Christina Grana says she was abused as a young student by Sister Janice Nadeau.
Max Schulte, Staff photographer
Editor’s note: Some details in this report may be disturbing
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Christina Grana can’t forget the principal she and her classmates at St. Margaret Mary School in New York called a “Hawk.”
“She was the monster in my dreams,” Grana said. “She was the monster in my closet. She was monster under my bed.”
She was Sister Janice Nadeau, a nun described by those who worked and lived with her as a “harsh,” “stern,” “aggressive,” and a “heavy-handed” school administrator who was known to “pick on” children.
To Grana, she was a “predator” who forever altered the trajectory of Grana’s life with an outburst that culminated in a violent sexual assault in February 1977, when Grana was 12 years old and in the seventh grade.
“That single incident defined who I am as a person,” said Grana, now 54 and a mother of two living in Webster, New York.
The alleged assault could not be corroborated by an investigator commissioned by the Diocese of Rochester, whose 33-page report on the matter Grana provided to the Democrat and Chronicle.
Even those who worked closely with Nadeau and have described her in unflattering terms were astonished at the allegation against her, according to the report.
But the administrator of the diocese’s abuse victims’ reconciliation program found Grana’s description of the events “completely credible,” and offered her a five-figure settlement intended to compensate for “pain and suffering” by which the diocese has agreed to abide.
The payout would be the first in the diocese known to involve an allegation of sexual abuse against a nun.
Nadeau arrived at St. Margaret Mary School in 1976 following something of a scandal at the school, when its principal, Sister Bernard Mary, took up with a priest, the Rev. Gary Shaw, and started a family.
Incidentally, Shaw was accused last summer of having sexually abused a child while a priest. The allegation, made by a Boston attorney who represents victims of sexual abuse by priests, has not been proven.
Nadeau, who was in her forties and held a previous teaching post at McQuaid Jesuit High School in New York, set out to make an impression on her new students.
A classmate of Grana’s recalled in an affidavit how Nadeau slapped her face on the first day of school after she refused Nadeau’s demand to parade in front of other students with the wad of gum she had been chewing stuck to the tip of her nose.
The new principal became known as a relentless stickler for rules.
As the school year wore on, she turned her attention to the length of Grana’s kilt worn as part of the green and yellow school uniform. Grana recalled Nadeau chastising her daily for her kilt being too short.
Grana recalled relaying the concern to her mother, whom she said measured the kilt, determined it was an appropriate length and wrote a letter to Nadeau stating so.
When Grana presented the letter to Nadeau in the school cafeteria, Grana recalled, Nadeau read the letter, flew into a rage and hauled Grana to the principal’s office by the ear.
Once there, Nadeau slammed the door shut and slapped Grana’s face twice, knocking her first into a wall, then onto the floor. She remembered Nadeau was wearing the gray skirt, white buttoned-down blouse, and dark vest that defined her appearance.
After decades Christina Grana spoke out about the alleged abuse by Sister Janice Nadeau.
Max Schulte, Staff photographer
“Then Sister Janice got on top of me, straddling me,” Grana said. “She kept yelling at me, saying, ‘You’re a slut,’ and, ‘You’re inviting rape and you’re going to get raped.’”
It was then, Grana said, that Nadeau reached under Grana’s kilt and penetrated her.
From there, Grana said, Nadeau picked her up by her yellow shirt, tossed her into an empty waiting room where a secretary normally sat, and slammed the door shut.
Grana recalled falling to the floor and hoping someone would find her and help her. No one did. She said she eventually got up and went to the bathroom to clean herself.
“I remember looking in the mirror and seeing handprints on my face,” Grana said. She recalled using the toilet being painful and seeing blood in her urine.
She returned to class and didn’t tell anyone what had happened for 41 years.
In the interim, she said she suffered nightmares, depression, and suicidal tendencies. She said she fell into abusive relationships with men and has been in therapy since early adulthood.
Grana left home at 18 and eventually settled in Los Angeles, where she worked in the film industry before returning to the Rochester area a couple of years ago.
Her mother, Annette Grana, corroborated much of Grana’s behavior in an interview with the diocese’s investigator.
Annette Grana recalled a marked change in her daughter’s personality after Nadeau took the helm as principal at St. Margaret Mary. She said Grana had been a “sweet, loveable and outgoing” child who suddenly began sleepwalking and exhibiting signs of anxiety, particularly about her school and her uniform.
Concerned about the change, which included Grana abruptly cutting her long red hair short, she recalled taking Grana to her pediatrician. She said the doctor examined Grana and found nothing out of the ordinary.
Grana first revealed her recollections of Nadeau to family and friends in June 2018, after the Democrat and Chronicle reported that a priest her family had known had been labeled an abuser.
Nadeau, who is now 85, was reportedly the principal at St. Margaret Mary for nine years, and lived in convents in Rochester and Gates before retiring to the motherhouse of her order, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, in Wilton, Conn.
Nuns there told the diocese’s investigator that Nadeau was in the advanced stages of dementia and had since been moved to a long-term care facility.
Reached by phone, a lawyer for the order, Mark MacDougall, declined to comment. The diocese’s investigation shows MacDougall requested the investigator stop contacting the sisters of the order.
The Diocese of Rochester, like other dioceses, keeps a list of clergy on its website whom the diocese has determined engaged in sexual misconduct.
Nadeau and other clergy against whom allegations have resulted in payouts under the diocese’s reconciliation program are not on the list. The diocese’s lawyer has indicated there’s no clear way to classify them.
But there is.
If the diocese is compensating their accusers for “pain and suffering,” and the administrator of its reconciliation program has found the accusers “completely credible,” as in the case of Grana, then the diocese is already accepting responsibility for the accused.
Christina Grana alleges that she and her classmates at St. Margaret Mary School in Irondequoit suffered physical and psychological abuse by Sister Janice Nadeau.
Max Schulte, Staff photographer
Accounting for them on its website is the next step. Classifying them under a new category that explains the reconciliation process makes the most sense — for their alleged victims, those who’ve revealed themselves and those who haven’t.
Grana said her compensation, the exact amount of which the Democrat and Chronicle agreed not to disclose, was secondary to having been found “completely credible.”
“I feel like my voice was finally heard,” she said. “That for all the suffering I’ve been through for all the years, somebody heard me.
“She never left me,” Grana added of Nadeau. “I thought of her, I wouldn’t say every day, but most days of my life. She was in there. She’s a part of me.”
Follow David Andreatta on Twitter: @david_andreatta
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