The misery of Marylands

At Marylands School, sexual and physical abuse by Catholic brothers was brutal, prevalent and normalised. Survivors were so traumatised that, after they left, they found it difficult to understand the boundaries between right and wrong.

At the frayed edge of Christchurch, the city dissolving into large fields and fast roads, there’s a cluster of buildings that look towards the spiny line of the Port Hills. This is the Halswell Residential College. Today, it’s a school that has boarding and day options for kids with a range of difficulties, including emotional management and intellectual disability. Run by the Ministry of Education, its website is filled with glowing reviews and reports from students and parents about their time at the school.

But nearly 40 years ago, this was Marylands School, run by the St John of God Brothers of God, a Catholic order supposedly dedicated to education and healthcare. Marylands was described to parents and the community as a place to educate children with intellectual disabilities and other difficulties. Initially based nearby in Middleton before moving to the Halswell site in the 1960s, the school was open for 29 years, between 1955 and 1984.

It was an “evil place,” says Ken Clearwater, a survivor advocate who has worked with the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust (MSSAT). A recent report titled Stolen Lives, Marked Souls, following a case study hearing as part of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, found hundreds of children were sexually, physically and psychologically abused at Marylands. Many survivors feel that a redress process conducted in the early 2000s was inadequate. They want this bitter history to be remembered beyond those who survived it, because they don’t want abuse like this to ever happen again.

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