October 24, 2005

Searching for answers

Albany Times Union

First published: Monday, October 17, 2005

ALBANY -- Ernie Bonneau reaches for the small, faded photo by his hospital bed. His eyes shine with unspilled tears.

He sinks into his pillows, staring at the solemn face of his long-dead 8-year-old brother.

The 62-year-old is tired. A tan baseball cap covers a head stripped of hair from chemotherapy. An oxygen line loops over his ears.

Cancer is destroying his lungs and attacking a kidney. But this is not the fight of his life, he insists.

The real opponent, Ernie says, is a veil of silence that for half a century has surrounded the mysterious death of Gilbert Bonneau.

Ernie was 10 when his younger brother died at an orphanage run by Catholic nuns. He is still so traumatized by his own experience at the former St. Colman's Home for Boys and Girls that he is unable to recall Gilbert's face. "I do remember looking at him dressed in altar boy's gown, and his little white coffin. But I cannot picture my little brother. I have no remembrance of Gilbert at all."

Hence the photo. And the tears that finally fall.

The Bonneau brothers are convinced at least one of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary contributed to Gilbert's death in November 1953 by repeatedly smacking the boy on the back of the head with a broom handle to silence his cries. Before he died, his brothers had been placed in another child-care facility in Albany.

Posted by kshaw at October 24, 2005 06:03 PM