St. Mary's parish dispute settled Notre Dame nuns, key administrators at schools to remain

June 03, 1998|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

St. Mary's parish will keep its nuns and its nationally known lacrosse coach, thanks to an agreement brokered by the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The unveiling yesterday of that plan in Annapolis ended a dispute set off May 6 by the Rev. Thomas Siconolfi, the parish pastor, when he imposed two new layers of management on the parish schools: a board of trustees that would have answered only to him and a director of schools who would have answered to the trustees.

His announcement had left the fates of two school boards and the high school administrators, Jim Moorhead and Sister Francita Hobbs, unclear. It so disturbed members of Hobbs' religious order, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, that they considered severing ties with the Annapolis parish their order has served for 131 years.

"We're very pleased with the plan. We feel it's workable. We are staying," said Hobbs.

Moorhead, who teaches lacrosse and is high school president, also was troubled by Siconolfi's plan, and speculation about his leaving was rampant.

"I wanted to see how it played out," Moorhead said, sidestepping the question of whether he would have left the school if he had been removed as school president.

Public and private meetings involving concerned parishioners, parents, school board members, teachers and alumni failed to resolve the issue, and the archdiocese was deluged with phone calls, letters, faxes and e-mail.

"We brought a sense of perspective to the process," said Ronald Valenti, director of the archdiocese's 102 schools. He and Bishop William C. Newman met with Siconolfi for more than three hours last week, and Valenti presented the compromise to Siconolfi, Moorhead, Hobbs and elementary school Principal Timothy Lynch on Monday.

The Rev. John Beal, associate professor in the department of canon law at Catholic University in Washington, said it is not unusual for an archdiocese to step in to help resolve controversy in a parish.

Valenti said the brouhaha resulted from poor communication.

The compromise eliminates the just-created job of director of schools and elevates Moorhead to president of St. Mary's High School and St. Mary's Elementary School. He will be responsible for fund raising, planning, marketing and development.

"It's definitely a promotion," said Siconolfi.

Moorhead said he is excited and is eager to get started this fall. Whether he will remain as lacrosse coach is up to him, and he said he will decide after gauging his new workload in the fall.

More important to Moorhead than his position, he said, is that St. Mary's will keep the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

The plan also promotes Hobbs to principal and chief administrator of the high school, making her job comparable to that of Lynch, who has a two-year oral contract with the parish.

"If you don't grow, you stagnate and die," said Lynch, who called the plan "wonderful." His title stays the same, but he might lose some marketing and development duties to Moorhead.

The compromise also combines the parish's two school boards into one 12-member advisory panel. To address concerns about the composition of the board of trustees, one member from each school board will become a trustee, and the board of trustees will be expanded from seven to nine members.

"I'm still a little bit concerned about the demographic makeup on the board of trustees," said Nancy Duden, a member of the high school board, which led the fight against the original plan. "But I'm really glad the archdiocese recognized Jim Moorhead for the talented person he is."

The plan is designed to address the concerns of parishioners, faculty members and parents while providing better job descriptions and clearer lines of accountability, Siconolfi said.

Moorhead, Hobbs and Lynch each will report directly to the board of trustees.

"In the past, it wasn't quite clear who reported to whom," Siconolfi said.

Reaction in the parish to the compromise was guardedly optimistic yesterday.

"It's relief and vindication," said Myrna Gibson, chairman of the foreign language department at the high school, where she has worked for 15 years.

"I think that justice has won, and I think our high school has retained two excellent administrators," she said. Tom Florestano, a graduate of St. Mary's who was among many concerned alumni, said the agreement appears to be fair and "ends the total disruption of the schools and the threat of losing the School Sisters of Notre Dame."

He said his greatest concern now is whether parish members -- many of whom have hurled insults and accusations at one another over the issue -- will be able to work together.

Siconolfi believes they will.

"I've been with families who've said worse to each other and still love each other," he said. "At the end of the day, you're still brothers and sisters."

Pub Date: 6/03/98

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