A church official admits that at least eight Brothers at a ‘top’ Sydney Catholic school were child-abusers

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 7 November 2021

The Catholic order of Marist Brothers have issued a public statement acknowledging that eight Marist Brothers who have worked at a prominent Sydney boarding school (St Joseph’s College in Hunters Hill) were eventually disgraced in court for committing sexual crimes against children. This statement came on 5 November 2021 after the eighth teacher (Brother John Patrick O’Brien, now aged 81) was jailed by a Sydney court for crimes he committed against boys at this school 50 years ago in the 1960s - a time when there were many reverend Brothers working in Catholic schools. These eight Marist Brothers were not necessarily the only offenders at St Joseph’s College; these eight were merely those who were charged when a victim would finally report a Brother’s crime to the police after reaching adulthood.

On 5 November 2021, after the conclusion of the Brother O’Brien court case, the national leader of the Marist Brothers (Brother Peter Carroll) issued a media statement, saying:

“Eight men who worked at St Joseph’s as Brothers have been found guilty or pleaded guilty to crimes of abuse.

“While not all of these men were convicted for abuse at St Joseph’s, that there were any who were is reprehensible.

“That these crimes occurred is appalling; that they were committed by Brothers is particularly shameful.

“I offer my apology to the victims of child sexual abuse at St Joseph’s…”

According to media reports, the administration of St Joseph’s College has begun removing, or blurring, the images and names of convicted (or credibly accused) Marist Brothers in the photographs of sporting teams and classroom groups that are displayed at the school.

The Brother O’Brien court case

Brother John Patrick O'Brien (born on 31 March 1940) entered the Marist Brothers order after he had been a pupil at a Marist school. After working at St Joseph's College in Sydney, he moved to the Newcastle region to take up a senior position at the Marist Brothers Hamilton College from 1971. Later, from 1981 to 1986, he was principal of a Marist Brothers' school in Kogarah, Sydney.

The O’Brien court case was confined to offences at St Joseph’s College because the police information came from St Joseph’s old boys.

The allegations against Brother John Patrick O'Brien were originally raised at Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, held between 2012 and 2016. The Brother O'Brien matter was first investigated by detectives from the New South Wales State Crime Command’s Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad. A special unit, "Strike Force Gallagher", was assigned to do the investigation.

On 12 December 2017, following extensive inquiries, Strike Force Gallagher detectives charged Brother John O'Brien with a number of offences against students at St Joseph's College.

O’Brien pleaded not guilty but in April 2021 a jury convicted him on 11 counts of acts of indecency or attempting to procure acts of indecency and seven counts of indecent assault. The conviction was regarding four boys who were all boarding at St Joseph’s where O’Brien was a boarding master, between 1968 and 1970.

After the jury's verdict, the judge ordered that O'Brien be placed in custody pending the sentencing.

At the sentencing procedure in November 2021, the judge handed down a jail sentence of seven years and nine months with a non-parole period of five years.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Warwick Hunt acknowledged that O’Brien’s age, fragility, medical conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic would mean his time in prison would be particularly difficult.

O’Brien had shown no remorse for his actions, the judge said.

Referring to the victims, Judge Hunt said he hoped the decision would “bring some healing”.

O’Brien was watching the proceedings via audio-visual link from Long Bay prison.

Brother John Patrick O’Brien was 26 when he started abusing boys half his age at St Joseph’s College and he later went on to have a career as a leading Bother in other Marist schools.

FOOTNOTE: Brother John Patrick O’Brien’s record of child-abuse is common among many Marist Brothers. A significant number of the Broken Rites articles on this website are about Marist Brothers who have eventually been brought to justice after a victim speaks to the police.