The Scandals at St. Gertrude the Great

West Chester, Ohio

The Full Documented Story


January 18, 2010

School Dazed Revisited 1

The Editors

On Sunday, November 22, 2009, Fr. Anthony Cekada unveiled to the world his lengthy but futile apologia for SGG entitled "School Dazed".  Dazed indeed were those readers who made it to the end of this "definitive" defense of his school principal, Mark Lotarski.  For, never content with merely defending the indefensible, Fr. Cekada goes on to confirm his role as Calumniator-in-Chief at SGG by launching into a series of malicious and untruthful attacks designed to injure the reputation of various parishioners, teachers and priests.  

While the Gospel was being chanted about the Abomination of Desolation that Last Sunday after Pentecost, ushers at St. Gertrude's were busy handing out the text of Fr. Cekada's very own abomination.  The Editors here at SGG Info toyed at the time with issuing a refutation, but eventually decided against it for three main reasons: 

1. Everyone who read it was already so incensed about the distortions it contained, that it seemed pointless to light another match to the bonfire.
It inspired many people who were mentioned in School Dazed to write their own more accurate accounts of Fr. Cekada's mendacious narrative. 
3. To take a quote out of School Dazed itself, "There was a torrent of lies flowing.... so many that no one could possibly correct all of them, even if he had the inclination to do so."

However, two months later, we now have the benefit of all the refutations of School Dazed that have come forward.  Armed with these facts, and inspired directly and especially by the renewed rehashing of the contents of School Dazed by Bp. Dolan and his latest luminary, Fr. Charles McGuire, we have decided to provide the following first in a series of responses to Fr. Cekada's journalistic misadventure.

School Dazed
(Part 1)

-- Rev. Anthony Cekada --

School Dazed Revisited
(Part 1)

--The Editors of SGG Info --

How a few complaints about our little parish school suddenly became a world-wide campaign of lies and calumny. How Bishop Dolan's bungling mis-management of his little empire suddenly backfired, exposing a sinister underworld of abusive behavior, misuse of authority and lost souls.

A GROUP OF disgruntled parents had come into my office to complain about our school principal and his wife, Joan. The principal, they said — a big man with a typical Polish face who was also our head usher — was gruff, stand-offish; you didn’t dare suggest anything to him. He didn’t smile. Everyone was afraid of him and his wife. They treated the kids unfairly. They were ruining the school. They controlled the priests and ran the parish. We were tolerating child abuse, and the state would be informed…

Fr. Cekada begins his article as he will ultimately continue it — by misleading the reader.  In this first paragraph, you, the reader are being set up.  A descriptive list of features is presented to mislead you into thinking he is writing about Mark and Joan Lotarski.  In fact, we soon learn that the subjects in question are Gerry and Joan Mallon, erstwhile parishioners from Fr. Cekada's days in New York some thirty years ago. While he plays up the comparison to his advantage, the plain facts about the Mallons are startlingly different from the Lotarskis.

The foregoing scene played out, not in West Chester, Ohio in 2009, but on Long Island, New York, in 1979, when I was just two years a priest.  The targets of the parents’ ire were Gerry and Joan Mallon, a lovely couple who ran St. Pius V School for us. They put in countless hours to make our little school work. Joan used to say that we managed to hold it together with spit and chewing gum. Both Joan and Gerry put in hours of volunteer work to help us with administrative tasks and our publishing operation.

The Mallons were indeed a very nice couple.  Gerry was the founding principal of St. Pius V School, and he and his wife excelled in the administrative skills necessary to establish a functioning school.  However, they never received a salary comparable to that currently draining the coffers of St. Gertrude the Great, and much of their work was done on a volunteer basis.  The complaints that came in about them were never on the same level and volume as the charges brought against Mark Lotarski, and certainly were not of the same caliber.  There was never a question, for example, of lack of control, unbridled temper, bullying, favoritism, or any of the other classic symptoms exhibited by the SGG principal.

And for all their selfless work, the only thanks they got from a certain faction in the parish was jealousy, criticism, rumors and backbiting. No good deed, the joke went, ever goes unpunished.

However, even though the complaints were not that serious, Father Kelly acted quickly to protect the common good, and replaced Gerry as principal.  Father Joseph Collins, who had been ordained just two years earlier, took over the school as principal.  Gerry was taken out of the school environment entirely to allow Father Collins complete freedom, and was made parish coordinator instead, an administrative post in which he excelled.  In other words, Father Kelly employed exactly the same remedy that was suggested to Bp. Dolan time and time again.

And so it went throughout my priestly life.  Despite all the wonderful benefits that a Catholic education bestows on children, wherever there was a school, there was also always conflict, complaints and trouble, most of it from adults. The principal is too strict or too loose, too gruff or an incompetent glad-hander. There’s too much religion in the curriculum, more science is needed, you don’t teach geo-centrism, daily Mass is unnecessary, languages are a waste of time, the school is full of bullies, my kids never lie, teachers raise their voices at the kids, teachers don’t control their classrooms, the dress code is too strict, there are too many punishments, the bad kids aren’t being punished enough, you don’t expel troublemakers, you should always give a kid a second chance — the litany of contradictory complaints was endless.

The complaints Fr. Cekada lists here are certainly often prevalent in any school.  But there is a right way and a wrong way to handle them.  Great care must be taken by the principal in dealing with and avoiding this type of potential conflict, and it calls for a good share of diplomacy and "people skills" on his part.  Sadly, these are skills completely deficient in Mr. Mark Lotarski.  Fr. Cekada always knew this, certainly, and has even admitted it publicly on occasion.  But Fr. Cekada always had a different plan in mind.  For him, it was never a case of carefully balancing the educational, emotional and spiritual needs of the children, the parents, the teachers, the clergy, and the parish as a whole.  It was always simply a matter of forcing the will of the clergy on everybody else.  By his very nature, Mark Lotarski became the unwitting dupe and henchman in this autocracy. Fr. Cekada didn't want to deal himself with what he calls the "conflict, complaints and trouble" that he claims derive from a Catholic school.  So he looked for someone to play the role of mini-tyrant who would do the dirty work for him — and do it vigorously.  And it is no coincidence that he found a "big, gruff, stand-offish" man with a Polish face that "everyone was afraid of".  Sure.  He remembered Gerry Mallon from 30 years earlier, and hand-picked the candidate who came closest to resembling him.  The format worked before, it would work again, or so he reasoned.  So the supposed coincidences in the first paragraph are not really coincidences at all, but part of the grand plan of Fr. Cekada to run the school his way and keep the troublesome parents in their place.

In traditional Catholic chapels, since they are small operations, disputes over these issues spill over into parish life in general. Soon everyone — even parishioners without kids — is taking up sides and has a strong opinion on the subject.

The first ten years of Lotarski school rule has been an unmitigated disaster, with ever-decreasing numbers of students, zero vocations, and a steady stream of young souls leaving the parish. And what do the parishioners have to show for all the money they have pumped into the school?  Hmm, how about the two (yes, two!) students that they have managed to graduate in ten years, other than, of course, the Lotarskis themselves?  Fr. Cekada should not be so surprised, then, that parishioners end up taking sides, and yes, that they end up with a strong opinion about financing a Lotarski home school that manages to drive out and alienate every other family that enrolls?

As you have no doubt heard, the parish where I now work, St. Gertrude the Great in West Chester, Ohio, has recently been caught up in such a dispute. Because of the Internet, word of it has spread throughout the trad world.

Fr. Cekada is now going to "set the record straight".  Because the dreadful Internet has exposed all the awful goings on at SGG, it is now up to none other than Fr. Cekada, like Mighty Mouse, to come and save the day. 

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion or wants to take a side about what we’ve been accused of here. Child abuse, financial shenanigans, unjust dismissals, porn-watching teenagers, pampered kitties, heroic whistle-blowers, and maligned priestly champions of “truth and justice” — these are all issues you can weigh and then issue your judgments on, courtesy of the Internet forum of your choice. First-hand knowledge of how our school or parish actually operates is not required; just a rumor, a grudge and high-speed access.

Notice the sly mixture of serious accusations such as child abuse with the distracting nonsense of "pampered kitties".  Fr. Cekada is, of course, using that tired old literary device to attempt to trivialize the magnitude of the more serious charges.  It may amuse his followers, but can't really be expected to distract the objective reader from the truth.

But since I do have first-hand knowledge of how our school operates — there are no paddle-swinging ogres roaming the corridors, and the kids seem plenty happy to me — I thought I would set down my thoughts on the causes and course of this unfortunate controversy.

We also have first-hand knowledge of how St. Gertrude's operates.  And how Bp. Dolan has kept as principal a man whose personal behavioral problems would be cause for his removal in any other setting where adults have a duty of care to children.