Sister Kathleen Rys, 72, and Lorraine O’Kelly, 70, made amends with their elementary school bully 60 years after he reached out to them to ask for forgiveness. In a touching move, the bullied sisters accepted his apology and even made room for him in their lives.
Bruce Smit, 71, said he and some other boys tormented the Rys sisters and made fun of them whenever they walk the halls at their school. Lorraine and Kathleen were in third and fourth grade when their family moved to Monee, Illinois from Chicago in the 1950s. Being the new kids, they soon found themselves as the outsiders and the sisters thought back to the time and wondered why they were bullied.
They assumed that perhaps it was because they were shy or other students thought they were of American Indian descent (they are Bohemians). They also didn’t fight back. Now looking back, Bruce said he didn’t know how the bullying started. He just remembered the other students avoided the sisters as if they had the plague.
“It was terrible, just terrible. Somehow the whole entire school got against us. Not just one, not just two. The whole entire school. Not one person talked to us. Not one person wanted to get near us,” said Lorraine through tears in an interview with Today.
No one wanted to hang out with them and because of this, they avoided school activities. They didn’t join clubs or participated in sports or go to school dances.
“We couldn’t. Nobody wanted us. If we walked down the hall, all the kids would huddle on the other side and let us walk by ourselves,” Lorraine added. Kathleen chimed in and revealed that the kids called them “risk” and referred to them as the “untouchables.”
The bullying continued until high school. When Kathleen graduated, she relied on God for strength. The sisters prayed to God even though the shunning carried over into religious education classes and in church.
“We prayed to God because we knew at least he loved us,” Lorraine said.
Bruce was among those who teased the girls and the memory left him with so much guilt which he carried with him in the past 50 or so years. He opened up about his remorse with his wife, who staged an intervention. She searched the internet for the sisters and when she found them, arranged for Bruce to meet up with the Rys.
“We were cruel. And for apparently no reason other than following the crowd,” Bruce said.
“Bruce would just start to cry at times. He’d wonder what happened to the sisters if they landed OK,” Bruce’s wife Tammy said.
They finally met and Bruce was overwhelmed with emotions when the sisters forgave him. He expressed his shame and embarrassment but thanked God that he was able to ask for an apology in person.
“This is a beautiful thing. It’s like a beautiful grace. It’s just wonderful that a person from 60 years ago can ask for forgiveness. It’s like a miracle to us. It’s a healing to us,” Lorraine said.
The reunion and forgiveness paved the way for a new friendship between the Rys sisters and the Smits. The sisters forgave Bruce because “God forgives.”