Community of Jesus parents abandoned their teen daughter at now-shuttered school
Ordered by a Massachusetts child probation officer to let their daughter see a therapist and to take therapy with her, her parents instead fled the probation officer’s jurisdiction and drove Ms. Buddington across the Canadian border to the elite Anglican private school, left her there and didn’t see her again for a long time.
Ms. Buddington’s account of the next four years of her life at the school – including a story of having her face pushed against a window into the school boiler and being told that the flames she saw inside were the flames of hell she was destined for – echoes the stories told by many former students who have been posting on a website organized by Ms. Buddington and have been interviewed by The Globe and Mail.
Amid widespread allegations that Grenville was run for more than 25 years by a cult, the school abruptly announced at the end of July that it was closing its doors, citing falling enrolment and rising operating costs.
The school’s current and former headmasters, Rev. Gordon Mintz and Rev. Charles Farnsworth, both Anglican priests, have denied in interviews that any student was mistreated. But a former senior administrator at the school, Joan Childs, has publicly apologized for the “hurt and pain that so many experienced” and has spoken of psychological and physical abuse of students.
Ms. Buddington’s account of abuse began on the trip to Canada from the self-styled Anglican Community of Jesus, which her hippie parents had joined when they were barely out of their teens (her mother is still a community nun; her father was later kicked out).
She tried jumping out of the car, but was restrained.
Within 48 hours of her arrival at Grenville, Ms. Buddington, now 33 and living in Portland, Me., was pulled from her bed by three staff women in the middle of the night, dragged into a room and berated for several hours for allegedly criticizing the leaders of the Community of Jesus, which had close ties with Grenville. (The cult leaders, known as Mother Cay and Mother Judy, were at the time living on the Grenville campus.) She was then placed on “discipline,” not allowed to talk or attend classes or wear the school uniform and spent her days scrubbing pots, floors and toilets and asking God to change her heart. The several-week sentence, she said, ended only after she wrote a series of letters to the headmaster saying her heart had indeed been changed.
That event, Ms. Buddington said in an interview, was the beginning of four nightmarish years at Grenville, where she experienced constant psychological abuse, isolation, punishment and humiliation at the hands of school staff before eventually running away.
“I was treated as less than human,” she said. She said she lived in constant fear of punishment and was depressed and frequently suicidal. Repeated requests to get psychological help were denied by school authorities.
The school appeared to have a double image.
The face it showed to boarding students from wealthy Ontario and overseas families was of a strict, religious but otherwise unremarkable private school with a solid academic reputation.
The face it showed to the children of staff members and the Community of Jesus, and the boys and girls sent to Grenville by their frustrated parents to have their behavioural problems “fixed,” was of a psychologically bizarre and destructive Christian community.
From a number of accounts, former students tried for years to bring public attention to what went on.
In 1989, for example, they attempted to get the Brockville newspaper, The Recorder and Times, to publish an account.
The paper devoted considerable resources to investigating the school. But in the end it abandoned the project after sources who had agreed to be identified suddenly refused to let their names be used and a high-powered law firm in Toronto threatened the paper with legal action from school authorities.
Ms. Buddington was literally born into the Community of Jesus.
At the age of two months, she was removed from her parents by community leaders who deemed her mother unfit. She was then passed around various community caretakers and returned to her parents at age four.
She described her parents as “in-between people” in her life and completely controlled by the cult leaders. She said day-to-day life in the cult consisted of ritualistic group humiliation and church attendance.
She was so depressed by the time she entered middle school that she was visiting the school nurse daily and begging police to put her into foster care.
Her parents fled with her to Grenville after Massachusetts child-care authorities began to show interest in her.
“I do know that living there [at Grenville] was just as bad if not worse than living at the community. For me it was the same cultural experience, and they [the school authorities] didn’t have parents to answer to with me. They had free rein to do with me what they wanted.”
She said that when her father was kicked out of the community “they had my mum come up to the school, and they sat me in a room and they told me that my mother represented God and my father represented the devil, and I needed to choose between my parents and therefore whether I was going to follow God or the devil. And they sat me there for hours because I refused to make that choice. Because I was old enough to know that was an insane thing to ask of a child.”
She was compelled many times, she said, to take part in sessions where staff members surrounded her in a dark room and demanded that she confess her sins. She had to attend meals with other staff and community children where they were ordered to attack each other for alleged sins.
She was taken to the school boiler room and shown the flames of hell.
As she neared graduation – with grades in the 80s, she said – she asked the school guidance counsellor for help in applying to college and university and was laughed at and told she wouldn’t be allowed to apply.
She put a change of clothing into a backpack and ran away two weeks after graduation. She eventually made her way back to the United States and had several troubled years, including some time spent living on the street. However, starting in 2005, she said, she pulled herself together and is now about to graduate from school to become a massage therapist.
“My story is just one of many,” she told The Globe. “It’s time that people stopped getting hurt.”
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