Labor Day Blues: Moving On

By Sarah E. Murphy

I recently stumbled on the following essay I wrote a few weeks into my first semester at Bridgewater State College (now University), in the Fall of 1990, for one of Professor Maureen Connolly’s writing classes. I don’t remember the exact assignment, but it details the day my parents drove me to BSC. My dad was soon leaving to teach for the semester at Dublin City University on a Jasper Whiting Scholarship, and I was full of mixed emotions. Although I got an A-/B+, I see some grammar issues and other things I should have changed, but I left it untouched, in the voice of my 18-year-old self, for it brings me right back to that day. There are also unanswered questions – like how did I shower on my first day of class? And how did my poor dad find the time to come back the next day? 

When I think of the thousands of selfless things my parents did for me over the years, this was just another day in the life. Long before cell phones, or even luggage on wheels. Crossing the Bourne Bridge on Labor Day.

September is bittersweet. 

I woke up on Monday, September 3, after a restless night, knowing something about the day was different. My eyes focused on my barren walls, once covered with posters that were now neatly rolled, tied, and packed away. Then it dawned on me – it was my first day of college. 

I showered thinking, “This is the last time I’ll be showering in a ‘normal’ bathroom.” While I was working up a good lather on the top of my head, I contemplated the many bags and suitcases waiting in my room. Packing had always been something I just couldn’t grasp. I remember a trip to Canada years ago when I had packed about 18 pairs of shorts and not a single pair of pants. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the coldest summer Prince Edward Island had seen in years. My family drove for miles in our Brady Bunch station wagon, searching for a children’s clothing store. Thankfully, we finally found a thrift shop. 

Packing for college was no different. For some reason, I felt insecure about leaving my winter sweaters in my back closet unguarded, so I had packed bags upon bags of wool and cashmere. Dad’s face became more contorted with each bag I lugged out to him. Somehow he managed to pile it all in the trunk. Mom had been warning me about “overpacking,” referring to “Nina bringing winter boots to Chestnut Hill in September.”

However, I thought I had everything under control. So I said my goodbyes to my brothers and sisters, posed for a few forced smile snapshots, and with Oscar-worthy melodrama, embraced my beloved Great Dane, Sinead. Even though Bridgewater was under an hour away, I felt as if I were seeing them all for the last time. 

After what seemed like ten minutes on the highway, we pulled into the parking lot of Shea-Durgin aka “The Hill,” which was to be my home for the next eight months. My parents and I unloaded the car and carried everything up to Room 213 Shea. My roommate, her parents, and brother, and boyfriend were just about finished getting her settled, and after introductions, they went off to get lunch.

The three of us proceeded to unpack my things and make up my bed. The first hurdle I had to overcome was when my mom held up one of the packages I had searched high and low for (extra-long twin is rather hard to find in Falmouth), informing me I had purchased two fitted sheets. She assured me it was a simple mistake, but I chided myself for making such a faux pas after two years as a chambermaid. 

While I was busy arranging my jewelry on the dresser, I heard my mother exclaiming – half to herself, half to me – “Goodness, when do you find the time to listen to all of these tapes?!” Annoyed, I just shuffled earrings louder.

My dad then asked where my towels were so he could put them on the high shelf in my closet. Thus began the fruitless search. Ten minutes of, “I could have sworn,” and rifling through plastic bags. My parents found the whole situation quite humorous, saying I could use one of my wool sweaters as a towel. I, on the other hand, found nothing funny about it. I became more enraged as I noticed my roommate’s four fresh, clean towels stacked perfectly on her shelf. I fumed silently, trying to concentrate on happy things: Christmas vacation, spring break, summer!

After a lot of slamming of books and pouting, I decided to grow up, and realize things could be much worse. My parents once again reminded me I was 45-minutes away, and my dad could come back the next day with the forgotten items, like a wastebasket and more hangers. So after I closed the door behind my parents, and perhaps my childhood, I looked around my new room and decided where to hang my posters.

Pieces of the Casino

Poetry and photos by Sarah E. Murphy

I used to drive by religiously

to make sure it was still there. 

Every time I rounded the Heights Hill

I held my breath

wondering what would greet me at the top

knowing any day it could all change.

And each time I saw the vista of my youth

familiar relief washed over me

like the feeling of the surrounding waves

or the season’s first swim.

Everything was as it should be

when I spotted the barn-like structure

and the seaside deck overlooking Vineyard Sound.

The green and white awning

and the weathered boardwalk we strolled 

with our Great Danes

Ophelia, Sinead, and finally Max.

“Shall we go around the Hill?” Mom would ask

on the way home from St. Patrick’s on Sundays.

A suggestion more than a question 

for the answer was always yes.

Dad would bear right at the island 

past Holiday Cycles and the Chapel

heading left at the Yacht Club. 

But on Thanksgiving

I walked into the kitchen to hear Mom on the phone

updating my uncle on local news.

“Well, the Casino’s gone,” she said. 

“It took a few days to come down.” 

And as her words settled in the air like dust

panic and grief washed over me

as I realized in the holiday rush

I hadn’t gone around the Hill that day.

Checking on the turkey

I saw flashes of summer nights with my siblings

and twilight treks across the ballpark 

for soft serve and penny candy

which later became midnight cocktails.

It was like learning of a friend’s death 

after the funeral had already passed.

Before dinner, Seton and I went for a drive.

“Are you ready?” he asked starting the car.

I hesitated,

for like any other loss

the child in me thought 

that if we didn’t go around the Hill

it wouldn’t really be gone.

Maybe for now we could just pretend.

But I had to see it

to make myself believe it

and as we drove

I remembered the night

I looked through the crowd 

to see my underaged brother

walking across the beach

grinning sheepishly

casually joining us 

on the overcrowded deck.

The older sister in me knew

I should have sent him home

but somehow I didn’t have the heart.

Or dancing with Andrea on Road Race 

to The Gap Band

or with Courtney to Third Eye Blind.

Flashes of countless nights 

once commonplace.

The sun shone disrespectfully 

as we tried to pay our respects.

Neither of us spoke

and as we rounded the Hill

there was nothing to greet us

but a pile of rubble

and a chain link fence.

Monday on my way back to Newton

I returned with my camera

knowing I would regret it if I did

and even more if I didn’t. 

No seagulls soaring for scraps 

where Scoops and Ladders once stood.

Instead a greedy steel bird  

scooping up pieces 

of what was once the Casino.

Copyright Sarah E. Murphy/2007

St. Patrick’s Church: Catholic Crimes on Cape Cod

By Sarah E. Murphy

Many of the names on this long overdue list of 75 priests credibly accused of sex abuse, finally released by the Fall River Diocese on January 7, are no surprise to me, but they’re a sad validation of the work I’ve been quietly doing for the past three years. “Father Bill” Baker is the reason I started this investigation in the first place. He’s also one of the main reasons I left the Roman Catholic religion, shortly after being confirmed at St. Patrick’s Church in Falmouth as a teenager in the late 1980s.

Jim Scanlan, who is quoted in the article, is a social justice warrior, and one of the first people to support my motivation to expose the Catholic crimes in my hometown. I was introduced to him in 2018 through a dear family friend, although he was already familiar to me as “Kevin from Providence,” the inspiration for a character in the 2015 Oscar winning film “Spotlight,” based on the Boston Globe’s groundbreaking 2002 investigation into the Archdiocese of Boston’s clergy sex abuse cover-up. 

Since Jim came forward about being raped while he was a student at BC High, by hockey coach and teacher Father James Talbot, he has utilized his platform to expose clergy sex abuse and advocate for statute of limitation reform. One of his motivations for doing so was learning Talbot had admitted to abusing and raping up to 88 young men. Knowing he could prevent even one more from the trauma he endured as a teenager, and still endures, was all the motivation he needed, and his testimony was instrumental in putting Talbot behind bars for seven years. As Jim notes, the list is too little too late, and is undoubtedly incomplete. I can see a few omissions from my own research, namely Reverend William Campbell, also from my former parish.

I was just a little too young to be one of Bill Baker’s targets, but he preyed upon several other girls at St. Patrick’s Church in Falmouth, Massachusetts in the late 1970s, back when my family still practiced Catholicism. One of his victims told me her story in graphic detail; she was an eighth-grader at Lawrence School when he first started abusing her. Another woman, who was able to escape his evil intentions, recalls playing tennis with Baker, and the inappropriate comments he made, in an obvious effort to gauge how far he could take his deviant behavior with the young girl. When he decided that she wasn’t a potential target for his advances, he backed off. Classic examples of grooming behavior. Another one of Baker’s victims died by suicide. 

Bill Baker on right, without his signature dark beard during his brief stint at St. Patrick’s in the late 1970s.

There have been other suicides of St. Patrick’s parishioners spanning generations – some of which I’m certain are a result of abuse and others I’ve always suspected may be related. There have been suicides at Catholic parishes all over Falmouth.

Even as a small child, I could practically hear the whispers about “Father Bill,” as he liked to be called, who tried to come off as “down to earth” and “approachable.” Years later, when I read about Paul Shanley, the notorious “street priest,” who seemed to think he was cool, all I could picture was Baker. My mother and some of the women who taught CCD at St. Patrick’s weren’t falling for his Eddie Haskell facade and expressed their concern to each other about his obvious and unapologetic preoccupation with young girls. She also remembers being in the office at St Patrick’s and hearing him on the telephone “whispering sweet nothings” to someone, without seeming to care if anyone heard. A young priest in his late twenties, carrying on like a lovestruck teenager. One of the more assertive women called the Fall River Diocese, then led by Bishop Daniel Cronin, to register a complaint on behalf of the group, but their observation fell on deaf ears, for parishioners aren’t supposed to question the Church, especially those who are female.

And then just as suddenly as he arrived, Father Bill disappeared one night, with no explanation. When people immediately started asking questions, some of whom were unaware of his predatory ways and therefore devastated by his departure, we were all told Baker had suffered a nervous breakdown, a line now known to be straight from the Catholic playbook. However, my mom recalls asking Father James McCarthy, head of St. Patrick’s at the time, about Baker’s whereabouts and being told swiftly, “Don’t worry. He’s gone and that’s the end of that.” 

I know why he left, and exactly what prompted his abrupt and unceremonious exit. It’s why I’m dedicated to investigating the crimes that were committed in my hometown and honoring the lives that have been shattered, both directly and indirectly, by abusive priests and the bishops who enabled them by looking the other way and shuffling them off to another parish. How many more girls did Baker go on to rape? How many did he rape when he was at his first assignment in Attleboro, before coming to Falmouth? I know of at least one.

Then there’s Joseph Maguire, Father Joe, who came to “St. Pat’s” in the early 80s.  He’s also listed as being affiliated with the Boy Scouts of Cape Cod, and had a gimmicky thing where he’d invite all the children of the parish up close to the altar to listen to his sermons and likened it to telling them a bedtime story. Something about it and him just didn’t ring true to me, or to the rest of my family, for we were some of the Holden Caulfields of the parish, yet we had every reason to call out phonies. What we somehow suspected might be occurring was actually happening, but no one had words for it back then.

Predator priest Joe Maguire, whose last name is often misspelled, was also at St. Patrick’s in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Father Joe was at St. Patrick’s when I had to go on a creepy overnight retreat, a requirement for Confirmation, which I had zero interest in pursuing in the first place, and only did because I thought it was important to my parents. The whole experience was very cult-like, taking us all away from our families, hearing melodramatic stories of redemption from guest speakers, all male, whose qualifications were a mystery, and receiving even more melodramatic letters that family and friends had been instructed to write. Lots of tears for no necessary reason. All of it felt like mind control, and I couldn’t wait to get home. 

Monsignor Maurice Souza of St. Anthony’s Parish in East Falmouth abused my friend Dan Sherwood for nearly a decade. After months of off the record meetings with me, Dan asked me to write his story, and we eventually took it to Vatican City, where he shared it with the world through international media during the Pope’s summit in 2019, which was nothing more than another publicity stunt by Francis. Jose Avila and Gilbert Simoes, who went on to work at Falmouth High School, are both pedophiles and rapists, who targeted countless young men, prior to Souza. When recently visiting the grave of my dear friend at St. Anthony’s, I was perplexed and disgusted to discover they are buried with pomp and circumstance in a special clergy plot behind the parish. One of Avila’s victims took his own life, and his son later died in the same manner. Two generations, an entire family, destroyed by the Catholic Church. Avila and Simoes should be exhumed immediately.

There is so much to write on this topic, it has impacted countless lives, in Falmouth and beyond. This is just the beginning of accountability for criminals and healing for survivors. If you’re a victim of clergy sex abuse, please remember, it’s not your fault, and you’re not alone. For resources and outreach, visit SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). If you’d like to share your experience with me, either on or off the record, please contact me at sarah@falmouthstyle.com. Your story will be safe with me, and your wishes will always be respected.