The message, in large advertisements in yesterday's Irish national newspapers, has followed five years of increasing revelations of brutality in Christian Brothers (CB) order in its day, boarding, and its industrial schools where homeless and disadvantaged boys were sent.
Half a million Irish pupils are estimated to have passed through its Irish schools alone since the Fifties. Parallel CB teaching orders have run schools in Britain, Australia and elsewhere.
The apology comes as members of the order faced civil actions and criminal charges over long-term sex abuse allegations in its schools in Salthill in Galway and Artane, Dublin.
Last December, a Waterford-based former member faced 122 sex assault charges covering a period from 1977 to 1990. Tomorrow five brothers will appear in court facing a total of 76 charges over the Galway case.
Among leading Irish figures educated by the Christian Brothers have been the former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, current leader Bertie Ahern, and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. Others include the writer Roddy Doyle, the late actor and comedian Dermot Morgan, the former foreign minister Dick Spring and the BBC's director-general John Birt.
Mr Birt told in 1992 how he had returned to his old school and told pupils what it was like to be in the school 25 years ago "I think you could have heard a pin drop when I talked about the regime. It was a highly-regimented form of education, underpinned by corporal punishment. You got beaten just for being there. They were very strong on rote learning and for any who fell down there was always summary justice." But he added the system was "brilliantly successful" in getting pupils through exams.
Christian Brothers' schools and orphanages in other countries also saw allegations of ill-treatment. Orphanages in Western Australia run by the CBs to which hundreds of Irish and British youngsters were sent under migrant schemes, later became the focus of widespread reports of sex abuse. This was admitted by the order there in 1993, also through press advertisements.
The order was founded in 1803 by the Kilkenny-born Edmund Ignatius Rice whose first school opened the way to an international educational system. Rice was beatified by the Pope two years ago.
In 19th-century Ireland, in the absence of state schools, the teaching order provided cheap education for young people unable to afford fees charged elsewhere. Past pupils in its Irish boarding schools have told of being flogged for whispering in dormitories, bed-wetting and trivial offences.
The apology says: "Over the past number of years we have received from former pupils serious complaints of ill-treatment and abuse by some Christian Brothers in schools and residential centres. We, the Christian Brothers in Ireland, wish to express our deep regret to anyone who suffered ill- treatment while in our care. And we say to you who have experienced physical or sexual abuse by a Christian Brother, and to you who complained of abuse and were not listened to, we are deeply sorry."
"The organisation also advertised helplines for those wishing to talk of their experiences or obtain counselling."Reuse content