This long-deceased Marist Brother is still remembered with disgust

  • By a Broken Rites researcher

The effects of church sex-abuse can still be felt by the victims and their families even half a century after the abuse. This was demonstrated in by complaints about Marist Brother Norbert Mathieson.

Mathieson died in 1954 but, half a century later, former students and their families are still naming him as a sex-abuser. As usual in such cases, the church's culture intimidated Mathieson's victims into silence at the time of the abuse but some of the victims (now elderly) have finally told their sons and daughters about this abuse. Thus, these families are dismayed and angry that their fathers were secretly harmed in this way.

According to Marist biographical material, Mathieson was born in Bendigo, Victoria, on 2 February 1893. At age 13 (yes, only 13), the Marist Brothers recruited him into a special secondary-school class (called a "juniorate") for boys who were earmarked to become future Marist Brothers. By his late teens, he was teaching as a Marist Brother.

He assumed the "religious" name "Norbert", which was the name of a medieval "saint".

Mathieson spent his teaching career at schools in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia. He was also a sports master and was "commanding officer" of school military cadets.

He spent his final ten years at Marist Brothers schools in Parramatta and Eastwood (both in Sydney) before he died in 1954.

Following are some of the complalints that Broken Rites has received about Norbert Mathieson.

1. A daughter's sorrow in 2008

Dorothy” contacted Broken Rites in early 2008, asking if Marist Brother Norbert Mathieson had ever been convicted. When Broken Rites told her 'No', Dorothy replied:

“My father passed away recently and I then learnt that he had been molested as a young boy at school. My father had written a letter regarding this and it was only passed on to me this year, after his death.

"His letter states that, when he was a pupil at Marist Brothers Parramatta, he was molested three times by Brother Norbert Mathieson at age 11 and 12. And the rest of the time, he was escaping from this evil person which resulted almost in daily caning. Dad believed that the other Marist Brothers and the priests knew about this and did nothing.

"He was tormented for 4 or 5 years and unfortunately this affected Dad’s life forever. My father became a very depressed person, a gambler and an alcoholic.

“After finding out about Mathieson’s abuse of my father, I now understand my father’s life a whole lot better. I don’t think a day went by when he did not think about what had happened. My father was full of anger — and who can blame him?

"He kept this secret till the day he died except for a handful of people. If my father had been allowed to report the abuse when he was young, he very well could have had a different life.

“I am disappointed to learn that Mathieson was never convicted, but I’m sure my father knew that this offender would evade exposure, due to the cover up. At least Mathieson is not around to harm anyone anymore.

“Dad died peacefully. We will spread his ashes soon and I will let him know that this evil creature, Norbert Mathieson, died a long time ago."

2. A son's story in 2007

Mitch” (born in 1956) told Broken Rites in 2007: “As a boy in the 1960s, I was sexually abused firstly by a priest who was a family friend and secondly by a former trainee priest who was doing sports coaching for students at a Catholic school.

"In my forties, about 2000, I asked my parents why they had not protected me better when I was a child. My father was apologetic and he revealed that he, too, had been a victim of sexual abuse at school — by a Brother Norbert, whose real name, I understand, was Mathieson. My dad had been in the school cadets.

“My dad is deeply guilty that he didn't protect me better, in view of his own victimisation by Mathieson a generation earlier.

“A close friend of my father also went to the same Marist Brothers school as Dad. One day, this friend told me that Brother ‘Norby’ had a bad reputation for molesting boys. This friend was astounded when he learned from us that Dad was one of Norby’s victims.

“Forty years after my own abuse, I am still feeling hurt. And I also feel sad about what happened to my dad a generation before me."

3. Invasive 'massages'

"Bob" (born in 1935) told Broken Rites in 2002: "I was a student at Marist Brothers Parramatta until 1949. Brother Norbert Mathieson was there and was in charge of cadets. Fifty years later, former students still talk about Norbert when they meet at Old Boys' reunions.

"Brother Norbert was notorious for indecently assaulting boys. One scenario was that, if a boy had a sporting injury, Brother Norbert would take the boy to an empty room and would get the boy to lie on a table. He would insist on 'massaging' the boy but he would in fact invasively touch the boy's genitals.

"He was about to do this to me once but I cleared off and escaped him.

"Older students knew about Norbert's reputation but a younger boy would be easily entrapped."

4. Still no apology in 2008

At the time of writing (March 2008), the above three complaints have not reached the Catholic Church's Professional Standards Office but another complainant, “Basil” (born 1934), notified the PSO several years ago that he was abused by Norbert Mathieson. Basil says his abuse happened at Marist Brothers Parramatta in 1950. He says: "It happened after I left the classroom feeling bilious, either from summer heat or an upset stomach caused by something eaten."

The PSO in Sydney forwarded Basil's complaint to the Marist Brothers office in Sydney. The Marists' provincial superior wrote to Basil on 24 March 2003, saying that there was "no reason to disbelieve what you say." But after that, the Professional Standards Office regarded the matter as "closed". However, Basil still insists that he should receive a written apology from the Marist Brothers administration for the actions of Brother Norbert Mathieson — and for the cover-up.

In early 2008, Basil attended the Sydney District Court (as a spectator) to see another Marist Brother — Ross Francis Murrin — jailed for child-sex crimes. Basil wishes that Brother Norbert Mathieson had been dealt with similarly in the 1940s (or earlier) because this would have alerted families to be more careful about entrusting their children to the Marist Brothers in the generation after Norbert Mathieson.

5. The story of Timothy

A former student, "Timothy", told Broken Rites in 2015:

"I attended Marist Brothers High School Eastwood in the early 1950s and, during that time, I was molested by Brother Norbert along with many other pupils.

"These events occurred in the wooden science room which has now been replaced by the brick extension at the northern end of the playground.

"Brother Norbert invited us to accompany him after school hours and proceeded to teach us 'the facts of life.' My short pants were removed and he used his hands to abuse me (and many others as I discovered later on).

"I believe he was told to cease this action after a complaint from a parent of one of the boys abused. However, to my recollection, he was never removed from his position of teaching.

"The memories of these events often come to mind. Many years later a fellow student told me how he, too, was assaulted in this way by Norbert.

"I still feel hurt and distressed by how Brother Norbert was inflicted on me and the other students. I never spoke of this to my wife or my children and, after 50 years of marriage, my wife and I have separated. I believe that the my current stress and anxiety has its roots in the abuse at this Marist Brothers school."

  • See the jailing of Marist Brother Ross Murrin in 2008 HERE.
  • And see a court case about yet another Marist Brother — Kostka Chute — HERE