Wednesday 20 February 2019

Nuns 'told girl that her parents had died', woman tells abuse inquiry

Yvonne Radzevicius
Photo: Tuart Place
Yvonne Radzevicius Photo: Tuart Place

Conor Riordan

A child migrant has told how she was shipped off to Australia and told she had no family - despite her parents and five siblings being alive.

Yvonne Radzevicius was moved to the country from care at Nazereth House in Cardonald, Glasgow, in 1953, where she had been from nine months old until 10 years old.

The 76-year-old told the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry via video link she suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse during her time at the Sisters of Nazereth establishment in Geraldton, Western Australia, during her seven years there.

She said it was the lies about not having any relatives that had the biggest impact on her life.

Mrs Radzevicius, who waived her right to anonymity, claimed one nun told her she had been left at the Glasgow home's gates in a wet nappy.

The mother-of-two added: "Because of my childhood, nobody taught you how to love and that was brought out in my upbringing of my two daughters.

"It was discipline, discipline, discipline - like I got at that convent. To this day I can't hug my daughters, they don't want it.

"I love my daughters, but I was never able to show them. To me, that's worse than any other form of abuse.

"The other side of it is, where do I belong? I don't know to this day where I belong, apart from a group of child migrants."

Mrs Radzevicius had travelled to London by train from Glasgow and then on to Southampton for her emigration but has no memory of receiving any vaccinations.

All she had with her was a suitcase containing two dresses, singlets and underwear.

It was because of a label on those belongings that she learned her first name was Yvonne, having been brought up in the convent as Mhairi.

Then then 10-year-old said it was the first time she had ever seen a ship - The New Australia.

She told how the youngsters - around 40 in total - were not allowed to mix with other members of the public on the vessel and her supposed chaperone for the journey was never to be seen.

Mrs Radzevicius added: "When I got to Australia they took everything off me."

The inquiry heard she arrived at Freemantle in Perth, Western Australia, in February 1953, after more than four weeks at sea, before moving on to the care institute.

Mrs Radzevicius said there were around 70 children living in the home, with two nuns looking after them - one of described as a "tyrant".

Baths were once a week and the youngsters would share the water and towels.

It was heard her experience of being in care was of being a loner as she was educated at a different school to the other children because she was bright.

But the pupils at that college bullied her for supposedly being illegitimate.

She left school aged 14 - having been advanced two years and passing her leaving certificate - and was then made to work in the kitchen at the convent for three years.

Her daily routine began at 5.30am and consisted of work and prayer until "lights out" at 8.30pm.

It was during this period she said began to be sexually abused by two men who worked at the home.

Mrs Radzevicius said: "I had no schoolmates and I had no mates at Nazareth House.

"You never had a chum you could tell your secrets to or share."

She left the home - "the end of an era, never to be welcomed back" - to pursue a career in nursing, which she did for around 20 years.

In 1975, she got a message from her godmother telling her that both of her parents were still alive and she had five siblings. She still has the letter.

Mrs Radzevicius said: "If they had given the information they had when you left school, you had time to bond with your siblings, to find your mother.

"For years, when you believed she was dead. That's the emotional abuse the nuns put me through."

She travelled to Nottingham in 1979 to meet her sister.

The witness said she only met her mother - an alcoholic who had spent time living on London's underground - once before she died.

It was heard her other sister - who lives in the US - does not want to have any connection with Mrs Radzevicius.

She blames the Catholic organisation for not having any close relationships with her siblings.

The inquiry, before judge Lady Smith, continues on Monday.

Press Association

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