From a stern Irish and English upbringing, nine year old John was placed in a Roman Catholic Boarding School in England in the early years of the Second World War. The heavy discipline meted out by the Catholic Teaching Order of Priests, who ran St Michael's College and the viciousness practiced by the older boys was almost unbearable.
He was soon befriended by one of the priests, his Form's English Master. He did not realize that the attention he was receiving, was due to the priest's physical attraction towards him, but was pleased to have the attention of a sensitive father figure, as his own father had died before the war.
When invited to stay during a summer school holiday at the Order's Novitiate College housed in a rambling Elizabethan country mansion, the relationship came to a climax when the sexual advances by the priest increased and became intolerable.
The boy's mindset now believed that he was committing a series of mortal sins and was scared that he'd be damned to Hell for eternity. He felt a strong urge to go to Confession, but whom could he trust?
With a stoicism developed during those early days at St Michael's, he was determined to stop the sexual part of their relationship and eventually taught the priest a lesson he would never forget.
Concerning the title
The Penance Walk was an exposed paved rose garden in front of the school, where boys were sent in all weathers to memorize a lesson they had failed to do correctly, until it was recited word perfect.