Orleans woman named in abuse lawsuit against school

Cape Cod Times/January 22, 2008

Orleans - An Orleans woman is one of six defendants named in a $225 million lawsuit alleging physical, psychological and sexual abuse at a Canadian prep school linked to the Community of Jesus.

Mary Haig French, a former administrator and teacher at the recently closed Grenville Christian College, is named in a $225 million suit seeking class-action status in Ontario Superior Court.

The suit by four former students names as defendants the school, the Anglican Diocese of Ontario, two Episcopal priests ordained by the diocese who also served as school headmasters, and the priests' wives, who are also identified as school administrators or instructors.

The defendants include J. Alistair Haig, who was in charge from 1969 to 1983, and his wife, Mary; and Charles Farnsworth and his wife, Betty.

Haig's wife has since remarried and is known as Mary Haig French. She lives in Orleans near the Community of Jesus' 10-acre site near Rock Harbor. Haig French had no comment.

Grenville was a K-12 boarding school in Brockville, Ontario, with ties to the Orleans-based Community of Jesus from the 1970s to the mid-1990s. The school closed in July because of financial problems and dwindling enrollment.

In 1981, then-headmaster Haig told the Cape Cod Times that the Community of Jesus saved the college in 1973 from morale and financial problems. At the time, 60 of the school's 65 staff members belonged to the church and many regularly visited the Cape group "to study community doctrine and to learn discipline." Haig was recalled to the community in 1983, the suit says.

The Community of Jesus is an ecumenical religious group unaffiliated with any organized religion. The community was founded by two women in the late 1960s and now has about 300 members.

A $1 billion class-action suit filed in November alleging abuse at Grenville named the Community of Jesus as a defendant but not the headmasters' wives.

Haig's and Farnsworth's lawyer, the college and diocese did not respond to calls for comment.

The new suit, filed Jan. 15, identifies the Community of Jesus as the inspiration for many alleged activities, including exorcisms and hours-long "light sessions" in which students were forced to confess sins, real or imagined; public humiliation; isolation from family; brutal and demeaning tasks; periods of silence; and strappings.

But the suit did not name the Community of Jesus as a defendant. The plaintiffs' attorney, Loretta Merritt of Toronto, declined to say why.

The community's attorney, Jeffrey Robbins, said they had no connection to the allegations. "The community does not condone, has never condoned, and would not condone abuse of any kind," he said.

The school promoted itself as an Anglican church. A Canadian police probe started in September into allegations of physical and emotional abuse at the school after complaints by some students to the Anglican diocese. That investigation continues.

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