Ann Free Spirit's Story
Ann is the survivor of severe multiple kinds of child abuse she endured during her long stay in two New Zealand
orphanedges. The following is an excerpt from her website The
Awakening. You can visit her website for more on her story, and the fight for justice for all victims of abuse by
Catholic clergy. To return to the main page, click here.
The Good Shepherd and then the Nazareth House nuns took the place of my family. They told me my mother was dead. In the two
orphanages life needed to meet the nun's requirements. In part this meant that, because my mother was sinful, if I was not
beaten to change me, I would be too. So they said when they beat me.
As a child I was different from some of the other children who the nuns loved, praised and pampered. I understood myself as
stupid - someone who could not expect teaching in a classroom. This was a privilege for girls who were worthy of it.
I knew of other children like me also had to work and were hit like I was. But I was hit if I formed a friendship so I
understood that I could not share my feelings - that it was wicked to do so: I had only my own world to live in like a
cocoon. I knew of others outside it, but could not reach them as they could not reach me. At least, not in any comforting
I never knew the nuns thrashed and punished other girls like they thrashed me. I never knew why and you never talked about
it. Other girls got hit in line for Church or school the way I did - pulled out of line and slapped and hit for
It was like a bomb hit me when a women came up to me at St. Josephs reunion in 1997 and told me of the times when I was
punished. I had not thought about it - probably since it happened - because after every punishment you spent all your time
trying your hardest to be good for the nuns. Trying so hard to polish the floor or whatever; not to talk; not to wet my
bed - not to earn the punishment. But however hard you tried, the nuns found reasons why I needed to be punished and they
hit and boy they hurt.
I find it hard to think about it because to remember it to re-live the fear and confusion - the unhappiness of being a
child able only to hope that if! earned the nun's favour, I would become one of the children who the nuns cared about; who
had a life which was sure to end in Heaven. Instead of being the child the nuns' found me to be - who needed to be beaten
for her mother's sin and because, although there was little hope for it, that might help me to be worthy of love -
eventually God's love.
The nuns said that the punishment, especially if I inflict pain upon myself, brings you closer to God. So when they
punished me I used to think about Jesus on the cross. They used to read stories of the martyrs - they specially worshipped
St. Peter Chanel, who was stabbed to death in the Pacific Islands. We were told to be like him.
I have lived my whole life without much of God's love. The nuns taught me that I was not worthy of it. God's love was for
other better children. God did not want me or for me to have love. The nuns did not want me, or for me to have love or
happy thoughts, or family. God took my beautiful son from me in a car crash in 1993 to punish me for making contact with my
family - the nuns/God had decided I was not entitled to a family.
And if you ask me what, as a child, I thought that was for, I can only say, because I deserved only punishment. I do not
know what for - as a child I talked when I shouldn't have, but usually I did not know what I was punished for, except for
my own good; that I might change and become one of those who God loves and who are able to get to Heaven.
The beatings were not my fault. I was not a bad child, could not have been a child who deserved the punishment - as a child
I had not deserved those things. I believed the nuns were good; they were doing God's work. I am still not sure, although I
am angry about the beatings. I will explain how I still think I deserved it; because God punished me in 1993 by taking my
son. I do not know what I did wrong except that I must still be the bad person the nuns had to thrash.
I always knew it was a childhood filled with pain and confusion. I now realise the nuns who were good; were doing God's
work, were also cruel, were vicious women, monsters.
I never thought that the things that I was afraid of were caused by my childhood experiences.
What sticks in my mind about the nuns is how they always told us that we were no good, all I heard every day was. "You'll
never be any good, your mother never wanted you, you'll end up in the gutter like her, no one will ever want you.
It is so hard to forget that - it is there all the time. What the individual members of the two Orders did and what the
senior members of the Orders allowed, was a reign of terror and fear for the helpless children.
By that I mean that the children who had help - from a solo parent who couldn't care for them but who the nuns respected -
were not terrorised. The orphanage old girls who stick up for the Orders and its work are either ones who, although
mistreated, have remained in a relationship with the Church and the Orders, which suits them; or the ones who were well
treated as children because the nuns either liked them or recognised that there was someone else watching out for
The ones, like I was, who were totally at the mercy of the nuns, it now seems like we were treated without
There were some of us who were unlucky enough to be singled out as 'the chosen ones' of the priest, nuns; lay workers and
the older girls of the two orders, who picked us out to sexually abuse us. The sexual abuse has scarred me for life and no
amount of counselling can cure me of the pain I feel, within.
The injuries inflicted on me, were severe physical beatings; child labour; semi-starvation; cold and poor clothing;
overwork; lack of education; emotional abuse; physical abuse; spiritual abuse; sexual abuse; sadistic torture; pain;
suffering from carers and those trusted with our care, who we trusted - through no choice of our own, these sadistic people
who hid behind the image of being saintly people in the service of God.
Corporal punishment was common in both girls and boys Catholic orphanages, the nuns in particular had exercise power over
the girls for the rest of our lives.
The Catholic orphanages were at the bottom of the ladder, in the childcare system, catering for underprivileged and
illegitimate children and the nuns purposes was to keep us at the bottom of the ladder. The children from Catholic
orphanages were society's undesirable children, to be kept out of sight and in their place, with no rights like other
Because I was illegitimate I was deemed only for domestic service and labouring jobs. As it was, I did "men's work in a
little girls body" expected to work from 5:30am to late at night, seven days a week. From when we were five we had to work
on their farm, it was hard heavy work, especially for us little ones and what was worse, was the fear of not knowing when
you'd get a crack across your head, ears, face and legs or back, from the nun walking behind you.
Some of us girls had beautiful wavy hair, the nuns hated us and told us we were vain, I didn't know what vain meant. They
would try to straighten our hair by wetting it and then pulling on our hair, telling us that we were ugly, I believed them
and hated myself so much that all my life I would not look at a mirror and I don't have one in our bathroom. I know now
that I was not ugly as a child but I wish I'd known then. It might have given me a bit of self-esteem.
I never really forgot the brutality, I can put it to the back of my mind, but it comes back at me, especially the
nightmares and head pain. Boy! are they bad, that I want to bang my head against the wall. They won't go away. I've heard
people say, "that was just the way things were in those days" and I get very angry, Those nuns had very bad tempers and
they never had to control their tempers. I don't know how they could live with their consciences, with what they did to us
and all of the abuse that they did.
What still makes me upset more than anything else, is that they got away with it. I did nothing at all, All I wanted was
some one to be kind to me. The part that gets me is why were they beating us like this, because I was certainly not the
only one that got whipped. You know I still wake up at night thinking about it, trying to work out why. . . ?
The brutal beatings consisted of numerous punches with her clenched fist to my face, she broke my nose five times and burst
my ear drums. I never did see a Doctor about my nose or my ears, the nuns just seemed to not care about how I felt, when I
was in pain because it was them who had cause it.
I would fall to pieces at the very sight of the nuns as they would pick on the girls who did not have parents and we who
were illegitimate, we got the worst of the beatings, then I would get it again because I wet my bed, I wet my bed until I
was ten and then off and on until I was nineteen years old, I was beaten into pulp for it.
It was the beating and the fear of the nuns is why I wet my bed. I was treated like I was unwanted, something to be hidden
away and to be ashamed of. I was so scared.
They would say you were telling lies, but you weren't, you couldn't say that, if the nuns said you were a liar, then you
were a liar. The nuns use to make me open my mouth and put a cake of soap on my tongue, they then pushed my month shut and
I had to keep it shut on the soap, my mouth would be foaming, as well as me being so sick and kept vomiting, they did not
care what state I was in. It was worse than the concentration camp for children.
Some of the girls committed suicide, some are in mental hospital, some are homeless living on the streets; some are
alcoholics and some are in and out of prison. The most difficult thing in life is when you are put down so much as a child,
you don't have any confidence, it really does hold you back.
I was terribly nervous, I felt that I was nuisance to everyone around me, I still am doubting myself, I don't have any
confidence. I think it is a kind of a fear, the same kind of fear I had as a child growing up, all those years ago.
For more of Ann's story, visit The Awakening.
As Waters Passing By > Survivor Stories > Ann Free Spirit