I have been blessed over the years to have been a part of the Marian history. I am the grandson of one of the founders, a 1969 graduate, a father of five Marian graduates, have served on the Council of Administration, and through chairing two capital campaigns was known as “Mr. Marian.” Marian did a great job preparing me for college and dental school, affording me the professional skills to establish a successful dental practice.
In the late 1980s I was asked by Mr. Tom Landers, the Superintendent, to help create Marian’s first long-term strategic plan that addressed enrollment, facilities, instruction and development. In the early ‘90s the enrollment was stuck in the 500s, but we could see the enrollment growing within the elementary schools. Since Marian had no formal development program, we had a difficult task convincing the Marian community (priests, laity and the Diocese) that a capital campaign was necessary, since there had not been once since the early 1950s when the school was built. In the beginning we had no alumni association and therefore only had the parents to make the donation “pitch.” We had many formational meetings with our primary base of support; the pastors, alumni, parents & past parents. These efforts were not without some battles with a few pastors who believed that efforts to expand a centralized Diocesan Catholic High School would eventually lead to increased costs to the parishes.
Over time and through these efforts, we formed a new leadership group and established a shared vision in the value of having a long-term development program. I worked closely with the Cooney, Harding, Benoy, Smith and many other families who gave generously to our capital campaign. However, these families also helped connect Marian’s alumni (over 3,000 at that time) to the vision and mission of the long-term strategic plan. The most critical ingredient of the development initiative that appealed to the alum was their connection to the Marian community and the extraordinary percentage of families who had siblings, cousins, children and grandchildren who graduated from Marian. When people say, “Marian is a family,” it literally is! I have heard that there are 5th generation students attending Marian!
Marian’s legacy is attributed in a large part to its deanery & diocese structure where 17 parishes contribute financially to the school and connect to all four corners of the county. This financial subsidy is why the tuition is one half the cost of neighboring Catholic high schools and affords many families the option to send their children to Marian. Mr. Landers understood how this deanery connection would strengthen both Marian and the parish elementary schools by having a common vision and message in promoting the value of Catholic education throughout McHenry County. The main struggle that Mr. Landers faced was how to give the parishes a voice in the school, since each parish gives 10% of their ordinary income to Marian. “Taxation without representation” seemed to be the common objection that we heard from many pastors and laity. Our solution was the creation of the Council of Administration where there would be two representatives from each parish: 1) a priest, preferably the pastor; and 2) a layperson from that church. Mr. Landers worked with Bishop O’Neill and his office of Catholic education, and through these efforts, Marian’s constitution and by-laws were developed.
Over the next 15 years, three capital campaigns were launched raising over $12 million that funded the field of dreams, built the engineering center, a new chapel, a new auditorium, a new gymnasium and many other facility improvements. These projects would not have been possible if it were not for two former Bishops’ (O’Neill and Doran) support for the subsidiarity (Council of Administration governance) along with how Marian’s leadership involved members of its community in major decisions. Over time, this positive culture and cooperative approach helped make Marian become the “jewel” of Catholic schools in the Rockford Diocese, leading also to its nomination to the top 50 parochial schools in the country.
Unfortunately, Marian has seen some challenges in the last five years. In 2016 I was asked to serve on a special advisory team called the Leadership Advisory Committee to help problem-solve the recent challenges facing the school. This committee was comprised of 15 people, who like me had institutional knowledge of what made Marian a success. In just 12 months we crafted a turn-around plan that led to the hiring of Mr. Steve Baldwin, who I have heard from many members of the Marian community was the most qualified candidate for the superintendent position. Mr. Baldwin’s engaging personality, knowledge of development and approach to problem-solving certainly helped restore trust in the school and within the Marian community. As the “local dentist” I hear from many Marian constituents such as teachers, coaches, parents, clergy, and alum. The general feedback last year was that Marian was finally back on a positive path and was creating a healthy culture. Then all of a sudden, like a plane crash, all of this hard work and momentum came to a screeching halt when the Rockford Diocese announced Mr. Baldwin’s termination. This was then followed with a second major blow to the Marian community when the Diocese announced the elimination of the subsidiarity, local governance, where the entire Council of Administration was eliminated (read the letter here).
As a member of the Leadership Advisory Committee, I attended a confidential offsite meeting in May to review the actions taken against Mr. Baldwin and the nature of how the Diocese was handling this brewing crisis. There were at least 20 people there, a third of which were priests from many parishes. The Executive Committee shared documents that contradicted accusations by the Diocese against Mr. Baldwin (read more here). We could not believe that the Diocese retroactively cut Mr. Baldwin’s pay by 20% while stripping away his leadership capacity. What was most troubling to us was the lack of response from the Diocese to the President of Marian’s Council of Administration, given the number of phone calls and emails initiated over several months (read the letter here). Simply just no response and no explanation. This is not surprising given the way Mr. Edmonson was terminated in 2016 (more to read here).
Many people are expressing just how fed up they are with Rockford’s abuse of power, unlawful and unchristian treatment of Marian’s staff. I continue hearing the same questions over and over:
Why does the leadership in the Catholic Church continue to step on people like this? Who is making these decisions and why? How can they expect me to contribute to the Church, especially the Diocese? Where does Marian go from here? Why should I care about the Diocese when they certainly don’t seem to care about their staff and their priests?
I support the Friends and Families of Marian movement (wearemc.net) and will lend my time, talent and treasure to find a positive solution to this crisis. The Marian family is a forgiving family and cares only about solving this problem and getting Marian back on a positive track. We love our school and our Church and will continue to pray for our Bishop and his staff that they will eventually see their errors and will listen and work with our community.
Dr. Timothy D. Conway, Class 1969.