In the wake of Benedictine High School's contentious takeover, hundreds of cadets, parents and alumni filled the school gymnasium June 10 searching for answers.
Most came to speak against what one parent termed the “hostile takeover” of the school June 7 by the monks at Mary Mother of the Church Abbey. Citing financial concerns and a need to return the school to its Catholic roots, the monastic order fired Benedictine's headmaster, John McGinty, and dissolved its board of trustees. The monks held the meeting last week to address growing concerns about the school's future.
Were the changes preceded by an effort to sell the property? The monks didn't address the issue directly, but sources say it was among several options the monastic order considered in response to the school's dire finances. At the meeting, the monks said a future sale of the property was no longer under consideration.
After an opening prayer, the Rev. Adrian Harmening, a beloved administrator whose history with the school spans some 50 years, explained that Benedictine had been hobbled by unpaid tuitions, unfulfilled pledges and too little budgetary scrutiny in a sagging economy.
Harmening urged the crowd to move beyond what he termed past mistakes. “[The financial crisis] can't be blamed on one person or one particular group,” he said, adding that compassion traditionally plays a role at the Catholic high school as well. “We have parents who, unfortunately, for one reason or another,” he said, “can't come up with the [$12,000] tuition.”
Recently fired board members sat quietly on the sidelines of the basketball court while the school's new headmaster, the Rev. Gregory Gresko, detailed the events that forced the decision, including being two weeks away from being unable to pay teachers and staff in February; a fact many seemed surprised to hear.
John Helfert, who graduated the school in 1971 and who has a son entering Benedictine in the fall, echoed the sentiments of school supporters on both sides of the argument. “I don't like the way it transpired,” he said.
More than one at the meeting noted that Harmening was the mortar holding the opposing groups together. “They were smart to open with Father Adrian,” said one alumnus, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.Aÿ “It doesn't matter what side of it you're on. We all trust and respect Father Adrian. And we're worried about what could happen when he's not there any more.”
The well-loved priest closed his speech by urging cooperation and collaboration. “The monks can't do it. Parents can't do it. The board can't do it,” he said. “We all have to do it.”