Sex Abuse Lawsuit Filed Against Holy Innocents’ Catholic School in Waite Park
Holy Innocents’ Was a “House of Horrors” That Included Ritual and Sadistic Sexual Abuse of Students by Multiple Staff Members and a Priest, and Remains a Threat to Children Today
(Waite Park, MN) – A lawsuit was filed today by a former student against Holy Innocents’ Catholic School in Waite Park, alleging sexual abuse by five members of the secretive family that runs the school and a former priest from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who was assigned and lived there for years. Holy Innocents’ School is still in operation today and is believed to have approximately 20 students currently enrolled. The plaintiff, a woman identified in the civil complaint as Doe 596, alleges that the school is a public nuisance and is asking for it to be shut down permanently as part of her lawsuit.
Kids Still at Holy Innocents’ Today
Doe 596 was a student at the secretive Holy Innocents’ Catholic School from 1978 to 1984 when she was 5 to 11 years old. The school is still in operation and has approximately 20 students in grades pre-K through 12. Holy Innocents’ is run by the Robert J. and Bernice Sis family of St. Cloud. Doe 596 suffered sexual abuse on a regular basis from multiple members of the family, including Robert J. Sis, his wife Bernice Sis, and their children, Maria Sis and Heidi Sis during the years she was a student there. Doe 596 was also sexually abused on numerous occasions by Fr. Lawrence Brey, who was assigned to the school throughout the 1970s and 1980s and lived in a small trailer on the property. Fr. Brey, originally a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee before being transferred to St. Cloud and Holy Innocents’, died in 2006.
Doe 596 says her family was devoutly Catholic and believes their faith caused them to not understand how bad the school was. “We were Catholic – very Catholic,” she says. Holy Innocents’ is located in an old rock quarry in Waite Park, and has a frightening, imposing look. “It wasn’t a normal place,” Doe 596 says, “but our faith blinded my parents to that I think. There was a priest there, and a little church, and so we believed, and I think my parents believed, that we were getting a good Catholic education at that odd place.”
“It was a house of horrors, and it’s still in operation today.”
Doe 596 attended Holy Innocents’ from age 5 to 11 when she was in kindergarten through 5th grade. The Sises and Fr. Brey were strict disciplinarians and grew increasingly impatient with Doe 596 when she struggled with reading and memorization of scripture. Doe 596 was physically and sexually abused on a regular basis by the Sis family and Fr. Brey. Doe 596 was told the abuse was an attempt to rid her of the evil that caused her to be lazy and stupid. She was repeatedly told she was being punished for her laziness and stupidity and also because she was too fat. “I was terrified to go to school because of the constant abuse and torture, and I started to believe them when they told me I was stupid and lazy and fat, and that I deserved the abuse,” Doe 596 says. “It was a house of horrors, and it’s still in operation today.” Doe 596 says that as she grew older the abuse progressed, and horrific rituals were added to the sexual abuse in what were said to attempt to cast out evil from her body.
Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul lawyer who has represented hundreds of survivors of sexual abuse for more than 30 years, is one of the lawyers representing Doe 596. “Holy Innocents’ poses a real-time threat to the public and the school and it must be stopped. I cannot stress enough what danger the kids there are facing—it is appalling,” Anderson said.
The Sis Family Threatens Doe 596’s Father if he Reports the Abuse
In approximately 2008 Doe 596 shared some of what happened to her at Holy Innocents’ with members of her devout Catholic Family. She says her father went to Robert Sis to confront him shortly after. Doe 596 later learned that soon after the meeting an officer of the Holy Innocents’ corporate board threatened to kill Doe 596’s father if he went to the police or reported the abuse to anyone else. Doe 596, who experienced the extent of what the Sis family was capable of, was terrified. She believed the Sis family was capable of killing not only her father but her and other family members if she told. “I knew that family. I witnessed what they did to me and others on a daily basis and there was no doubt in my mind that this was not an idle threat,” Doe 596 says. As a result of the threats and the fear they caused, Doe 596 stuffed the abuse back down—too petrified to do more about it for years.
Doe 596 Goes to Police, Learns the Statute of Limitations has Passed
Earlier this year, Doe 596, who was continuously distressed by the thought that Holy Innocents’ Catholic School was still open and functioning, knew she had to do something despite her fear. So she went to law enforcement to report what happened to her. She was told by Stearns County that criminal charges were not an option because the criminal statute of limitations had expired. Upset but not deterred, Doe 596 began to reach out and see what she could do to protect the children who were still at Holy Innocents’. “I knew I had to do something to protect those kids that are still there and still being hurt the way I was,” she said. “This lawsuit is my attempt at that—it’s my attempt to speak out for the little girl I was then who was hurt so bad by these people and to let the kids at Holy Innocents’ know that what is being done to them there is not right, and that God would not want them to be hurt like that.”
Lawsuit Alleges Holy Innocents’ is a Public Nuisance
In her lawsuit, Doe 596 alleges that Holy Innocents’ Catholic School constitutes a public nuisance and poses a threat to the public in general. She is asking the Court for an order that will shut down the school permanently, and that the school disclose information they have about sexual abuse and abusers. Although not named in the lawsuit as a defendant, Doe 596 also wants the Diocese of St. Cloud to make it known the school is not a part of the Diocese so any parents who may be sending kids there are aware of that. “The Diocese of St. Cloud owes it to the children and families who have suffered there to tell us what they know about this house of horrors, and explain why they have allowed this Catholic school to operate in the Diocese for so many years without any warning to the public about the danger it poses.” She says it is important for the public to be aware the school is not under the control of the Diocese.
Doe 596 not only hopes her lawsuit exposes and stops the danger to the public Holy Innocents’ Catholic School poses, but that other kids who were abused at Holy Innocents’ find the courage to come forward and know they are not alone. “If you suffered at Holy Innocents’ or anywhere—please come forward and share your story. If you are being hurt there now please tell someone,” she said. “It’s not your fault, whatever they are telling you, however, they are threatening you I want you to know you never deserve to be abused, and you are not alone.”