire (then aged 58) had appeared in the Sydney Local Court, charged with multiple sexual offences against six other boys at this school. During the subsequent Local Court proceedings (conducted by a magistrate), Maguire was charged with a total 17 counts of assaulting boys aged between 11 and 13 while he was the Year 7 dormitory and form master (in charge of fifty boarders) in the early 1980s.

This Local Court process was not completed until June 2003.

During the 2002-2003 proceedings, it was alleged that Brother John Maguire would target boys who were homesick and that he would "comfort" these boys. The alleged offences ranged from indecently touching the boys through to anal and oral penetration. Some of the boys told the Local Court that they complained about Maguire to another Marist Brother who was the headmaster at the time of the abuse. But the school did not pass these complaints on to the police. Two decades later, in 2001, one of these ex-students finally managed to bring the matter to the attention of the NSW Police. Detectives then contacted former students of St Joseph's College to enquire whether they had been indecently assaulted. The detectives interviewed each of these students (separately) and obtained a sworn written statement from each of them, for submitting to the Local Court proceedings in 2002.

In June 2003, the Local Court magistrate committed Maguire for trial, to be conducted in the Sydney District Court.

When the District Court process began in late 2003, Maguire pleaded not guilty to all charges. Therefore a jury trial would be needed. The Marist Brothers' lawyers told the judge that Maguire should not have to face all six of his accusers in a single trial with just one jury. The Marists' lawyers succeeded in obtaining separate trials, with a fresh jury for each complainant. (As a result, each jury would be unaware of the other alleged victims and would presume that there was only one complainant.) This granting of separate juries was in accordance with New South Wales law as it existed in 2002.

These six trials (conducted by Judge Megan Latham) were held, one after the other, from November 2003 to July 2004. Each jury was told, by the defence, that the ex-student in this particular hearing had told "lies" to the police. Thus, each jury was left with the impression that it was merely the word of one person against the word of another, and therefore each jury was urged to give Brother Maguire the benefit of the doubt.

Two juries failed to agree on a verdict and were discharged and were replaced by a new jury. The six other juries each returned a verdict of "Not Guilty". During the long months of eight trials, the court placed a non-publication order on all the Maguire proceedings. Thus, media outlets were not allowed to mention the Maguire cases until the final jury had finished its work. When the media finally revealed (in July 2004) that there had been eight trials, all the juries (totalling 96 members) finally discovered that there were multiple alleged victims, not just one.

Brother Maguire at other schools

Brother John Maguire is also remembered as an abuser at other Marist schools, not just St Joseph's. One ex-student ("Gus"") told Broken Rites in 2005: "I was sexually abused by Brother John Maguire at Marist Brothers Dundas in Sydney in the 1960s, when he was a very junior Brother in the Marist Order. Therefore, he was a danger to children from Day One and he was committing his crimes well before he moved to St Joseph's, Hunters Hill."

In 2007, Gus again contacted Broken Rites, saying: "Through a lawyer, I have recently forced the Marist Brothers to pay compensation to me (and, thanks to the lawyer, the amount was reasonable)."

The Marist headquarters did not tell the NSW Police about the assault of Gus and therefore the police were not able to consider including Gus's information in the 2014 criminal court case, which was confined to St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill.

It is not too late for the New South Wales Police to investigate any reports about Brother John Dennis Maguire at other schools.

Maguire in Queensland

Brother John Dennis Maguire has also spent time in Queensland (at Marist College, Ashgrove, in Brisbane) but the New South Wales court case relates only to incidents that occurred within New South Wales. Any complainants in Queensland would need to consult the detectives in the Child and Sexual Assault Unit of the Queensland Police.

Maguire's work in Queensland included being the principal of the Gladstone Catholic High School (530 km north of Brisbane) in 1975-1977 when it was operated by Marist Brothers. This school was also known for a while as Stella Maris College and it is known now as Chanel College.

After Maguire was jailed in Sydney in March 2015, the Gladstone Observer newspaper started asking about Maguire's Gladstone background. The issue of the newspaper said that five members of the public had immediately contacted The Observer.

One Gladstone female student, who studied under Maguire, told the Observer that Maguire's actions had tarnished her life.

"He touched me in a sexually inappropriate manner," she said. "Maguire totally denied what happened and he tried to get me removed from the school."

Another Gladstone former student told the newspaper that he remembered Brother Maguire like it was yesterday. The man said. "I saw him touching up girls and punching boys."

Other child-abusers at St Joseph's, Hunters Hill

John Maguire was not the only sexually-abusive Marist Brother who ever worked at St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill. Other offenders (from various schools) who spent time at St Joseph's (and who are in articles on the Broken Rites website) included:

  • Br Terence Mulligan;
  • Br Geoffrey Veness;
  • Br Oswald McNamara;
  • Br Nestor Littler;
  • Br Vales Beninati;
  • Br Ross Francis Murrin;
  • Br Raymond Foster;
  • Br Gregory Sutton; and
  • Br Stephen Farrell.

And that's not a complete list, just a few examples. In addition, Marist offenders from other schools have spent time in the Marist Brothers' residential accommodation adjoining St Joseph's College; for example, Brother Peter Pemble was living in that accommodation when he pleaded guilty in court in 2014 to having indecently assaulted a schoolboy in Maitland.

Thus, at St Joseph's College in Hunters Hill, Brother John Dennis Maguire is certainly not unique.

Another case study from St Joseph's, Hunters Hill

A Sydney woman ("Susan") told Broken Rites in March 2015:

"I am in close contact with an elderly couple (very devout Catholics) who raised a large family in suburban Sydney. One son (let's just call him 'Basil', not his real name) attended a local Catholic primary school and then, for Year 7 (the start of secondary school) in the late 1970s, he was sent to become a boarder at St Joseph's College, sleeping in one of the dormitories with dozens of other boys, under the control of one of the Marist Brothers. We don't know the name of this Marist Brother.

"Basil's very devout Catholic parents presumed that the holy Marist Brothers would be a good Christian influence on him, but Basil was immediately homesick at the school and was very unhappy there. He could not reveal what the trouble was, because he was not allowed to say anything negative about the holy Marist Brothers. They were beyond reproach.

"Basil became difficult and aggressive towards his parents and siblings. He became alienated from the whole family.

"After a couple of years as a boarder at St Joey's, he managed to leave there and go to a suburban Catholic school as a day boy. But he never recovered, and he remained a troubled young man.

"Finally, aged about 21 or 22, he committed suicide (by performing a violent action on himself). And now his puzzled siblings (who, by now, have all abandoned the Catholic Church now) will never find out why Basil's life was destroyed.

"Living, day and night, under the control of the Marist Brothers was not a healthy environment for Basil."

Broken Rites is continuing to do research about Marist Brother John Dennis Maguire and his colleagues.