Marian Central Catholic High School has been an important part of our lives for decades. My wife and most of her family graduated from MC. Our own 3 children are MC graduates and, like their mother, attended MC with siblings, cousins and extended family. They all experienced a similar family atmosphere and community. It has been a very special place to attend high school. While I did not attend MC, I understood the unique value of a MC education.
For nearly 30 years I have worked in various capacities in the healthcare industry. My career has provided me experiences in management consulting, sales leadership and currently working as an executive in a Fortune 11 company. I have witnessed exceptional leadership, been a member of effective teams and seen companies perform incredible turnarounds. I have also seen many poorly run organizations fail miserably because of ineffective leadership. A lack of trust and transparency are hallmarks of struggling organizations. I have witnessed teams fail because they do not have effective leadership in place. After experiencing, first hand, several events at MC, I am greatly concerned about the Rockford Diocese and their dysfunctional leadership as it is adversely impacting MC and extinguishing trust and support for the Diocese.
Sharing our time, talent and blessings with MC were routine for my wife and me. We are always active in supporting MC through fundraising events, volunteering and supporting extracurricular events. My involvement at MC became much deeper in 2016 as I was appointed as parish representative for St. Mary Catholic Church in McHenry. My participation and time commitment grew when I was elected to the Executive Committee. Although this election was an honor, it came with much responsibility following the controversial dismissal of Superintendent, Andy Edmonson.
There were no facts or reason released about why the Diocese made this decision and their public statement “while no wrongdoing was uncovered, the superintendent was still being dismissed” fueled more distrust in the leadership of the Diocese (read more). What could have been done was to release a simple statement such as “the Bishop and Mr. Edmonson have come to an agreement to separate employment.”, but instead, Mr. Edmonson’s name was defamed and his reputation was destroyed. As a result, Mr. Edmonson took legal action against the Diocese and eventually settled out of court. What was the cost of this to the Diocese? What was the impact to Mr. Edmonson and his family?
Following Mr. Edmonson’s termination, Fr. Thomas Doyle, Marian’s Spiritual Director was appointed as the Interim Superintendent. Fr. Doyle’s passion for Marian, commitment to the spiritual well-being of the students, endless hours of work and servant-leadership approach helped Marian transition through nine difficult months in the face of a fragmented community. Fr. Doyle had the arduous tasks of not only leading Marian, but also rebuilding trust in the school among parents, students, staff, teachers and fellow Pastors.
As a newly elected member of the Executive Committee, I worked in concert with four other laypersons and clergy including Fr. Doyle, Fr. Max Striedl, Fr. Godwin Asuquo and Fr. David Austin to quickly and effectively manage through this difficult climate. Through these efforts in rebuilding trust within our community, we also had to recruit the right leader for Marian. We started this process through establishing a Leadership Advisory Committee (LAC) whose members were known leaders and trusted within the Marian Community. This committee soon became one “team” dedicated to regaining MC’s core purpose by promoting its vision “Pilgrims on the Way of Truth,” throughout all aspects of the school (spirituality, academics and athletics). This process helped define the ideal experience and leadership style of the next leader for MC, while providing a plan for the next superintendent.
During the LAC’s evaluation and root cause assessment of the conflict that arose shortly after Mr. Lander’s retirement, several areas that needed change were identified (read more). One area was the governance of the school. It was determined through the dismissal of the previous superintendent that there was need to ensure that members of the Council were strong practitioners of their faith, active participating members of their parish and would serve on the Council for a limited time (aka term limits). These recommendations were developed in March 2018 by the EC and approved by the Council of Administration and then forwarded to the Bishop for his approval. This was the only change that the EC recommended in the governance of the school, and certainly did not remotely resemble the changes that either Bishop Malloy or Mr. Vito DeFrisco implied in their announcements (read more).
We were blessed to find a highly qualified Superintendent in Steve Baldwin. His interviews with our team including members of the EC, the LAC, MC staff members and Mr. Michael Kagan, (Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese) and our collective opinion of Mr. Baldwin was that he was outstanding. Thorough background checks were conducted by the retained recruiting firm, who also confirmed from their interviews of Baldwin’s previous employers that his Servant Leader qualities, fundraising ability and character were outstanding. In just a few short months after Mr. Baldwin was hired, he was performing at an exemplary level.
By the spring of 2018, Mr. Baldwin was in the process of facilitating the “1 to 1” computer program. As a result of these efforts, each MC student now receives a laptop computer as an element of the curriculum. This concept was entirely Mr. Baldwin’s. He understood the value and the impact the “1 to 1” program would have on MC and was granted approval by the EC to move ahead. His experience in implementing such a program allowed for ease of completing documentation as well as receiving a government subsidy to offset the cost. However, the Diocese saw the necessary documentation completed by Baldwin as overstepping his expenditure limit. Ms. Ellen Lynch (Rockford Diocese Chancellor and General Counsel) and Mr. Kagan, alleged Mr. Baldwin signed a purchase order above his spending limits without prior approval. As punishment for their perceived infraction, they stripped Mr. Baldwin’s authority and retroactively reduced his salary by 20%!
The EC quickly asked the Diocese for answers. We received none (read more). We executed an exhaustive discovery process which uncovered no wrongdoing. A list of questions was sent to the Diocese asking why Mr. Baldwin was punished in this manner. Our ultimate question to the Diocese was if they had such serious concerns about Mr. Baldwin’s conduct why did they not respond to the EC and the President of Administration’s request to meet and discuss these concerns? The by-laws of Marian state very clearly that the Superintendent reports to the President of the Administration and its EC.
The only response received was a call from the Bishop to the President of the Administration a couple of days in advance of Mr. Baldwin’s termination. Bishop Malloy explained he recently learned of this situation and that Mr. Baldwin was not going to be fired. A week later Mr. Baldwin was dismissed! Many of you may recall during the May 2018 graduation ceremony, how Bishop Malloy commended Mr. Baldwin for his work at Marian. Unfortunately, little did the attendees know that efforts were underway to terminate Mr. Baldwin in just a few short days later.
The facts of our discovery were shared with a group of more than 20 people including deanery pastors and members of the LAC and Council of Administration. Every one of them was shocked and dismayed by the process and termination of Mr. Baldwin. It was the type of misguided allegations and spreading falsehoods like those seen being done by state and national politicians (read more).
Temporary Superintendent Vito DeFrisco was put in place after Mr. Baldwin’s dismissal. No explanation as to why Mr. Baldwin was terminated was provided. In mid-June, Mr. DeFrisco agreed to meet with the EC shortly after he was installed. He agreed to our request to invite representatives from the Diocese to meet in early July. To ensure we were provided the truth as we embarked on finding our 6th superintendent in 6 years, we sent a detailed agenda to the expected attendees of the meeting with the Diocese. The agenda included the questions asked of the Diocese regarding Mr. Baldwin’s termination. It was sent to all the members of the Council of Administration and members of the LAC. The email was intentionally sent by lay members of the EC to not jeopardize the employment of the priests on the team (read more). Shortly after the meeting agenda was circulated, Mr. DeFrisco was asked by the Diocese to cancel the meeting (read more).
Cancellation of the meeting was only the first step in dismantling the governance of MC. A few days later our Bishop put the Council of Administration and the EC on “abeyance.” We were “suspended.” Ultimately, the group was dissolved by the Diocese to be replaced by representatives handpicked by the Diocese (read more).
Prior to the start of the 2018-2019 academic year Mr. DeFrisco circulated a letter which misrepresented the facts about the changes to the Bylaws. This letter insinuated the Council recommended for itself to be terminated. This was far from the case. The few recommended changes from the Council in March sought to make the Council more accountable to the parishes and MC community (read more).
In an attempt to shine the light of truth and transparency on the actions of the Diocesan Leadership and its effect on the MC community, www.WeAreMC.net was launched. When news of the site was shared, Diocesan Leadership acted swiftly. Mr. DeFrisco quickly sent a letter to MC families insinuating the MC’s computer system was hacked and therefore the Woodstock Police would be investigating to find the perpetrators. As you have all seen on many occasions, the “highly protected” email addresses of the MC community are often times contained in the emails sent by MC administration officials on a daily and weekly basis. No need for a police investigation (read more)!
This entire scenario is unfortunate, frustrating and unproductive. The work being done by the teachers and the staff has been outstanding. The volunteering and support from the community continues to be incredible. However, our Diocese continues to get in the way and has yet to provide answers to our questions.
It is time that the Diocese provides transparency and respects our community. Get involved and sign your name here on our website. Share this with your family and friends. Contact the Diocese and share your concern, your prayers and your hope to restore cooperation between the Diocese and our MC community.
Invite your friends and family to review www.WeAreMC.net. Know the facts and details of this crisis.
Send your letters to Bishop David Malloy via his secretary Deacon Thomas F. McKenna, TMcKenna@rockforddiocese.org. Express your concern about how the diocese is managing its Catholic schools and request 2 things:
- Restore the subsidiarity of Marian Central Catholic High School by reinstating the by-laws and constitution that the Bishop eliminated.
- Request a meeting with the Bishop and select members of the MC community including clergy and laypersons familiar with these issues to listen and develop a constructive solution to restoring trust between the Diocese and the MC Community.