Misreporting Moving of Tomb

July 30, 2011

By now, people who read the Boston Globe or The Boston Pilot know that the tomb of the late Cardinal William O’Connell was moved last week.  What most people reading these stories do not know is that there was a key detail published in both stories that was not exactly accurate, fed by a deceptive statement by the archdiocese.  BCI is always amazed at how the archdiocese spins things, and how the mainstream media often fails to fact-check this stuff.

First, an excerpt from the Boston Globe report:

Nearly 70 years after O’Connell’s death, his remains were quietly moved a short distance last week from a crypt beneath a small chapel in Brighton to a courtyard at St. John’s Seminary, ending an unusual court fight over what to do with the bones of one of the most influential Roman Catholic leaders in the city’s history.

The seven-year dispute pitted the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and Boston College against the living relatives of the late cardinal. The church and BC wanted to relocate O’Connell’s remains from land the school bought from the archdiocese in 2004 so that the college could redevelop the property.

But the cardinal’s relatives were determined to defend the wishes of their famous ancestor. O’Connell, they said, had clearly chosen the place of his own tomb, a little building on a hill to remind young seminarians to pray for an old cardinal’s soul.

Now, the cardinal’s remains are even closer to the seminary.

“In accordance with an agreement reached with the late cardinal’s next of kin and in keeping with the wishes expressed in his last will and testament, his remains have been re-interred on the grounds of St John’s Seminary with prayers performed . . . by Bishop Arthur Kennedy, rector of St. John’s Seminary,’’ the archdiocese said in a statement yesterday.

The deception is in the last statement in the passage BCI has marked in bold.  If you have not figured it out yet, read on.

By the way, below is a picture of the chapel and mausoleum that used to be there serving as the burial location for the late Cardinal.  

The structure has now been demolished.

The Boston Pilot reported the following:

BRIGHTON — The remains of the late Cardinal William O’Connell, who was Archbishop of Boston from 1907 to 1944, have been moved from from a vault in a chapel on Boston College grounds in Brighton to a new burial location at St. John’s Seminary also in Brighton.

The reinterment marks the end of a contentious process that started in 2004, when BC purchased from the archdiocese much of the grounds of the former chancery in Brighton including, the chapel that served as burial place for Cardinal O’Connell. The archdiocese used much of the proceeds of the sales to pay for settlements related to the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

At the time of the sale in 2004, the archdiocese agreed with BC to relocate the cardinal’s remains to a new location. In the agreement, BC retained $2 million from the sale pending the completion of the removal of the remains from their grounds.

In a statement to The Pilot released July 27, Donilon confirmed the move of the remains and explained that an agreement was reached with the cardinal’s heirs.

“In accordance with an agreement reached with the late Cardinal’s next of kin, and in keeping with the wishes expressed in his last will and testament, his remains have been reinterred on the grounds of St John’s Seminary with prayers offered by Bishop Arthur Kennedy, Rector of St. John’s Seminary.”

Cardinal O’Connell moved the archdiocese’s headquarters from Boston to the Brighton campus. He had repeatedly stated his wishes to be buried on the Brighton site. He was buried in a concrete vault beneath the marble floor at the foot of the altar in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary, constructed in 1928.

In 2009, BC won city approval to develop the former archdiocesan chancery grounds where the chapel is located as the school’s Brighton campus.

“Out of respect for the late cardinal, we do not think that it would be appropriate to have a gravesite on a college campus, especially on a site in close proximity to a proposed parking facility,” BC spokesman Jack Dunn told the Pilot in 2009.

Once again, note the passages in bold.  Anyone see the deception yet?

The deception is that the statement from the archdiocese and comment from the BC spokesman pretend that St. John’s Seminary actually has “grounds”  of its own. The reality is that there are no “grounds” of the seminary any more–those grounds were sold off and are all owned by Boston College, not St. John’s Seminary any more.

Last October, we reported in “Seminary Squeezola: BC Brighton Campus Plans”  that  St. Johns Hall is all that remains of the former St. Johns Seminary property for the seminary, and even that building sits on land now owned by Boston College.  The building itself is legally considered a “condominium.”  You can verify that in the St. Johns Seminary 2010 annual report on page 9, where it says: “The Seminary retained an ownership of a condominium in St. John’s Hall.”

Bottom line: there are in reality no more “grounds of St. John’s Seminary.”  BC owns all the land. Thus, the remains of Cardinal O’Connell were moved from the former chapel and mauselium that was on land currently owned by BC, to another plot of land that is also owned by BC, which is very close to St. John’s Seminary. Cardinal O’Connell was re-buried in a gravesite which is today legally Boston College property, not the “grounds of St. John’s Seminary.”

That is the reality, but BCI figures that would not have sounded so good in probate court or in the press statement.  What do you think?


Diocese Defaults on Debt

March 20, 2011

By now, you all know how the archdiocese has reneged on previous commitments to fund the lay pension plan, including $5 million owed by closed parishes to the plan (some of which was redirected to Jack Connors’ pet school project in Brockton instead of where it was promised to go).

But perhaps you did not know that as of January 1, 2011 the Archdiocese and Chancellor Jim McDonough are also technically in default on about $5 million owed to St. Johns Seminary as the first part of repaying about $40 million due for the 2007 sale of seminary property.

BCI first alerted readers to this $4.8M note due last October as part of our “Seminary Squeezola” series.  Here is what we said then:

As most people know, back in 2007 the Archdiocese sold off the huge majority of the land and buildings owned by St. John Seminary to Boston College when the archdiocese needed to raise cash.  We will go into the details of the transaction at another time.  The archdiocese took the cash and according to St. John’s Annual report, the archdiocese owes St. Johns  $4.8 million (plus interest) as of January 2011 from the 2004 sale of seminary land, and another $36 million in 2017.

How the cash-poor archdiocese will pay back those debts from the land they forced the seminary to sell is a story for another time.  So is the question of why Chancellor Jim McDonough is on the board of the seminary, when his main business is consuming money for the archdiocese–which presents a humongous conflict of interest vs advancing the formation of seminarians.

Well, the time has arrived. Much to our surprise, it turns out that the cash-poor archdiocese did not have the cash to pay off the $5M due January 1.  So, sources tell BCI the first thing Chancellor tried to do was just write-off the debt, kind of like he is doing with the pension fund.  Apparently that did not work with the seminary, so now negotiations are underway for repayment of this first obligation to St. Johns Seminary by giving the seminary some other Brighton real estate instead.

Anyone see a pattern with the Chancellor and the current administrative leadership of the archdiocese?  Make a promise–verbally or in writing–that people or organizations rely upon, then reneg and try to get off scott free.  Here is the exact passage from the St. Johns Seminary annual report that details the financial obligation:

Besides defaulting on this payment, we still have the problem of the inherent conflict of interest of the Chancellor serving on the Board of St. Johns Seminary. We know we have BCI readers who are supportive of the seminary remaining in Brighton and some who are not so supportive of that, and opinions on that topic are not relevant for this discussion.  As we wrote in St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: Chancellor Conflict of Interest and Money Grab, the conflicts of interest start at the top.

We give the Cardinal due respect and credit to serve as the chairman of the board of the diocesan seminary, but it should be noted that the seminary is not Corporation Sole.  It predates Corp Sole by 15 years, and was chartered by an act of the Legislature, as was Corp Sole.  They are distinct in every way (seminary is a university technically, Corp Sole is a religion) with the exception of interlocking boards with profound conflicts of interest.  The Cardinal, McDonough and Fr. Erikson have voted according to documents online, in direct conflict with the best interest of the seminary, in order to benefit Corp Sole.  By coincidence, archdiocesan Beirne Lovely attends some of the seminar board meetings, where he states that he is not the seminary’s lawyer.  So one might ask, why is he even there?

Why are these conflicts of interest tolerated?  How do we get these people with inherent conflicts of interest off the board of the seminary?  Are any priests safe and secure enough in their role and relationship with the Cardinal that they are willing to stand up and tell the Cardinal he needs to start making some governance changes? Why do people–even those supportive of the seminary and posting to this blog supportive of the seminary–allow themselves to conclude that the final takeover of St. John’s Hall by BC is a foregone conclusion, when the seminary is prospering?  Should not the first move be to remove people from the Board of Trustees who have clear conflicts of interest with agendas other than the prosperity of the seminary and the formation of priests for the future of the Catholic Church?

The Chancellor  simply cannot uphold a fiduciary responsibility to the seminary to collect $40 million owed by the archdiocese at the same time he writes the checks for the archdiocese and has an interest in writing off the entire debt.  Period.

In a week or two, the archdiocese will announce with great fanfare how they balanced the 2010 budget.  Conveniently missing will be the mention of all of the debts the Chancellor defaulted on in order to create the illusion of a balanced budget. The defaulting on those debts affects low-paid former employees who relied on pensions for their retirement, seminarians, priests and religious who also need their retirement funds after a lifetime of service to God and the Church.

The Chancellor knows how to pay himself, a retired multi-millionaire banker, the general counsel (retired lawyer), and the superintendent of schools (a retired school administrator with a $75K+/year pension) more than $5 million over 5 years in salaries and benefits, he knows how to pay himself and his new #2 guy a total of $500+K/year in salary and benefits for a role usually filled by one person in other dioceses at half that cost or less,  and he knows how to direct $2.5M to Archbishop Jack Connors’ pet schools project in Brockton, but he does not know how to fund pensions for former employees or pay off debts he himself committed to pay.

For the good of rebuilding trust in the archdiocese, if the Chancellor does not voluntarily resign soon, we urge all Catholics to request of their pastors that they ask the Cardinal to replace him.


Seminary Squeezola: BC Brighton Campus plans

October 28, 2010

In today’s episode of the “Seminary Squeezola” (about how both the Boston Archdiocesean leadership and Boston College have been inhibiting the ability of St. Johns Seminary from being more prosperous), we discuss the expansion plans BC has for their new “Brighton Campus” and we share via pictures what the squeezola actually looks like.

For new readers, in our first exciting episode, St Johns Seminary “Squeezola, we reported on how Boston College is encroaching on the limited space left for St. John’s Seminary. In our second episode, The 2007 Sale of Property to BC, we gave some of the history of the 2004 and 2007 sales, and how the archdiocese–and specifically Cardinal O’Malley, Chancellor McDonough, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson who serve on the seminary board–disregarded the recommendations of the Vatican’s apostolic visitation committee that no more property from SJS be sold. In our third episode, Chancellor Conflict of Interest and Money Grab we reported on the money grab for the seminary assets and conflicts of interest by Archdiocesan Chancellor Jim McDonough and other archdiocesan leaders.

For posterity sake, we invite you to briefly take a look at some of the history of the St. Johns Seminary campus.  According to the SJS website, in March of 1880, Archbishop Williams acquired the 50 acre Stanwood estate, near the present day Lake Street in Brighton, for around $18,500.  As you know, all of that land was sold to Boston College in 2004 and 2007. If you want to learn more about the development of the buildings on the property and architecture, the Brighton Allston Historical Society has an interesting overview. 

Here is what the St. Johns Seminary map used to look like before the Archdicoese sold off all of their land:

Walk about the former seminary grounds today and it all looks basically like it did a few years ago before it was sold, except for the addition of some emergency phones, signage, and the young coeds now walking around. But this belies the plans ahead. 

First off, here is what the BC “Brighton Campus”  map looks like today.

  

The black building in the top part of the picture is St. Johns Hall.  That is all that remains of the former St. Johns Seminary property for the seminary, and even that building sits on land now owned by Boston College.  The building itself is legally considered a “condominium.”  St. Johns Hall is attached to the former Bishop Peterson Hall (blue-colored building), and only hallway doors separate the building occupied by BC (former Peterson Hall) and the St. Johns Hall building.

The initial plans for the Brighton Campus were announced in December 2007 by BC, as part of their  $800M 10-Year Master Plan (later $1B), which also included plans for the main campus.  The Brighton Campus plan got pared back a fair amount after review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority by the time it was approved in early 2009.

Here are highlights  from their original 2007 plan for the Brighton Campus:

  • Addition of 600 beds on the Brighton Campus
  • Develop the Brighton Athletics Center, which will include a 1,500-seat baseball and 500-seat softball field, as well as a multi-purpose field for intramural sports, and a 200,000 square field house for track and tennis on the Brighton Campus.
  • Build a fine arts district on the Brighton Campus that will include the relocated McMullen Museum of Art, an auditorium and academic space.
  • Build Jesuit housing on Foster Street in Brighton for Jesuit faculty and graduate students from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, which re-affiliates with Boston College in 2008.
  • Build a 500-space parking facility to serve the Brighton Campus.
  • Develop the former Cardinal’s Residence on the Brighton Campus into a Conference Center for Boston College.
  • Develop St. William’s Hall on the Brighton Campus into the new School of Theology and Ministry.
  • Utilize the remaining properties acquired from the Archdiocese of Boston as administrative offices.

 In January of 2009, the plan was approved, with a number of modifications.  Here are the highlights of the changes:

  • Number of dorm rooms to be added was scaled back dramatically from the original 600 beds, down to 150 beds, and the 150 bed proposal was not approved and was to be taken under further advisement.
  • Athletics facilities: Seating capacity of the baseball facility reduced from 2,000 to 1,000 seats, with the possibility of a future increase if management and impact standards are met.  Seating capacity of the softball facility reduced the from 500 to 300 seats.  The planned 200,000 square foot field house was reduced to a 60,000 square foot support facility. 
  • Fine arts center, museum and auditorium relocated from the corner of Lake Street and Commonwealth Avenue to a more central location along Commonwealth Avenue (near the former Cardinal’s Residence).
  • BC agreed to establish for 25 years a “no-build” zone 50 feet wide extending from the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Lake Street to the driveway entrance to St. John’s Seminary.

Here’s a 2006 rendition of what the proposed athletic fields would look like (though in the 2009 revisions, the orientation was changed)

 

Brighton Fields | A view to the southwest from above property adjoining Brighton Campus. A set of playing fields stretches from the near left to the near right, ending at Lake Street. The new building in the middle distance is a combination racquet center and parking garage. The campus of St. John’s Seminary is in the middle distance at center.

Work has now begun. Walk past the former Bishop Peterson Hall and you will see scaffolding outside. The building used to have classrooms, administrative offices and dorm rooms for the seminarians.

What is BC planning to use the former Peterson Hall for?   According to this September 10, 2010 Boston Globe article, “Once the Lake Street renovations are complete, the college’s human resource employees from More Hall will move there.”

There are more than a few things that we do not understand.  The biggest one is why BC is saying they need to use the St Johns Seminary Chapel are part of the negotition over the dorm rooms SJS would like to acquire back.  There is a perfectly fine spacious chapel BC owns in the former Peterson Hall building and they are apparently planning to gut (or are already gutting) so they can use the space for some other purpose.  How demanding could the office requirements for HR employees who are right now comfortably working in another building possibly be?  BC also got a chapel in the former St. Clements Hall building and another smaller one in the former St. Williams Hall building.  They bought 3 buildings with chapels, and need to further encroach on our seminary to use their chapel?  Does anyone else think this is preposterous? 

Beyond the matter of the chapel, although it is “water over the dam” at this point, just out of curiosity, was the property sold to BC in 2004 and 2007 ever even put up for sale by the archdiocese via an open request for proposal (RFP) and open bidding process?  Could anyone who wanted to submit a proposal for consideration, or was BC the only bidder allowed?

Why is BC’s further encroachment on the seminary tolerated?  Don’t the growing numbers of seminarians and expansion of the SJS programs speak volumes?  Why isn’t Cardinal O’Malley trying to “buy back” the former Peterson Hall so the seminary’s growth has someplace to go?  Whose advice is he listening to regarding the future of the seminary?

So many questions.  So few answers.  Stay tuned for more in our next exciting episode of Seminary Squeezola.

ps. Odds now favor the announcement of Kathleen Driscoll as the new secretary for institutional advancement next Tuesday, Election Day, so it will get the least amount of press coverage possible.


St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: Chancellor Conflict of Interest and Money Grab

October 27, 2010

We are continuing our exclusive series “Seminary Squeezola” about how both the Boston Archdiocesean leadership and Boston College have been inhibiting the ability of St. Johns Seminary to be more prosperous.  Today we discuss the money grab for those seminary assets and conflicts of interest by Archdiocesan Chancellor Jim McDonough and other archdiocesan leaders.

For new readers, in our first exciting episode, St Johns Seminary “Squeezola, we reported on how Boston College is encroaching on the limited space left for St. John’s Seminary. In our second episode, St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: The 2007 Sale of Property to BC, we gave some of the history of the 2004 and 2007 sales, and how the archdiocese–and specifically Cardinal O’Malley, Chancellor McDonough, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson who serve on the seminary board–disregarded the recommendations of the Vatican’s apostolic visitation committee that no more property from SJS be sold.

In 2007, against the recommendation of the then-rector and the Vatican’s apostolic visitation committee, the Seminary trustees voted to sell the remaining property of the seminary to BC so the archdiocese could raise needed cash.  The rector’s letter opposing this sale can be found here at Boston.com and has been posted there available to the public since 2007.

Here is his letter of resignation filed shortly after the trustees 2007 vote (it’s part of the same Boston.com document–just the last 2 pages).  Note the passage that says, “The Chancellor stated emphatically last night that the seminary will not be recompensed according to the value of the assets conveyed, but the $65 million to be derived from this sale will be applied “where it is needed.”  Anyone else besides Boston Catholic Insider wondering why the Chancellor is even on the Board of Trustees of the seminary when his interests are directly in conflict with those of forming seminarians?  Read on:

Eminence and Trustees:

24 May 2007

The morning after yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Trustees finds me still uncomprehending and deeply distressed.

The way in which a $65 million project was presented with no advance specific information that would allow study and consultation, and then be voted favorably is incomprehensible to me. The fact that no one in the Seminary was consulted, or even informed about the proposal is incomprehensible to me. The fact that public events to announce the news were scheduled even before our meeting was held last night and are being carried out this morning is incomprehensible to me. Finally the fact that announcements are being made to the public with no vote taken at all by the Corporate Members is not only incomprehensible to me, but is contrary to law. Last night’s meeting was a burlesque of the Board of Trustees and of the ways of proceeding of any serious board.

Even more distressing to me is the substance of last night’s “deliberations.” Exaggerated statements about a projected budgetary deficit for FY08 served as the point of departure for the presentation, the explicit recommendations of the Congregation for Catholic Education were dismissed peremptorally, a proposal was made to remedy a problem that we do not have, the remedy proposed is that the seminary alienate assets that are needed to assure its future fiscal viability and all this was done in the name of assuring our financial stability and viability. In my judgment, all of this is utterly preposterous.

For the second time in three years, RCAB plunders the assets of St. John’s Seminary. In 2004, the seminary conveyed to RCAB assets worth about $56 million and received in recompense $21 million and a promissory note for $4.8 million. If the seminary were in possession of even the cash represented by the note, our financial “problems” would be greatly eased. Instead the seminary is presented as “not able to make it financially.” Now, assets of the seminary will be taken and combined again with assets of RCAB, who will in turn sell them to BC. The Chancellor stated emphatically last night that the seminary will not be recompensed according to the value of the assets conveyed, but the $65 million to be derived from this sale will be applied “where it is “needed.” Clearly, in this disposition the seminary is considered as not one of the “needs” of the archdiocese – even as a beneficiary of its own assets.

I do not wish to be associated with an organization that shows so little respect for people who have been charged with responsibility for it and so little respect for truth. After prayerful consideration and with the support of Fr. Dominic Izzo, O.P., my Prior Provincial, I hereby resign as Rector of St. John’s Seminary, effective immediately….

I ask for your prayers and promise you mine.

Sincerely in Christ,

Fr. John A. Farren, O.P.

Rector

Interesting, eh?  Does any of this way of operating sound familiar?

Here is the listing of the Board of Trustees of SJS.  (Note, this is slightly out of date in that not all of the lay people listed are still on the board–we know of at least one person who resigned after the “burlesque” since all Corporate members were not included).

The key players in this 2007 vote who had an inherent conflict of interest are Cardinal O’Malley, Chancellor Jim McDonough, and Vicar General Fr. Erikson (despite his having previously served on the SJS faculty).  They needed cash, and that need was in direct conflict with the needs of the seminary and the recommendations of the Vatican’s own apostolic visitation committee.  (Coincidentally, the USCCB chair of the secretariat for the clergy, consecrated life, and vocations who announced the visitation report summary was Cardinal O’Malley).  How does he reconcile the conflict of needing to push vocations for the U.S. bishops and for his own diocese, but then disregarding the visitation committee’s own recommendation for SJS that “in order to ensure the integrity of the seminary… no more property [on the campus] should be sold”?

How did the Cardinal, Vicar General, and the Chancellor justify grabbing the seminary land and buildings while at the same time, the Chancellor admitted that the seminary would not even be fairly compensated in return?

As part of this sale, we hear from sources that without consulting the prior rector, the Chancellor also included in the sale transaction to BC the dorm rooms that are located over the refectory, leasing them under a 99-year lease, which is effectively considered a sale.  We also are told that Chancellor McDonough bends over backward to accommodate BC in all things, and that he is one of its strongest allies.

The conflicts of interest start at the top.  We give the Cardinal due respect and credit to serve as the chairman of the board of the diocesan seminary, but it should be noted that the seminary is not Corporation Sole.  It predates Corp Sole by 15 years, and was chartered by an act of the Legislature, as was Corp Sole.  They are distinct in every way (seminary is a university technically, Corp Sole is a religion) with the exception of interlocking boards with profound conflicts of interest.  The Cardinal, McDonough and Fr. Erikson have voted according to documents online, in direct conflict with the best interest of the seminary, in order to benefit Corp Sole.  By coincidence, archdiocesan Beirne Lovely attends some of the seminar board meetings, where he states that he is not the seminary’s lawyer.  So one might ask, why is he even there?

Why are these conflicts of interest tolerated?  How do we get these people with inherent conflicts of interest off the board of the seminary?  Are any priests safe and secure enough in their role and relationship with the Cardinal that they are willing to stand up and tell the Cardinal he needs to start making some governance changes? Why do people–even those supportive of the seminary and posting to this blog supportive of the seminary–allow themselves to conclude that the final takeover of St. John’s Hall by BC is a foregone conclusion, when the seminary is prospering?  Should not the first move be to remove people from the Board of Trustees who have clear conflicts of interest with agendas other than the prosperity of the seminary and the formation of priests for the future of the Catholic Church?

ps. Speaking of burlesque, we hear through the rumor mill that the archdiocese is putting final touches on how they will spin the “sham search” for the secretary of development.  Supposedly, the curtain rises on the show with the announcement next week.  Would anyone like to place bets on which “busy news” day next week they will choose for the announcement, when it’s least likely to get a lot of attention?


St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: The 2007 Sale of Property to BC

October 26, 2010

As you may recall, in Seminary Squeezola, we reported on how Boston College is encroaching on the limited space left for St. John’s Seminary.  BC has just taken back several rooms (a music room and faculty dining room) they had let the seminary use, a largely symbolic move of BC flexing muscles which provides no significant space benefits to BC but which causes a hassle for St Johns Seminary.

 It is representative of what many see as the final phase of BC taking over the rest of the seminary space; BUT, with the seminary prospering and the Vatican’s own 2006 apostolic visit to the seminary having recommended it stay open and no more property be sold, a lot of people do not wish to just accept that fate and let the proverbial BC “bulldozer” roll over them. 

The seminary post generated some of the most passionate comments we have seen to date on the blog.  Today we update you with a little of the historical context that helps ground the discussion.  

As many readers know, the sale of St. John’s Seminary land and buildings by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2004 and 2007 when the archdiocese needed money  is what started this whole problem, and it was massively compounded by the decision from the archdiocese to reject recommendations made by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education after their Apostolic Visitation of U.S. Seminaries that “in order to ensure the integrity of the seminary… no more property [on the campus] should be sold.”   How do we know the Apostolic Visitation said this?  It’s right out there in the public domain at Boston.com.  Just read a summary of the 2007 story at Whispers in the Loggia, read this article in the Boston Globe with paid subscription (“Critic slames archdiocese land sale as betrayal“), or simply click here for the letter by the then-rector of St. Johns Seminary posted at Boston.com. (For those readers who like shorter posts, apologies in advance that today is not one of them).

The sale of the remaining seminary land in 2007 so upset the then-outgoing rector that he resigned immediately.  Here are excerpts of his lengthy letter to the Board of Trustees before they voted on the move to sell the land and property.

Several days ago, Cardinal Sean met with me to explain the broad lines of the proposal that is now offered to the Board of Trustees. He explained its overall motivation thus: “‘It is is designed to assure the financial stability and viability of the seminary and of the archdiocese.”

I do not consider myself competent to speak about the financial stability and viability of the archdiocese, but I do consider myself competent to speak about those of St. John’s Seminary, and that is my intention today.

There are three points to be considered in voting for this proposal.

• The proposal is mistaken in judging that the seminary is not fiscally stable and viable and it is mistaken in judging that the seminary needs financial assistance.

• It is mistaken in its expectation that the terms of the proposal will assist the seminary. On the contrary, and this is the third point:

• The terms of the proposal will, in my judgment, bring about the demise of the seminary.

I. The fiscal stability and viability of the seminary

In the first place, the proposal assumes that the seminary is not fiscally stable and viable. I would point out, however, that for two years now, since the end of FY05, the seminary has received no appropriation from RCAB, yet is alive and well. During the 8 March 2005 trustee meeting, one member of the Budget and Finance committee observed that” these are the strongest financials in the history of the seminary.” 

Unlike Blessed John XXIII Seminary, St. John’s was not allowed to conduct its own advancement program and plans to hire a Director of Advancement were sacrificed in order to ”balance the budget.”

Recalling several items from recent history will help clarify our understanding of the current fiscal status of the seminary.

In 2004, RCAB was under heavy pressure to pay additional sex abuse claims, and was without the resources to do so. RCAB approached both John XXIII Seminary in Weston and St. John’s Seminary for assistance. The approach was totally rebuffed by the trustees of John XXIII. As the trustees will recall, the corporate members of the Board of St. John’s, following the favorable vote of the trustees, responded benevolently and ceded title to several seminary assets to RCAB who subsequently added some of its own assets, and these were sold to BC for $85 million. Of the 48 acre package of land and buildings sold to Be, about two thirds were assets from the seminary. Thus assets of approximately $56 million were transferred from the seminary to RCAB so that it could pay its claimants. At that time, the Cardinal pledged that $30 million would be given to the seminary so that an endowment could be begun. As it happened, RCAB received a smaller payment from its insurance companies than it expected, such that it could give the seminary only $21 million and a promissory note for $4.8 million (that will come due in 2011).

Thus, $56 million was transferred from the seminary to RCAB, and $21 million with a promissory note for $4.8 million were returned to the seminary. This represents a net loss to the seminary of $30.2 million, and this in favor of RCAB. Thus the question must be asked whether the financial instability is that of the seminary or of RCAB.

II. The proposal will not assist, but impede, the functioning and growth of the seminary

That the authors of the proposal know little about a seminary, whether its intrinsic nature, or its role within the particular Church, or its governance is an inescapable conclusion. Nor have they ever solicited the recommendations or judgment about the proposal from those who do, including trustees (who are responsible for the seminary) and sending bishops (who should be included in policy decisions). The proposal argues that in order to assure the “financial stability and viability of the seminary” further alienation of property is necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the expert evaluation of the Apostolic Visitation team which visited us as part of the nationwide evaluation of seminaries, their report clearly states: “Neighboring Boston College has purchased large tracts of former archdiocesan land near St. John’s. Tn order to insure the integrity of the seminary, the Visitors recommended that no more property should be sold.” Their report refers specifically to “the Seminary’s excellent library.” …

What is clear to me is that if the authors knew the nature of a seminary and its relation to the life of the particular Church, they would know that the seminary is often referred to as the heart of the particular Church – numerous times in this way by Pope John Paul II. If they realized the impact and difference made by sound theological and pastoral formation, they would begin to understand something of the difference between St. John’s Seminary and the neighboring WJST and BC.

It strikes me as extremely ironic that the proposal should come at this point in time. As the current rector concludes his term of office and a new rector assumes that role in governance, the leadership will be at a grave disadvantage to deal with changes to the seminary as it has developed over the past four years. It is even more ironic in that the Cardinal has recently received a draft of the post-Apostolic Visitation letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education. From the Visitation carried out in St. John’s in February 2006, its findings are singularly positive and laudatory. Its opening paragraph speaks of St. John’s as an “excellent seminary.” The trustees will recall that I read significant portions of that draft at our March meeting. …

Collaboration with WJST or BC is not in the interest of St. John’s. We exist to form in the faith candidates for the priesthood who will be good shepherds and fathers of the flock entrusted to their care and we have done that well. The Visitation report has determined that “the doctrine on the priesthood presented by the seminary is solidly based on the Church’s Magisterium; this is evident in all course syllabi. The pastoral and spiritual programs, too, reflect a sound doctrine of the priesthood. Faculty and staff readily accept this teaching.” In contrast, WJST exists in the model of a research university where opinions of every kind are propagated without adequate identification of the binding articles of faith…If we are urged to reduce expenses by mutual collaboration, this would induce asphyxiation, with the remedy worse than the affliction (if there were an affliction that needed to be remedied)…

The Visitation team also reported that “The prayerful atmosphere of St. John’s Seminary is one of its most outstanding and noticeable qualities … there is a strong emphasis on fostering an authentic priesty spirituality in all areas of formation.” Already, as a result of the sale of seminary assets to BC in 2004, the negative impact on the environment of the seminary has been observed. Based on the increase of vehicular and pedestrian traffic outside chapel, residences, and classrooms, of people entering the seminary to use its facilities and using its remaining grounds as a public park, based on these already intrusive changes, it is evident that the impact of further sale of property would be more detrimental and burdensome to long established practices necessary for maintaining an atmosphere of prayer. For SJS to continue its path of development and growth, it must also be able to accommodate guests attending events such as the lectures of Cardinals Dulles and Stafford and the annual Lessons and Carols which introduce the public and potential benefactors to SJS, gatherings of presbyteral alumni which the Cardinal has applauded and encouraged, or the many retreats and meetings of Vocation Directors and potential vocations whose increasing numbers have also been reported to the Board in the past two years.

To sell Peterson Hall and the library with their contiguous land would destroy the value of what that property has meant in the history of the archdiocese. It would simply become Boston College.  The sale of the kitchen and heating plant will leave St. John’s in perpetual dependence on BC. But more than a building, there needs to be a relationship with the archdiocese. That relationship has been cultivated in increased use for archdiocesan functions and its office of Vocations. In recent months, the Seminary capacity was exceeded when Vocation Directors sponsored a “come and see” weekend, necessitating the use of additional rooms in Peterson Hall.

Harm to the credibility and stability of the archdiocese and the seminary will result from further sale of property and buildings. In fact, the Visitation Report states that “The seminary, therefore, needs to be supported, so that its mission continue to flourish.” St. John’s Seminary is about to be been granted affiliation with the Pontifical Lateran University of Rome and would become the only seminary in New England to offer ecclesiastical degrees which will be recognized as representing a high and integral standard both in North America and throughout Europe. ..

To quote the report again: “The Visitors unanimously recommended that St. John’s Seminary be kept open, despite the financial pressure to sell it. They hoped that Your Eminence would make a strong, clear statement that its future is secure.” The fatal flawof the proposal before you is that it fails to consider that a seminary is more than property. The distinction between the financial state of the seminary and that of RCAB is blurred. The board’s vote on the proposal cannot be made without knowing whether there is a more comprehensive, future plan. Is there another property? Are we thinking of a new, better location for St. John’s Seminary? Unless there is such a plan already in the developmental stage for Boston’s Archdiocesan and the region’s seminary, approving this proposal counters everything that is stated in our mission. Acceptance of this defective proposal represents an outright rejection not only of the advice of the Holy See and the support of regional bishops, but also the expressed intentions of our Cardinal Archbishop which we have all been privileged to share over the past several years.

The critical question is not to sell or not sell property. The question is: will we project a whole new archdiocesan seminary? Unless we have a suitable structure on which we can rely, even if it means having to leave this historically significant setting, unless there is a suitable alternative so that St. John’s can continue to provide priestly formation in line with the teaching of the Church, we are giving up on SJS and this becomes an ill-fated project. As the archdiocese prepares for its bicentennial there could be nothing but shame and embarrassment if we appear to forsake our own mandate, mission, and values for 30 pieces of silver.

Taking our lead from the archdiocesan pledge for transparency in finances and from the archdiocesan presbyterate, we would do well to ask that any plan for the future of SJS be proposed in a way that engenders “trust … with transparency, consultation, communication, integrity, follow-through, and many other desirable qualities … ” all of which are found lacking here (A Church Continually Being Reborn, Archdiocese of Boston Pastoral Planning Report, Spring 2007).http://www.sjs.edu/history/

 

Sorry for the length folks.  It seemed to us that pieces of this are relevant to the situation faced today with the latest moves from BC, and we could not do justice to the message via more extensive edits. 

The building sale went through, despite the admonitions of the former rector.  Today, St. John’s Seminary is prospering as the seminary trains and forms seminarians, offers religious education for adults, trains catechists, hosts many conferences and liturgies, gathers priests for reunions, provides a strong pro-life presence for the archdiocese and builds up the faith.  There is a huge amount of greatness there–excellent faculty, strong leadership, a solid group of seminarians and much promise ahead. Why not keep a pretty good thing going despite the existing limitations and continue supporting the seminary for the greater good of the archdiocese and Catholic Church in Boston?  Let us know what you think.

In the meantime, if someone reading this has the ears of Cardinal O’Malley and/or Fr. Leahy and can tell them that they should both protect St. John’s from further BC encroachment, this blog thinks that would be a really good thing.  More next time.


St Johns Seminary “Squeezola”

October 24, 2010

We were going to hold this story a little longer to give you all of the historical context first, but feel like it is urgent to get this one out for you all.  It concerns how Boston College is squeezing the property of St. John Seminary at the same point when the seminary is prospering and needs more space.

We hear that tensions are increasing, with BC taking back space the seminary was previously using.  Several reports–now confirmed–indicate that BC has recently pushed St. Johns out of their music room, and is booting St. Johns faculty from their dining room as well.  Normally we would wait to verify this from multiple sources, but it aligns with a pattern we have been seeing already.  So, this blog feels compelled to come out and say it appears no one at the top of the archdiocesan food-chain is pushing the seminary needs over BC’s encroachment.  That is why we are calling this a “Seminary Squeezola.”

As most people know, back in 2007 the Archdiocese sold off the huge majority of the land and buildings owned by St. John Seminary to Boston College when the archdiocese needed to raise cash.  We will go into the details of the transaction at another time.  The archdiocese took the cash and according to St. John’s Annual report, the archdiocese owes St. Johns  $4.8 million (plus interest) as of January 2011 from the 2004 sale of seminary land, and another $36 million in 2017.

How the cash-poor archdiocese will pay back those debts from the land they forced the seminary to sell is a story for another time.  So is the question of why Chancellor Jim McDonough is on the board of the seminary, when his main business is consuming money for the archdiocese–which presents a humongous conflict of interest vs advancing the formation of seminarians. More on that another time… 

So, the great news about St. Johns is that it is prospering and needs more space!   We heard glimpses of the good news back in 2008 when the Boston Globe reported on the “Stunning Turnaround for St Johns Seminary.”

Today there are about 100 students studying at St. Johns.  We get numbers from different sources, but this breaks down to about 80-84 residents, and 17 day students.  27-30 of those are from Boston, maybe around 10 are Neo-Catechumenates, and the rest come from other dioceses.  We hear great things about rector, Bishop Kennedy, the overall program, and quality of seminarians and staff at the seminary.  The seminary has run out of residential space in St. Johns Hall.  They are out of classroom space, because Bishop Peterson Hall was sold to BC, and may need to bus seminarians to the Masters of Arts in Ministry (MAM) building in Brighton for classes. 

To help solve the residential space problem, the seminary has been negotiating with BC to purchase back about 62 rooms over the refrectory (dining hall).  These were leased to BC in an arrangement which was a 99-year lease for $1, which is effectively a sale for legal purposes.  Now BC wants somewhere north of $1.5M to sell the rooms back to St. Johns and is apparently driving a hard bargain.  BC fired a shot across the bow letting them know “who is in charge” by trying to use the St. Johns chapel and pipe organ without asking permission back in September.  Now we hear they are taking back the small music room and faculty dining room they had legally acquired but were letting St. John’s use.

We wonder which side of all this Jack Connors is on?  Where is he when you need him to push for the seminary and archdiocesan needs for a change and tell his alma mater they should back off?  Cardinal O’Malley has stated his unequivocal support for the seminary in the past (“My commitment to St. John’s Seminary and its work of preparing men for the priesthood remains as strong as it has always been.”)  Where is he in this picture?   Besides Bishop Kennedy, who above him is standing up for the needs of the seminary and our future priests?

Apologies for the incomplete information today and tone of anger and frustration.  We are miffed. 

If anyone from the seminary would like to comment, please feel free to in comments or via email (bostoncatholicinsider(at)gmail.com).


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