*****Please Note: Text and images Copyright to Anne Frandi-Coory – All Rights Reserved 4 January 2019.
Anne Frandi-Coory is interviewed by Chris Morris of the Otago Daily Times in November 2018 for the series ‘MARKED BY THE CROSS’ a research project. Part One.
Chris Morris here – I’m a reporter with the Otago Daily Times in Dunedin.
I’m doing some research and interviews on Catholic orphanages in Dunedin, as part of an ongoing series, “Marked by the Cross”, which explores the extent of historic abuse within the Dunedin diocese.
I’m interviewing a man shortly who spent time at the Doon St home, but have also just come across a mention of your book online and I wondered if you’d be willing to be interviewed about your experience and those of your brothers?
Look forward to hearing from you.
Kevin Joseph Coory
Anne Marie Coory
Anthony Mervyn Coory
Joseph Jacob Coory and Doreen Marie Frandi were married on 7 November 1945.
The couple divorced on 1st July 1955.
Q1. What was the full name of the orphanage you were placed in, and where was it? Has it subsequently closed/had a name change/been redeveloped or demolished?
A. The original Mercy Orphanage for the Poor including a wooden school building, was situated in Macandrew Road, South Dunedin, beside St Patrick’s Basilica. The orphanage was officially opened in 1898 and in later years was named St Vincent de Paul Orphanage for Orphan and Destitute Children. Later, an additional wing for school girls, St Vincent’s, and a nursery for children under five years, St Agnes’, was added to the complex. These buildings were all demolished by the mid to late 1990s.
Q2. What year were you and your brother placed there, and for how long?
Q3. How old were you and your brother at the time?
A. I returned to the Mercy Orphanage complex in January 1992 with my partner and 21-year-old daughter as part of my quest to understand why my parents Doreen Frandi and Joseph Coory abandoned me there when I was an infant.
When I entered the then derelict site in Macandrew Road, I met Sister Joanna (b. Maurya Laverty) who was walking around the derelict buildings, praying. After asking for my name, which she immediately recognised, she spent some time talking with me, and answering my questions, as we continued to stroll around the pitted concrete paths. Sister Joanna knew of our family’s tragic story intimately. She told me that the nuns were very poor record keepers, but she did later find and send me a document which stated that my brother Kevin and I were first placed in the orphanage on 17th February 1949, and that ‘Kevin was taken by mother on 2 March 1949’. My brother Anthony first appears in the orphanage records on 13 May 1950. He was born in Wellington, where my mother had earlier traveled to live with her parents while awaiting his birth. At first I was hesitant in approaching this nun, but she looked so different to the nuns I was so afraid of during my childhood. Sister Joanna was dressed in a modernised version of a nun’s habit; knee-length black dress, with a veil that revealed her hair.
I believe I lived in the Mercy orphanage for approximately seven years; up until I was five years old in St Agnes’ Nursery, and after that in the St Vincent’s wing for school girls. I was taken to my first day at school by a ‘lady called Anita’, and I asked Sister Joanna if she knew of this person. She told me that Anita, whom she had fond memories of, was a senior girl at the adjacent Catholic Secondary School.
Anthony lived in St Agnes Nursery until he was five-years-old in 1954 when he was then transferred to St Joseph Boys’ Home and farm in Doon Street, Waverley. This was a very distressing time for both of us.
I recall that I didn’t know I had a baby brother until I was first introduced to Anthony at St Agnes’ Nursery as, ‘this is your new baby brother, Anthony’ and I can still picture his little head as he slept soundly in a portable cane bassinet which a nun placed beside me on the floor where I was sitting with other children.
I have a vivid memory of climbing on to the back of a truck to visit Anthony at the Boys’ Home and becoming very distressed when I saw where he was sleeping. I noted that the window above his bed was so high that I worried he wouldn’t be able to see out. Sometime in 1955 Anthony was sent to St Bernadette’s school in Forbury for ‘backward’ children. We saw each other very seldom after that. I had to ask Sister Joanna if my memory was correct about climbing onto the back of a truck with other children to visit Anthony at St Joseph’s Boys’ Home. She confirmed that there was a farm truck that took the children up to visit the Doon Street Boys’ Home, and to collect and distribute produce from the farm.
When Kevin and I met up as teenagers, he recalled the time that Doreen, our mother, took him to see Anthony at St Joseph’s Boys’ Home in Doon Street in 1954-55, where he had recently been transferred from St Agnes’ Nursery in Macandrew Road. They found him playing in a sandpit with other boys, after the nun pointed him out to a disbelieving Doreen…she hadn’t recognised her son; he appeared too small for his age, with untidy blonde hair and dressed in clothes that were far too big for him, wearing shoes that were obviously meant for much bigger feet than his. When Doreen spoke to him by name and tried to elicit a response from him, he could only grunt. Kevin told me that mum was agitated and absolutely devastated.
Q 4. Why were you placed there? What were the family circumstances which contributed to this?
A. Something momentous obviously happened on or just prior to 17th February 1949. Neither the Lebanese Coory extended family nor our parents have ever told us the reason for our subsequent abandonment at various Catholic orphanages and Homes in Dunedin.
Over the years, Kevin and I have had discussions about his recollections of what was happening around the time of our parents’ marriage break up in 1949. There are two possible explanations:
Kevin recalls that when he was approximately three and a half years old, Doreen accused Joseph of sexually abusing Kevin because he was badly bruised around his genital area. When Doreen first discovered the bruising, she became hysterical and called the police. Kevin told me that he looked across at Joseph while the police were there at the Coory family home, and that he looked very frightened. Several family members were in the room at the time. No charges were ever laid by the police, which I checked out at the courthouse in Dunedin in 1992. Kevin is unsure whether or not Joseph actually sexually abused him or whether he was a bit too rough with him while playing “this little piggy”. Personally, I suspect that Kevin, who loved his father, was trying to protect Joseph when he used this as a possible explanation for the bruising when we talked about it in later years as adults. But he also told me that he felt very intimidated by the police and the several Coory family members who stood over him while being questioned by police.
The other cause for the break up may have been that Doreen was caught having an affair with Joseph’s younger brother, Francis Coory, who was born in 1920, the same year as Doreen. Joseph was born in 1902 and was a simple, uneducated man, who wasn’t expected to live as a newborn, and therefore his birth was never registered, so he used another Lebanese man’s birth certificate. Joseph and Doreen were a mismatch, to put it mildly, but Joseph married her after she had followed his younger brother Phillip Coory to Dunedin not long after WW2 ended, because she was expecting his baby (Kevin). She had no idea that he was already married with a son, although separated from his wife. We have no proof of an affair between Francis and Doreen, but Kevin and I do believe that Francis Coory is Anthony’s biological father. Without a DNA test, we will probably never know the truth.
During research for my book ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar? – A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations of Defeated Mothers’ a woman of my father’s generation who I had interviewed, and who lived in the Dunedin Lebanese community, told me that Francis Coory was well known as ‘the ram’ because of his sexual exploits within the community.
Added to our suspicion that Francis was Anthony’s biological father, both Kevin and I remembered that Joseph and Francis barely spoke to each other over the years, and that there was always a tension between them. Up until February 1949, Doreen and Joseph had been living at the Coory family home at 67 Carroll Street in Dunedin for a few months; it was a three-storey house where several generations of the [immigrant Lebanese] family lived, including Phillip and Francis, and which was a hostile environment for Doreen, and her children, there can be no doubt about that. Joseph and Doreen had tried to live on their own in other accommodation in Christchurch and Dunedin for a short time, but I believe that Joseph was too immature to live his own life and to support a family, and subsequently he lived most of his life at 67 Carroll Street, where he was born.
Whenever Joseph took me to Carroll Street, the family constantly referred to my mother as a ‘sharmuta’- Aramaic for prostitute. The family made it clear to Anthony and I that we were not welcome and that they didn’t want to care for us. They never visited us in the orphanages and later refused to allow Kevin to return to Carroll Street because he had chosen to live with his mother following her eviction from the Coory household.
Kevin remembers that when Doreen arrived back in Dunedin, after living with her parents in Wellington for a few months, before and after the birth of Anthony, they were in a taxi which had driven them from the airport to 67 Carroll Street. Doreen told Kevin to go down and ask Joseph to come and see his new son Anthony, but Joseph refused to do so. After that, Doreen tried to make a life with her three children on a meagre payment from Joseph, ordered by the court, but it didn’t work out and we children were once again returned to the various orphanages.
Q5. Did you know why you were placed there at the time, or (like others I’ve spoken to) were you simply dumped there and left wondering what was going on, etc?
For a young boy, Kevin knew too much, more than any little boy should know. But Anthony and I had no idea at first why our father’s immigrant Lebanese family were so cruel to us, why they beat us, and why they didn’t want us to live with them. Not until many years later. Family members never, ever visited us in the orphanage. Joseph occasionally visited me in the orphanage and boarding college, and often took me to 67 Carroll Street, far more often than he did Anthony, so that as I grew older, I realised how much they hated my Italian mother. And I gradually realised that I was paying for my mother’s ‘terrible sins’ as I was led to believe that daughters should do. Certainly, in future years, Kevin and Anthony had more contact with the Coory extended family, but then they were males. As the girl child, I wasn’t as valued by my father’s family [they tried to deprive me of half of my father’s house which he left me in his Will [which I engaged lawyers to fight, and won] … and as I grew into a woman, Joseph made my life hell, because there was no doubt in his mind that I was turning into a ‘sharmuta’ just like Doreen. But by the time I was in my teens, Joseph was showing signs of the dementia which would eventually see him committed by his sister to Cherry Farm Psychiatric hospital where he later died on 16th December 1974.
Q6. What sort of abuse did you suffer while there? Was it from the nuns, and can you give any specific examples. And how often would this happen?
Those of us who were incarcerated in the Mercy orphanage for all of our formative years i.e. until 7-8 years of age, were denied social integration, education free from religious bias, toys, play time and books [other than bible stories and scripture]. We were virtual slaves. Most of our days were spent kneeling in church praying, forced to listen to endless sermons, about heaven and the tortures of hell if we dared to sin. God always knew what we were doing, and so did the devil, we were constantly warned; he was intent on taking us away from holiness. In between times we cleaned and polished wooden floors, cleaned bathrooms and kitchens and bedrooms, operated the laundry, changed bed linen and made beds, assisted the nuns in the nursery with babies and toddlers, when we were barely out of babyhood ourselves. We also had cooking duties in the huge kitchens.
We suffered from gross neglect, lack of hygiene, and emotional abuse. We were never taught to clean our teeth, wash our hands, and very seldom had a bath, while hiding our naked bodies from other girls. Girls like me who were totally institutionalised, didn’t really ‘know’ we had a body below our necks… we never saw a naked adult female, the nuns’ bodies completely hidden apart from their faces. I didn’t have a close emotional relationship with another female until my daughter was born in 1971, and this had severe consequences for me as I approached puberty.
When I was approximately four years old, I contracted a severe case of ringworm. My hair was completely shaved, and I had a purple unction smeared all over my head. The other children shunned me. Others told me in later years, including my brother Kevin, that I always stank, and was always disheveled, wearing clothes that didn’t fit me properly and which were obviously hand-me-downs.
There was one particular nun I remember vividly; Sister Mary Alacoque who singled me out for her petty hatreds. e.g. We used to line up for fruit and one day I picked an orange which I had noticed was black in the middle when I began to peel it. It took all of the little courage I had to go back and show it to her. ”Sister Alacoque, my orange is rotten in the middle” …her reply was “well, that’s your bad luck, isn’t it?” I was very upset at this, and other petty nastiness dished out by nuns. If we were sick, no-one even noticed, so we knew not to complain, as the answers were always, “well. you know how Jesus suffered because of our sins…it is good for our souls if we suffer, it’s god’s will.” I also suffered from bouts of childhood asthma.
I was born with a severe astigmatism in my left eye, which shows up in some photographs of me, as a severe squint in sunlight. It could have been corrected, according to an eye specialist I consulted when I was an adult, had it been diagnosed early in my childhood. It wasn’t picked up until I was eleven years old while I was a boarder at St Dominic’s College and had attended a government paid initiative; all adolescents attending Dunedin schools were to be given thorough medical examinations by appointed doctors.
One day I went to use the toilet in the orphanage, and a woman? was in there standing with her pants down, and holding her dress up. When she saw me, she did an indecent act upon herself. I am not sure how old I was at the time, but I was fairly small, as the woman or senior pupil? loomed very large above me. She made some comments to me, but I can’t recall what she said, and I clearly remember standing there, rooted to the spot, frightened and not knowing what to do. I don’t remember anything else about the incident, or how long I stood there but it made me scared of going to the toilet for years after that.
Between the ages of eight and nine, after a few months staying with my father at his extended family home in Carroll Street, I was sent to board at St Dominic’s College in Rattray Street. I believe that my father did not want me to go out to St Joseph’s Home in Doon Street; Sister Joanna had informed me when I met her in the Mercy Orphanage grounds in 1992, that it was around this time, both girls and boys were then being sent out to St Joseph’s Home in Doon Street, as the numbers of “orphan and destitute” children were dropping, and the orphanage complex in Macandrew Road was about to be closed down.
While I as a boarder at St Dominic’s College, life was a constant stream of early morning mass, before school, weekends, and evening prayers. We had daily classes of Catechism, where teaching focused on bible study, history lessons from the perspective of the Catholic Church, sin and redemption, the tortures of hell if we dared to commit sins. e.g. We were instructed that we must love god more than anyone else, even more than our own father, because god was our true father in heaven. But I felt that I couldn’t love god more than my father, who was the only person who ever visited me and who I loved dearly. A psychologist I consulted when I was an adult, explained to me that this edict would have caused me much emotional distress as Joseph was my sole emotional lifeline throughout all of my childhood traumas. His visits, although infrequent, obviously meant so much to me. The psychologist, John Craighead, told me that “…your father was your saviour, not Jesus!” He went on to explain that he believed Catholicism and its teachings did me far more psychological and emotional damage than did my Lebanese extended family. We discussed this further at length.
Our attendance at mass in the adjacent St Joseph’s Cathedral every morning before school was mandatory for girls from form one upwards. We had to fast at least eight hours before taking the host, so no breakfast until after mass. Almost every morning in the church pews, or walking down the aisle to receive communion, one or more girls would faint, or suddenly start crashing into the rows of pews, faint from hunger.
I often received the strap, which was a huge 5mm thick strip of pale creamy leather, with a hole at one end, which left my hands numb for hours. The instruction to “hold out your hand” immediately conjured up a fight within me to either run away or to accept the physical pain to come. However, I was never brave enough to run. I was strapped by sister Gertrude often, and Mother Patricia pulled me around by my hair. Misdemeanours that deserved the strap on my part, were talking in the hallway while waiting for a class, or not picking up the rubbish in the school grounds satisfactorily.
I recall that I had begun to bite my nails, and the doctor suggested to my father that I use nail polish so that my nails would look so pretty I wouldn’t want to bite them, and it actually worked. Unfortunately, I wore nail polish to school, forgetting to remove it, and when I told the nun what the doctor had advised, I got the strap for ‘telling lies’. I was locked in a cleaning cupboard for hours, but I cannot remember the ‘crime’ just the punishment. I was bullied and ridiculed at St Dominic’s; “you haven’t got a mother” was a common playground taunt, and I suspect because I was ‘unclean’ and could barely speak, or walk properly. This I know, because people who knew me through my childhood and adolescence, marveled at my improved speech and vocabulary whenever we met up years later. They all recalled that I was labelled “backward” by the nuns and by the Lebanese community at large. My father had paid for me to have elocution lessons at St Dominic’s College to help improve my speech and vocabulary.
When I was nine years old, I was sitting in sewing class at St Dominic’s with other girls. I was burning hot with a fever and I had a very sore throat. My eyes became blurry, so that I could barely see the embroidery I was working on let alone the stitching. The nun in charge came up to me and said “Anne Coory, are you alright?” When I raised my head to look up at her, she must have realised how sick I was and told me to go up to the infirmary and see Sister Theresa, who instructed me to get into one of the beds while she called the doctor. I was diagnosed with scarlet fever and rushed to Wakari Hospital by ambulance and admitted into the isolation ward. There was no-one with me in the ambulance and I was terrified mainly because I had no idea what was going on.
I was so shy, and withdrawn, that when nurses came in and asked if I wanted to go to the toilet, I always said no…the last thing I wanted to do was go to a strange toilet. A nurse later brought in a bed pan and instructed me to sit on it, but although I sat there for quite some time, I didn’t pass any urine. A male doctor came it to check on me while I was sitting on the bed pan, and I was so shamed and humiliated, I could feel myself blushing. He asked me if I was okay, but I was too scared to answer him. Subsequently a couple of nurses came in, pulled off my covers, my panties and inserted a catheter into my bladder to drain urine; I was absolutely terrified. Nothing was explained to me, not even what the chest x-rays were for that I had to have. My Catholic indoctrination and total institutionalisation were such, that I still vividly remember the terror of that time in hospital and which caused many of my childhood nightmares.
My father was the only person who visited me in hospital…I heard him before I saw him; he was wailing “Where’s my Anna? Where’s my Anna?” At the infirmary, Sister Theresa had given me a phial of holy water to put under my pillow so the angels and god would watch over me…and so when Joseph threw himself on my bed sobbing, I retrieved the holy water from under my pillow and explained to him that I was putting the holy water over the red rash to make it better and that I was going to be fine. He calmed down after that. I had no idea about the real world outside, until I became a mother, and I have the Catholic Church to thank for that ignorance.
When I was about to leave St Dominic’s College at 16½ years, Sister Gertrude gave me a gift of a set of pale blue glass rosary beads, but I had a suspicion at the time that it was guilt on her part for the way she had mistreated me. I have to say those rosary beads didn’t make my life any easier.
Interview continued in Part Two – View here: frandi.wordpress.com/2019/01/04/anne-frandi-coory-is-interviewed-by-chris-morris-otago-daily-times-part-two/