Seminary Chief Says He's Heartsick
By Mary Beth Murphy
December 24, 1992
It was the day before Christmas Eve but Christmas was the last thing on Father Keith Clark's mind.
"I didn't even think of Christmas. Normally, we would be feeling very relaxed and happy. On vacation. I haven't had a one of those feelings," the Capuchin priest said wearily in a telephone interview. Clark, 53, a native of Monroe, is president of St. Lawrence Seminary preparatory school, established by the Roman Catholic Capuchin order in 1857 in Mount Calvary, one of several tightly knit Catholic communities making up an area dubbed the "Holy Land."
A pall has fallen over the seminary in the wake of front-page headlines and television newscasts this week publicizing allegations from eight former students that they had been sexually abused in the 1970s and '80s by priests and brothers who served on the school staff.
"You have me at a moment when the impact is just about killing me," Clark said. "We're grief stricken.
"The people who have come forward with the allegations are alumni, and I just feel so bad for them that this happened to them and I feel so bad that it may have happened to others."
If anything positive can come from this, Clark said, he hoped it would free those trapped in silence.
Clark also spoke of the Catholic community nationwide, which has been rocked by the scandal of clergy sexual abuse. He said he hopes the church will respond by listening and be "purified" by the experience.
In the last few days, his emotions have run the gamut from shock, hurt and betrayal, said Clark, an alumnus of the school and a member of the Capuchins since 1958.
Reluctantly, Clark talked about feeling betrayed by those former staff members "who did things so thoroughly and completely the opposite of what the school stands for and what the other friars and lay staff and religious staff have worked so hard to do for the kids."
Asked if he felt betrayed by superiors who have been accused of not acting on complaints of sexual abuse, Clark replied, "I think it was dealt with much more than is being portrayed. Back in the '70s and '80s, it was dealt with, I'm sure, the way people knew how. So, no, I don't have any sense of that kind of betrayal. People did their best. That was 20 years ago."
However, in the case of Brother Thomas Gardipee, a teacher and athletic director at the school, reported allegations are more recent, dating to 1987. Gardipee was fired in 1988 by Father Kenneth Reinhart, leader of the Detroit-based Capuchin Province. But his decision was overturned by the provincial council and Gardipee was reinstated.
Last week, Gardipee was suspended when new information was revealed.
The Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Department is investigating allegations of sexual abuse, and representatives of the department will speak to the students when they return, Clark said.
Clark refused to discuss the situation involving Gardipee, saying he couldn't comment because of the investigation.
The staff is preparing to have meetings with parents and students when they return from Christmas break Jan. 3.
"It's not going to be business as usual," Clark said.
Classes will be delayed the first part of the week, he said.
The past few days have been the worst experience of his religious life, Clark said.
After hearing about the first story on the allegations, Clark recalled, "I was just numb."
"Two of my brothers also are alumni. I realized immediately that my youngest brother was a student when Father Gale Leifeld was here and I thought, 'Oh, geez, I hope nothing happened to him,'" he said.
Leifeld, 64, a Shorewood native, was the priest principally accused by the former students of sexual abuse. He was a teacher until 1977, then principal until he retired in 1982. The priest now is receiving treatment and has been suspended from performing any priestly duties.
Beginning the next day, the staff scrambled to notify parents and students of the allegations.
At this time, no parent has withdrawn a child from school, Clark said.
He also said the school has been overwhelmed with calls of support from parents and alumni.
"The response that has come from people who know us is encouraging. They're not losing sight of the great good they've experienced; it's not getting clouded over," he said.
"God bless them for calling us and assuring us they are remembering."
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