After 131 years, nuns may leave St. Mary's Education: The Sisters of Notre Dame oppose a new administrative structure at their schools in Annapolis.

May 11, 1998|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The School Sisters of Notre Dame, which has taught the children of St. Mary's Church in Annapolis for 131 years, might sever its relationship with the parish because it opposes administrative changes being made in the church's schools.

The changes, announced last week by the Rev. Thomas Siconolfi, the parish priest who is a member of the Redemptorist order, add two layers of administration between Siconolfi and the St. Mary's High School principal, Sister Francita Hobbs, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

The nuns issued a statement Friday from Annapolis saying they are "in the process of evaluating the new model of administrative structure and discerning if their skills are appropriate for the new structure."

Said Hobbs: "It's definitely not good for the school. The present structure is fine as it is." Some parents and teachers who oppose the changes have appealed to the Archdiocese of Baltimore for help.

Siconolfi was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment. But he and others supporting the changes have said they will result in better management of the high school and elementary school, which will be governed by a director of

schools hired by a seven-member board of trustees. The director would have authority over the two schools' principals.

No one wants the nuns to leave.

"It would be an absolute disaster for St. Mary's. They are the core of that school. The role of religion in the school would be almost completely lost without them," said Nancy Duden, president of the high school's board.

The order will await the outcome of its evaluation, Hobbs said Saturday, and then meet with parish members before deciding whether to depart.

"It would be a tragedy for them to leave. I see them as the schools' moral compass, really," said Susan Blackburn, who has taught at the high school for 14 years. She is not a member of the order.

"I don't think that this was well thought out," said Barbara Funk. She and her husband, Robert, have had six children graduate from St. Mary's and have one child attending high school there.

On Friday, a representative of St. Mary's High School delivered a letter to the archdiocese signed by 40 faculty members opposing the restructuring and asking the archdiocese to intercede. A dozen parents also wrote letters to the archdiocese protesting the change.

Neither Cardinal William H. Keeler nor Ronald J. Valenti, the superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, have seen the letters from teachers and parents, but archdiocese spokesman Raymond P. Kempisty said the matter will be addressed this week. "Certainly, knowing of it we would want to look into it," he said.

Sister Jane Burke, the leader of the Baltimore province of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, said last night: "We're hopeful that a just resolution recognizing human dignity of those concerned will be reached."

St. Mary's is the third-largest parish in the archdiocese. St. Mary's Elementary School has about 950 students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade, and the high school has an ** enrollment of about 550 students.

Until now, each school had a principal and a school board with a dozen voting members. The high school also had a president, Jim Moorhead, who functioned as a type of headmaster. The parish priest had ultimate authority over both schools.

Under the new setup, a director of schools, who has not been hired, will have authority over the principals and will answer to a board of trustees. The seven trustees, who were chosen by Siconolfi before he announced the plan Wednesday, will answer only to him.

Ron Baradel, an Annapolis attorney who was a member of the committee that made the recommendations and is now one of the seven new trustees, said the restructuring is necessary to improve communications and cooperation between the schools.

A strong, centralized administration, Baradel said, will eliminate bickering between the two schools and circumvent clashes between supporters of high school President Moorhead and those supporting elementary school Principal Tim Lynch.

Parishioners and parents say Morehead and Lynch have clashed repeatedly over issues the past few years.

Moorhead, the nuns and the school boards were not consulted about the changes, which were recommended after three months of research by the committee appointed by Siconolfi.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame is an international Roman Catholic order that has 5,000 members worldwide. It was founded in Germany in 1833, and its first members arrived in Annapolis in 1867.

At its height, the order had 24 members in Annapolis. Today, the order has six nuns there: Hobbs, two others who work at the high school, one nun who teaches in the elementary school, one who works in the community and one who is retired.

The church, the high school and elementary school are on Duke of Gloucester Street in Annapolis.

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