Nun Denied Academy Honor

By Kim Martineau
Hartford Courant [Connecticut]
December 2, 2004

The name of a Catholic nun accused of sexually abusing a former student in Hamden has been removed from a list of honorees in New Jersey following a complaint by a national advocacy group for victims of clergy abuse.

Sister Linda Cusano was listed as a 2002 "Hall of Fame" honoree at the Immaculate Heart Academy in New Jersey until the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called on the school to remove the award from its website. Cusano's name was stricken from the school's Hall of Fame website the day of the complaint, Nov. 24.

"They've been caught doing an extraordinarily insensitive thing," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network. "It's inconceivable that they didn't know. It's a small religious order."

Immaculate Heart's principal, Sister Ellen Cronan, declined to discuss the school's actions. "I'm really not at liberty to comment on this situation," she said.

Cusano was a religion and morals instructor at Sacred Heart until a former student, Landa Mauriello-Vernon, accused the nun of repeated acts of abuse during Mauriello-Vernon's senior year, 1991-1992, more than a decade earlier. Cusano left Sacred Heart the day the allegations were made, said the school's principal, Ritamary Schulz. Mauriello-Vernon filed her lawsuit against Cusano and the all-girls academy in May 2003. In the lawsuit, she claimed Cusano repeatedly forced her into a vacant office in a secluded wing of the school, wrestled her to the floor and threw her body on top of hers, telling her to "submit herself to God," and "join me in the convent."

Cusano's lawyer, Margaret Fogerty Rattigan, declined comment and declined to say where Cusano is living or if she's still a practicing nun. Sacred Heart's lawyer, Stephen Fogerty, did not return calls for comment.

Two weeks ago, Mauriello-Vernon discovered Cusano's name on Immaculate Heart's website and was stunned to see the award, said her lawyer, Patricia Cofrancesco. "You would think they'd do their due diligence before they bestowed an honor of that magnitude upon her," she said.

Mauriello-Vernon now lives in Hamden with her husband and two children and coordinates the Survivor Network's Connecticut chapter. The American headquarters for the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the religious order that runs Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart, is also based in Hamden.


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