St Francis Boys’ Home, Shefford

St Francis Boys’ Home, Shefford

Saint Francis Home January 2008

Shefford St Francis orphanage abuse legal action

A dozen former residents of an orphanage in Shefford, Bedfordshire, are taking legal action against the Catholic Church, claiming they were beaten and abused there.

Danny O’Brien, 65, of Bury St Edmunds, attended St Francis Boys Home between 1957 and 1962.

He recalled being punched and beaten by Father John Ryan, who died in 2008.

Mr O’Brien said he only suffered physical abuse, but the BBC has heard of a number of cases of sexual abuse.

Bedford lawyer Tracey Emmott is representing a group of former residents in a legal action against the Church.

A spokesman for the Northamptonshire Diocese of the Catholic Church, which ran the home, said it “deeply regrets” any hurt caused, but stressed the “claims are not proven”.

 BBC 12/08/13

Catholic Church to be sued over Shefford home abuse claims, Bedfordshire on Sunday 10/05/13

Investigation into alleged abuse at Shefford boys’ home, The Comet 17/05/13

Shefford orphanage priest John Ryan ‘most brutal man’, BBC News 01/06/13

Did Savile visit home accused of abuse?  Bedfordshire on Sunday 09/06/13

Shefford priest John Ryan , accused of abuse, arrested in 2003, BBC News 13/06/13

Savile regularly prayed at Shefford home of Catholic boys, Bedfordshire on Sunday 16/06/13

Second abuse victim talks of ‘evil’ priest John Ryan, BBC News 29/06/13

Shefford’s St Francis Boys’ Home abuse inquiry files missing BBC News 02/07/13

Mystery of the missing police files and Jimmy Savile clipping, Bedfordshire on Sunday 17/07/13

Shefford St Francis abuse victims contact lawyer, BBC News 27/07/13

Abuse home was visited by Savile 02/08/13

St Francis Boys’ Home Wikipedia

36 responses to “St Francis Boys’ Home, Shefford

  1. Maurice Occleshaw

    My name is Maurice, and I was at St. Francis in Shefford from 1951 – 1953.
    I have not given my surname to protect my elder brother, who was there as a “Mid”, and was sexually abused on a regular basis, as one of Fr. Johnson’s (“Snozzler”) ‘Favourites’. I myself was in the “Little Boys” section at age six, but was not sexually abused, but quite physically abused, Sr. Zita, who was the little boys school teacher, and by Mother John Bosco, the refectory manager. I was also emotionally abused, after my mother died, by another nun, but can’t remember her name. I don’t remember many other boys there. I do remember two Seniors, the Hart brothers (very kind to me) and also a Michael Andrews, who was the top ‘Little Boy’. He was still there as a Mid or Senior, when I went back for a visit in 1957, before I left for Australia, where I now live. The only other boy I can remember off hand was a boy called Murphy, he slept in the next bed to me in the little boys dorm above Fr. Johnsons jeep garage. Murphy was always waking us at night saying he had “Visions”. My best memory was of the young lady who looked after us in the little boys play room (front right of the main entrance). I think her name was Maureen somebody or other, I know I cried when she left to marry a Senior boy named Nobby Clark. Anyone remember her ?. I belong to the “Scruffs” survivors group, but am yet to meet or hear from any of the lads that were there when I was.

  2. Shelley

    My dad over the years has told me some disgusting stories of shocking mental, physical and hinted at sexual abuse. It destroyed my fathers life. He is 73 nearly and I want justice for him. All he wants is acknowledgment and an apology from the Catholic Church. I wish the evil bastards who did this were still alive as I would take revenge myself. Is justice likely?

    Many thanks


  3. Andy Wasik


    Thanks for your reply

    After Nazi house, Shefford, St Francis Boys Home was perfect for me.
    The Nuns had gone, Father Ryan was never seen and physical punishment was, for the times we lived in, minimum.

    Jim McCann, was a role model for me, and never an abuser, I witnessed boys physically abusing him. He was only around 5 feet and a fag end tall. Most of the abuse occurred boy on boy. I do understand times were not so good there in the 1960 – 69 period. You, yourself, the stories you told me about Shefford on your visits to Nazi house, inspired both me and my brother to get there which, following my rebellion, I duly achieved.

    I’m afraid the lure of financial reward has motivated some ex boys to make fantastic sexual allegations about Jim McCann. He is the only one alive who could possibly face charges of abuse. He has been singled out unscrupulously. Can you, John, imagine boys being sexually molested in their dormitory bed by staff and not knowing it was going on? When did you ever get a good nights sleep in the dormitory, there were boys, some so badly disturbed, would have terrible behaviour during night hours. I can remember boys who would rock, some would bang their heads on the pillow, others would scream during their nightmares. Then there were the bed wetters who would have be toileted. Amazing, that staff still managed to abuse boys while this was going on. Rubbish!
    Some of these boys, I and others know, were the same lying abusers towards younger boys during their time.

    Remember, the staff ratio to child at Shefford was, at times, up to 20/1. We were not angels but hardened young men. Discipline was always generally physical during the 60’s both at home and in school (regular canings from Mr Robertson just for being a ‘Shefford Boy’). I had friends at school who would tell of the ‘hidings’ they would have from their parents (all be it discipline with love).

    Jim McCann’s life has been destroyed, He went seriously ill at the time these allegations were made against him. He has ended up in a care home following a number of strokes. He was married and had two beautiful daughters. I made contact with one of them at the time of the investigation. Fist thing I asked her: ‘How was your childhood with Jim McCann as your father’. Her answer was exactly as I thought it would be. He had been a wonderful father to his children and brilliant husband to his wife.He was dearly loved by his family.
    After Shefford, not one single allegation made against him. That is not the form of a sexual abuser. He is a grandfather, his grandchildren worshipped him. When the allegations came to light, he was banned from being near them.
    It has been a sickening time for me. It would have been so easy to jump on the bandwagon and make allegations. Everyone one in authority is programmed to believe allegations. There is so much fear following failures to properly investigate real historical abuse elsewhere.
    I, after a few experiences at 14/15 years of age, in the employment field, joined the Royal Navy in 1973 from Shefford. I trained in the heavy electrical branch. Eddie Valente joined around the same time and our paths crossed many times, fun times too. Tony Kamara, also served but had a hard time with his life. he is now deceased.

    I married in 1979 to a beautiful Royal Naval Wren. We have 3 grown up children, 2 are university graduates, and all 3 are very successful in their professional areas of work. I consider I have done very well with my life considering my childhood, the abuse I endured and the negative forecast from my, so called carers about my life prospects.

    I am 61 in October, retired and live in North Wales, my wife’s home area.
    Still a sport fanatic, continued my sporting interests for as long as I could and, in my later years, now enjoy a round of golf at a fairly decent level.

    I do have some news of other boys for you. My telephone number is: 07876590163 Please feel free to call and I will pass on as much info as I can to you.


    • john nicholson

      Hi Andy, I will ring you in a few days. So sad to hear about Jim Mcann and I agree that allegations made against him were money motivated. I found Jim friendly but firm. as he had to be. He went out of his way to help me not only with my English spelling but we talked about football and I remember him taking me to Bedford for an eye check-up as I had a habit of reading too close to books and he still tested me on my spelling on the way there. I was not a trouble-maker and he treated me with respect. I would so like to pass on my good wishes to him and his family. Although it is now 50 years ago since I was at the home some names are coming back to me of boys I knew. Peter O’Connor who was my best friend and left in 1965, John Russell who was smaller than me and was from London, Michael Anderson from Nottingham (whom I witnessed took a bloody beating from another boy), John Meehan and Richard Worrell who was a good goalkeeper. Like you the fear I felt at the home was mainly from other boys as bullying was rife and fights often brutal and that was a constant theme in all my time there.

  4. john nicholson

    I was at Nazareth House from 1959 until 1963 and then moved to St Francis until 1967—I remember Andrew Wasik at Nazi House as I went back there during holiday times–not sure if he remembers me (John Nicholson) small for my age I remember lack of food at Nazi House and being knocked about now and again by Father Ryan but never aware of sexual abuse at Shefford –also all boys in dormitory caned on fingers by nuns if any noise after lights out.

    • Andrew Wasik

      Hi, John. Andy Wasik.
      Yes, I do remember you very well. Quite a character you were with a great sense of humour. I remember you would return to Nazi house periodically from Shefford, I presume during holiday periods?
      I have made contact with the Sisters of Nazareth organisation.The very abusive Nuns, Sister Louis and Sister Thomas, are both deceased. I always wanted to confront them to find out why they behaved in such an evil way towards young children. It simply amazes me how, despite all the historical evidence of abuse and wickedness perpetrated by, so called, servants of God, people still view the Catholic Church as a symbol of good.
      I have a written letter from the organisation which apologises for the care I suffered during my childhood.
      I’m not one for seeking financial compensation, I learned from my experiences and ensured my own children would never suffer similar abuse. My compensation is serving them grow and develop into wonderful human beings. They are everything to me.
      I do hope you have had enjoyed good health and a good life after care?

      Andy Wasik

      • john nicholson

        Hi Andy, John Nicholson. Good to hear from you. Like you, I did find positives at Shefford. I enjoyed playing in the football team, the table-tennis, the chess etc and Jim Mcann who has been under investigation for abuse was fine with me. He helped me with my English, especially spelling which I believe helped me get to St Michaels College in Hitchen. I did see the harder side of him when he hit boys who he deemed were causing trouble. It is such a long time ago but I would love to hear how David Cox, John Budnik, John Dunne, Terry Barry and Leo Fitzsimons are getting on. I left the home in 1967 after spending all my life in homes. My mother got married and I went North with them –a decision I have regretted all my life but that is another story. Abuse certainly took place at Shefford and Nazareth House but I was only aware of the physical abuse. Both Homes were bereft of any affection or good feelings to the children but for a lot of us we had never knew anything else and in that respect we had a lost childhood. I hope you are able to put the bad memories to one side and remember the good ones. I am sure you are as you struck me as a very positive individual. I am now 63, got married late and have a beautiful 11 year daughter and a 22 year old stepson. You are the first person I have made contact with from the homes and it feels great we can share memories on what was a traumatic time in our lives. Keep well Andy.

  5. john power

    I have only just heard about Shefford via the internet 21/11/2016. i was abused by Fr.. RYAN while playing five aside football in the gym. between 1956-1959. i remember eugene murphy in 1956. i also witnessed the abuse of Fr. Ryan against a follow boy Bill Ruddy,we were both prefects in 1958.along with Roy Duffy, and three others.

  6. Pingback: Developments: St Francis’ Boys Home / Jimmy Savile/ Purdews/ Henlow Grange/Vaz | goodnessandharmony

  7. cc

    YES, I saw him at the home shefford. it can only be the reason that growing up i always thought savile had a twin brother, now i know why as i was in the home from 65 aged 7 to 69 I am a musician and have always watched top of the pops growing up and have had many arguments with friends, family about whether saville had a twin brother, i think as i was so young that seeing him maybe at shefford can only be the reason why i truly always thought he had an identical twin brother. I can not say much more about it as im just as confused as everyone else about these so call visits to the home by savile. Will we ever be able to put this all behind us. I feel so ashamed that I idealised this man especial after watching top or the pops, all though my childhood and into my say 20s

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  8. Andy Wasik

    Andy Wasik. I was at the home: 1969 – 1973 as was my brother Stephen. I only remember good times there. I wanted to be there! I especially remember Jim Mcann, a staff member, proud Scotsman and a not so bad footballer. There was one bastard of a head, his name escapes me; he liked to use the stick and I was a victim of his wrath on several occasions.
    If you want to know about REAL abuse, the ninvestigate the Sisters of Nazareth children’s home, Harleston Road, Northampton. Known as Nazareth House, we kids called it NAZI HOUSE! I can tell you some gut wrenching stories about this place. Pure Evil! The place where God was beaten out of me at an early age.

    • Thanks Andy,

      We are aware of Sisters of Nazareth, we have 3 of their homes in Scotland here already but I think this is the first English home.

      If you can state whether the alleged abuse was physical, sexual, or both, we can add it as an allegation.

      • Andy Wasik

        Physical, mental. Blonde haired and blue eyed – I was chased round the vestry by a priest or two during my young years. Probably why I was hooked on the Benedictine when I was 7 years on! Because I was considered intelligent, I was always chosen to read the epistle and gospel; God help me (which he never did) if I cocked up the reading; then it was a real battering I received. I was told at 5 years on that my mother was a whore who didn’t want me, that I was no good, that I would spend my adult life behind bars. In fact, I became an engineer, I have a son who works for Google in Singapore, another who is an IT engineer and a daughter who, at 28 years of age has just taken a teaching post as assistant head of school. None of my children saw the inside of a church. I detest the evil Catholic church. Yet, surprisingly, my sister, who was badly abused, married into the Catholic faith and still believes! Amazing! Enough said.

      • greenlight

        Thanks Andy. The home has been added.

    • high carlo here 64 to 69 i was there and came back for a short stay in 70 do you remember a guy called Floyed a very light mix race dude with curly tight blondish hair..

  9. Marie hobbs

    I was at st gregs from 1965 untill 1969 I remember how the st Francis boys were fright to death of the priests and nuns in that dreadfull home and how the boys had to wear short trousers even at the age of 15 I used to speak with Trevor he told me things I hope you all get the justice you deserve best wishes from Marie

  10. b gargan

    i was at that hell home and my 2 bothers 1 died 9 years ago my is bernard gargan . mike gargan .steve gargan

    • Think I was at St Francis with the gargins was there between 62,64 football mad and cricket played both night and day although at times not to pleasant there think the sports got me through it in the back of my mind think ever you or one of your brothers was captain of football or cricket team !!!!! Ryan ruled by fear only remember him slapping a couple of boys around but know for a fact he gave two boys severe beating on one occasion would like to hear from you!!!!ps reunion coming up can’t make it but will make next one !!!!!!

    • gerald palmer

      Certainly do steve was a good friend of mine

  11. eugene Murphy.

    i was at the home and was sexually abused many time by Johnston and Ryan also beaton by the Nuns and Ryan who where very abusive against some of the Boys also the Gardener was always trying to touch you. I was there 1948 –1956, and also became head Boy,

  12. peter hegarty

    anybody remember boys Derek and Tom Hegarty being at the orphanage

    • john nicholson

      I remember both Derek and Tom. I believe they were from Liverpool. Derek was quiet and the older brother while Tom was handy with his fists and he had a short fuse. Once when we were going upstairs to the dormitory I made a comment which he did not like and without any warning hit me in the face. I have never been hit so hard and actually saw stars as I crashed to the ground. My lip swelled and I can still feel the pain today! I was in the home 63–67 and I believe they came around 65-66.

  13. ivan smith

    i knew fr Johnson well. i was extremely surprised by the allegations and i have to say i prefer not to believe any of it. i fondly remember fi johnston’s dogs rascall and golly and the pups he kept wog and whiskey. its easy to make allegations when somebody is no longer with us. ””””i was astonishes ed by the suggestions leveled against john Ryan .ivan smith

  14. ivan smith

    i was in this home for nine years from 1948 till 1957 and although the regime was harsh and i was regularly beaten i suffered no sexual abuse for the last year of my time there was head boy and i certainly have no fond memories of the place .i found the nuns more savage than the priests

    • David Marks

      Ivan, I knew Fr Wilfred Johnson after his time at Shefford. He was a much loved parish priest. We would like to think that he was not involved although it has been suggested that he was. I wonder if you remember him ?

  15. gerald palmer

    i was in this home between 1962 1967 i also was abused phyiscaly and mentally i want someone to hear my story

    • catherine murphy

      from what i remember the shefford boys were beat badly at the home and robbo (headmaster from hell ) took a delight in doing the same and then ring the home just to make sure the boys got yet another beating, i hope each and every boy get to tell their story and people listen and do something about it and bring some happiness into their rotton past, i hope all of you boys are now happy and free x

      • gerald palmer

        Thankyou gerald palmer I wish I had the know how on how to write a book of this but alas I don’t but I’m sure it would make a great learner for all and open alot of eyes to cruelty that children suffer not just I n homes but in there own homes we need to do alot more to protect our youth

      • Peter C

        Thanks Catherine that was a lovely thought!

    • I. Was there between 62 and 64 only remember the football times and cricket times vaguely remember some of the names one or two remember well your name comes in vaguely category !!!!! Did you play in footbal or cricket team in that time Remember Ryan was not a man to cross but only remember him slapping a few boys around. !!! Although I know for a fact he gave two boys a severe beating for causing him some grief at one time !!!! Don’t recall any sexual things although one boy was a visitor to room at. End dorm after lights out although because of my young age did not read to much into it !!!!

    • Bob KOWALSKI

      Gerald. Hello.Bob Kowalski. Do you remember me ?

      • Peter C

        Is this Bob Kowalski that was also at St Vincents in Mill Hill, London NW7 ?

        P. Connolly here do you remember me?

  16. Pingback: Abuse home was visited by Savile | theneedleblog

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