At 52, Patricia Cahill hopes she can finally get past the years of sexual abuse she said she endured as a young girl.
But to start her recovery, Cahill said she needs something she cannot get from therapy. She wants the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester to take down a plaque on campus bearing the name of her alleged abuser, her uncle, the late Rev. Daniel Millard.
Yesterday, Cahill's supporters gathered outside the college with leaflets and posters calling on college officials to rename an art studio now known as the Millard Art Center. School officials have refused to change the name because Cahill's relatives dispute her allegations of abuse. Millard, who was in his late 40s when he died in 1973, was never charged with abusing Cahill.
''I just want to get back to living a normal life," said Cahill, who lives in Lancaster, Pa., and did not attend yesterday's small protest because of lingering health problems she blames on the abuse.
''I don't even know what a normal life is," she said.
Cahill said Millard sexually abused her from the time she was 5 until she turned 13. She said the abuse, which allegedly occurred in New Jersey, was so traumatizing she became dependent on alcohol and drugs. Cahill said she even contemplated suicide.
The Diocese of Camden in New Jersey, where Millard was a priest, agreed to pay for her counseling after learning of the allegations around 1993. It is the diocese's policy to pay for the counseling of any person who claims to have been sexually abused by a priest or employee, said spokesman Andrew Walton.
''The diocese does not make a judgment about the credibility of the claim," he said. ''If somebody comes forward and claims they have been abused we offer to provide for treatment."
Millard's other niece, Marylou Millard Ferrara, said she does not believe her cousin's allegations.
''She's a very troubled person," said Ferrara, who lives in Hopewell, N.J. ''While the family has enormous sympathy for her as we have in the past, we think her problems should be explored in a psychiatric office and not in the pages of the newspapers . . . You can't prove something that happened 40 years ago. Clearly, you can't disprove it either, so who is being helped and hurt by the allegations? I don't see where any good comes of this."
Rev. Robert Hoatson, a priest at the Archdiocese of Newark in New Jersey who works with victims of clergy abuse, was one of a handful of people who came to the college yesterday. He said he believes Cahill's accusations and will return to the school at least once a week until the sign is down.
''It's crucial for Patricia's recovery that she finally get some sort of restorative justice," he said. ''Her family has disowned her, has disinherited her. They say she's crazy but they've been protecting this pedophile priest forever."
In 1993, Millard's brother, Charles Millard, a former trustees chairman at Holy Cross who raised $17 million for the school, gave Holy Cross a financial gift to renovate a former Air Force ROTC building into an art center. In exchange, Millard, the former CEO of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New York, asked the school to name the building in honor of Daniel Millard, a 1947 Holy Cross graduate. Charles Millard died last October at age 71.
In March, Cahill wrote Rev. Michael C. McFarland, the school president, to tell him about the allegations and asked him to remove the plaque and any other reference to Daniel Millard's name.
In a March 29 letter, McFarland expressed his sympathy and told Cahill the school would not have agreed to name the art center after Millard had Holly Cross known about the allegations.
But in July, he wrote her again to tell her that because her family disputed the allegations, college officials could not change the name.
Maria Cramer can be reached at email@example.com.