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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report

2.9 The Sisters of Nazareth

1. The Sisters of Nazareth (SoN) is a Catholic order of nuns founded in the nineteenth century in France. It operates through an international network of “Nazareth Houses”, which provide lodgings to the nuns and care services to the local community. Historically, the SoN provided care to children and the elderly. However, in more recent times it has restricted its work to the elderly. Sister Anna Maria Doolan, the Regional Superior of the SoN for the United Kingdom, gave testimony to the Inquiry on behalf of the SoN.

2.9.1 What was the SoN’s role in child migration?

2. The SoN migrated 145 children to Canada, largely to individual stations, family homes and farms, from 1881-1930. There was also some migration to Australia from 1928. Post-War, from 1945-1963, 63.1% of the 958 children migrated by the Catholic Church were said to have been ‘nominally in the care of the Sisters of Nazareth organisation’.[1] The SoN did not migrate children after 1956. Sister Anna Maria gave evidence that although there is an absence of documents from the time period to this effect, she understood the SoN’s rationale for migration was to give the children a better life, to help build up the country and to help the Catholic population in Australia.[2]

3. During the migration period, the SoN was responsible for up to 32 Nazareth Houses in England and Wales, many of which migrated children. Some Houses appeared more active in migration that others: for example Swansea, Carlisle, Hammersmith and Southend migrated 72, 43, 36 and 35 children respectively.[3] The SoN responded to requests for children to be migrated from representatives of the Catholic Church hierarchy in Australia, including from Brother Conlon (who was affiliated to the Christian Brothers).[4]

4. The SoN was one of the few organisations that played a prominent role both as an institution in the UK from which children were sent and as an institution by which children were received in Australia. The SoN in the UK migrated children to the following SoN institutions in Australia:

a. Nazareth House, Geraldton;

b. Nazareth House, Camberwell (Victoria); and

c. St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol.

5. The SoN also migrated children to institutions run by a number of other organisations, namely the Sisters of Mercy (girls only), the Salesians (boys only), the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart and the Christian Brothers (boys only).[5] 

6. During Part 1 we heard allegations of sexual abuse from eight witnesses who had been migrated by the SoN.[6] In addition, the SoN has been informed of several allegations as set out below. The table of other allegations with which we have been provided[7] refers to six allegations of abuse within SoN institutions.

2.9.2 What did the SoN know about alleged sexual abuse of its child migrants?

7. One letter, received by the SoN in March 1952, makes reference to very serious “misbehaviour” and “problem children”. It may be that this letter was intended to allude to sexual abuse, but it is impossible to draw any conclusions either way.[8]

Overall the Inquiry has seen no evidence to suggest that the SoN had actual knowledge of allegations or evidence of sexual abuse of child migrants.

The Inquiry is, however, very conscious of the paucity of migration-related material available from the SoN archive. Given the number of children migrated and the length of time for which migration continued, we are surprised both by the absence of relevant material and by the lack of any explanation for that absence.

If in fact the SoN had no knowledge of any sexual abuse issues, this may well have been due to the defects in its monitoring systems which we discuss below.

Generally children were exposed to a risk of sexual abuse, which ought to have been appreciated by the SoN.

Had the SoN operated a more robust system for monitoring the welfare of those children it migrated, it might have known more about specific allegations of sexual abuse and about the risk of sexual abuse more generally. A more robust system of monitoring was more likely to have reduced that risk by triggering interventions to protect children from sexual abuse, and other harm.

2.9.3 Did the SoN take sufficient care to protect its child migrants from sexual abuse?


8. We were told that the limited evidence about the SoN’s selection process suggests that once a child had been selected for migration by the Sister Superior of a Nazareth House, the decision had been taken that they were going to Australia. The child would be examined by a medical professional and by an immigration professional, both from the Department for Immigration, before they were allowed to set sail.[9] However, we understand that these were standard checks carried out for all children due to be migrated and do not reflect any process by the SoN itself. 

9. There is evidence of the SoN co-operating with “direct” recruitment visits by Australian representatives when the same had been disapproved of by the CCWC (although the SoN may not have known of this disapproval). There appears to have been a concern within the SoN to satisfy the number of children requested by Australia; and those children migrated by the SoN in 1947 did so without a maintenance agreement in place (although it was subsequently backdated).[10] The Inquiry has seen a 1952 letter from the SoN’s Superior General to Nazareth House, Hammersmith in which the former informed the latter that “[t]wenty girls are required at once for Nazareth House, Geraldton, WA, and I am consenting to the girls going".[11] We consider this to reflect the frequently impersonal tone of the selection process, in which the organisation’s interests appeared to take precedence over those of the children.

10. The Inquiry heard from experts that parental consent was obtained in a particularly low proportion of the children migrated by the SoN.[12] 

The SoN did not have a rigorous selection process for child migrants. The priority seems to have been to meet the ‘quotas’ requested by Australia, and not whether each individual child would benefit from migration. This suggests that organisational interests took precedence over the welfare of the individual children as far as selection was concerned and this informs our approach to the broader issue of sufficiency of care.

Inspections of institutions

11. The Inquiry heard evidence that the Mother Superior General from England, with one or more members of her Council, would conduct inspections of the Nazareth Houses in Australia once every three years. The Mother Superiors may have been contacted at other times; and there is some evidence relating to visits to the homes by the local child welfare departments. We heard evidence from Sister Anna Maria that reports from child welfare departments may have been sent back to the CCWC, but that there was no evidence to suggest that they had been sent to the SoN in the UK.[13]

12. However, Sister Anna accepted that the documents suggest that where inspections were known about in advance, the homes tended to organise themselves and adopt a more positive footing in preparedness for an inspection.[14] Similarly, Mr Cosgrove’s evidence suggested that inspection visits would be met with a great deal of pre-planning. He recalled that former child migrants had often alleged that inspectors were not permitted to interact with children to any great extent; that institutions would be cleaned and tidied ahead of any visit; and that children would be “spruced up” by, for example, being given shoes where they normally went about bare footed.[15] 

13. This process does evidence the SoN seeking to have some “on the ground” assessment of the Nazareth institutions in Australia. However, given the pre-planning referred to above, the reports of such inspections are only likely to have given a superficial assessment of the conditions of care of the children and given the climate within many of the homes, it is unlikely that children would feel able to speak freely if they were spoken to at all. There is also no evidence that such visits took place to the non-Nazareth institutions in Australia to which the SoN migrated children.


14. There are references in the documents to the Australian Nazareth Houses sending progress reports on children to the Mother Superior in Nazareth House, Hammersmith, London, but we have seen no clear evidence as to the frequency of these reports and no copies of any such reports remain in the SoN archive. This may be because the reports were sent to the CCWC, but its archive does not assist with any number of these reports.[16]

15. There is therefore no clear evidence of a reporting system such as those operated by some other institutions involved in child migration. Therefore the Inquiry is not able to assess whether the Nazareth House reports amounted to an effective mechanism for checking on the welfare of the children or not.

16. The situation was very different in relation to those children sent to institutions run by organisations other than the SoN in Australia, in relation to whom there was no follow up: “once the children were handed over to the care of the Christian Brothers, we wouldn’t have followed up on them; that the Christian Brothers would be responsible for their future and the care of them going forward.” This was the approach taken by the SoN because they “had no reason to mistrust the other orders”. Sister Anna Maria accepted that this approach was likely to have meant that the SoN had “no way of knowing how well the children were looked after”.[17]

The failure to have any reporting system in place at all for the non-SoN homes was irresponsible and in breach of Home Office expectations, and the expected practice of the day. Its reporting system from SoN homes was also not fully effective.

As with the League, we cannot accept that the failure to preserve migration records was an unwitting oversight. It indicates a failure to have the welfare and needs of the children as priorities. This gives us an additional insight into the care provided for the children at the time of the migration programmes.

In light of all the evidence referred to above, the SoN did not take sufficient care to protect its child migrants from the risk of sexual abuse. 

2.9.4 What has the SoN done in the post-migration period?

17. The SoN began to receive reports alleging sexual abuse from former child migrants in the early 2000s, and several more have come to their attention during their engagement with this Inquiry.[18]

18. In the mid-2000s, the SoN and the Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster) (CCSW) co-funded a scheme that offered counselling services to former child migrants over the course of three/four years, and some funding associated with this scheme remains available for the use of former child migrants.[19]

19. The SoN contributed financially to ‘Beyond Healing’, an Australian redress scheme set up to assist former child migrants in dealing with the trauma of the abuse they had suffered, and to help them to seek appropriate redress from the institutions involved. The scheme included mediations between former child migrants and institutions involved in their migration, which led to some financial settlements and/or the writing of letters of apology for former child migrants.[20]

20. Additionally, in January 2005, the SoN gave an apology to former child migrants, which was repeated during her testimony before us.[21]

The SoN took a more constructive approach to providing support and reparations to former child migrants alleging sexual abuse than other institutions, albeit that it has not paid compensation for sexual abuse on any proactive basis. 



  1. Doolan 13 July 2017 121/3-18; CHC000566_030; CHC000416_005.
  2. Doolan 13 July 2017 120/4.
  3. Doolan 13 July 2017 126/20-25; 118/25-119/5.
  4. Doolan 13 July 2017 124/1-4.
  5. Doolan 13 July 2017 127/10-13; 16-19.
  6. CM-A4 (1 March 2017 2-60); Oliver Cosgrove (1 March 2017 81-145); CM-A6 (1 March 2017 60-81); CM-A5 (3 March 2017 1-66); Francis Hanley (3 March 2017 66-82); Michael O’Donoghue (3 March 2017 83-168); CM-A13 (7 March 2017 48-64); and CM-A11 (8 March 2017 31-67).
  7. INQ001259.
  8. SNZ000013.
  9. Doolan 13 July 2017 128/7-11; 130/10-13.
  10. Doolan 13 July 2017 122/1-4; 124/25; 128/22-24; 152/10-21; Lynch 11 July 2017 86/16-25; 88/20-23; 95/13-21; 97/16- 18; EWM000402-010. See also on the “direct” recruitment visits Stock 18 July 2017 53; Lynch and Constantine 17 July 2017 162-163 and SoN Closing Statement, para.58.
  11. SNZ00013_001.
  12. Doolan 13 July 2017 131/11-23.
  13. Doolan 13 July 2017 132-133, 133/8-14, 134-135.
  14. Doolan 13 July 2017 149/6-8; SNZ000077_014.
  15. INQ000034_026-027.
  16. Doolan 13 July 2017 132/14-25; 135/11-15; 135/17-19; SNZ000041.
  17. Doolan 13 July 2017 136/8-137/12.
  18. Doolan 13 July 2017 138/17-24.
  19. Doolan 13 July 2017 144, line 24 to 145, line 7; see also SNZ000047.
  20. Doolan 13 July 2017 141/5-22; SNZ000067_010.
  21. Doolan 13 July 2017 14-24; 143/18-144/9; SNZ000077_023.
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