Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Linton Hall's Precursor, St. Joseph Institute, in 1922 Had Flies, Bedbugs, Lice, a Typhoid Fever Outbreak ... Plus a Fake Priest Having "Relations" With a Sixteen-Year-Old Girl

A scathing report by Joseph Tobin, O.S.B. written on August 4, 1922, described extremely filthy conditions at Saint Joseph Institute, the boys' boarding school run by Benedictine priests and brothers in Bristow, Virginia.

Frater Tobin, an undercover investigator sent by Abbot Leo Haid, O.S.B., of Belmont Abbey, N.C., described a deplorable lack of hygiene, with bedbugs, lice, and a refectory "infested with flies." His report also stated that a water inspector had forbidden use of well water for drinking,, and that the outhouse had not been cleaned in two years. A doctor and nurse inspected the premises and threatened to condemn the whole institute. (Note 1)

The lack of hygiene had resulted in an outbreak of typhoid fever, with five boys who had stayed over the summer ending up bedridden, and at least two of them, the Barnes brothers, critically ill. Their mother was not informed of her sons' illness for eight days, and when she arrived she found her sons with

"temperature[s] running at that time 105 [degrees] ... just covered with flies, lice and bedbugs ..."

Mrs. Barnes had her sons transferred to a Washington, D.C. hospital. It is not known whether they recovered. (Note 2)

Frater Tobin's report also confirmed concerns raised by both Mr. Barnes an by Mrs. Keane, a nurse hired to take care of the ill boys, that Denis Smith, who passed himself off as a priest, but who was not, had been taking "liberties" with the 16-year-old daughter of a woman working as a cook at the Institute. (Note 3)

The following month, Father Ignatius Remke, O.S.B., arrived at Bristow and confirmed that the reports "about the dirt, filth, etc. of this place" were "all true," and that although there were two wells, the water was unaccptable for human consumption. (Note 4)

A year later, Father Remke discovered that a broken sewer line had been discharging human waste under the priory for up to three years. (Note 5)

In order to restore hygiene and improve living conditions, enrollment at St. Joseph, which had previously been 77 boarding students and 11 day students, was drastically reduced to between 25 and 30. (Note 6) At that point, Saint Joseph Institute was "allowed to die of attrition." The Benedictine sisters, who had been running two schools for girls in Bristow, Saint Edith Academy and Saint Anne, closed these two girls' schools, continued their activities teaching girls in Richmond, and opened Linton Hall Military School for boys in Bristow, Virginia. In 1927 the 1,736 acres of land donated by the Lintons were given to the Benedictine sisters.

1. Baumstein, Dom Paschal, O.S.B., My Lord of Belmont: An Autobiography of Leo Haid. Belmont, N.C., Herald House, 1985, pages 166-167.
An extensively documented book. Although the book deals primarily with the Benedictine's activities at Belmont Abbey, N.C., there is a chapter which covers the Linton land bequest, and the Benedictines' activities in Bristow until the founding of Linton Hall Military School.
2. Baumstein, op.cit., pp.164-165, quoting a letter from Mrs. A.J. Barnes to Abbot Haid, dated August 3, 1922.
3. Baumstein, p. 166.
4. Baumstein, p. 172, quoting a letter from Fr. Remke to Abbot Haid, dated September 11, 1922.
5. Baumstein, p. 172, quoting a letter from Fr. Remke to Abbot Haid, dated Sptember 26, 1923.
6. Baumstein, p. 172, quoting a letter from Fr. Remke to Abbot Haid, dated January 22, 1924.

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