Former Servite principal Brennan takes over at Mater Dei amid football hazing scandal

Orange County Register [Anaheim, CA]

January 7, 2022

By Scott M. Reid

Former Servite High School principal Michael P. Brennan has been hired to serve as president of Mater Dei High School, the Diocese of Orange announced Friday.

Brennan, currently the president of Long Beach’s St. Anthony High School, starts his new position on Feb. 1 as Mater Dei finds itself in the midst of a hazing controversy that has attracted national attention and called into question the culture within the school’s national championship football program, athletic program and the future of longtime head football coach Bruce Rollinson and principal Frances Clare.

Brennan replaces Father Walter Jenkins, who resigned last week amid tensions Rollinson and his supporters.

Jenkins’ departure came just days before attorneys for a Sacramento law firm are scheduled to start interviewing Mater Dei students and staff as part of an investigation into the culture of the Monarch football and athletic programs. The investigation, commissioned by Jenkins in November, is in response to a series of Orange County Register reports detailing alleged assaults by three Monarch football players on a teammate and classmate.

The Register reports prompted increasing calls for Rollinson and Clare’s firings even as the Monarchs rolled to a national championship.

Prior to taking over at St. Anthony in 2021, Brennan was Servite’s principal for 15 years. He also served as Trinity League president and chairperson for CIF Southern Section Orange County League Placement.

“I am excited to return to Orange County and thrilled at the opportunity and promise of leading Mater Dei, one of our nation’s preeminent Catholic schools,” Brennan said in a statement released by the Diocese of Orange. “Catholic education has always been pivotal in providing society with devout, ethical leaders and citizens of tomorrow. This classical form of education is necessary to maintain a culture of goodness not only locally, but also across our nation and world.”

For St. Anthony High School, however, Brennan’s move to Mater Dei represents a challenge – a relatively unprecedented one.

The Long Beach school had spent 20 years under the same leader, former President Gina Rushing Maguire.

Maguire, a 1967 St. Anthony graduate, has been credited with rescuing the school from closure in 2001.

Through her leadership, the school managed to collect more than $50 million in gifts, enabling the expansion of curriculum, programs, financial aid, technology and facility renovations.

Brennan was thought to be a qualified successor who would also have a lengthy tenure.

“This is a huge disappointment for us. Mike literally just got here,” said Steve James, former vice chair of the St. Anthony’s Consultative School Board, who was on the panel when Brennan was hired. “Mike was really qualified. We had a lot of optimism that he could fill the shoes of Gina.”

Mike Curran, the current board chair who was also on the selection committee when the Archdiocese of Los Angeles hired Brennan, said much the same, but added that he hopes they can find a new president by June.

“I am very disappointed at Mike’s leaving,” Curran said. “We were in the process of orienting him to St. Anthony’s and the community. This is a challenge, but we have had challenges before and overcame them.”

As for Mater Dei, Jenkins on Nov. 30 commissioned an investigation by a law firm into the safety practices of the school’s athletic programs. Jenkins also announced he was creating a task force to review “how athletics is engaged.”

That investigators were scheduled to begin interviewing Mater Dei students and staff Thursday.

“Clearly sports are an important part of any high school experience, but they are not the sole mission of Mater Dei.” Jenkins wrote in a letter to Mater Dei parents and students at the time. “We must ensure balance.”

Tension between Jenkins and Rollinson and his supporters was evident amid the postgame celebration following Mater Dei’s 44-7 victory against Serra High of San Mateo in the CIF State championship game last month. A smiling Jenkins approached Rollinson’s family to congratulate them but was rebuffed by Rollinson’s wife. Jenkins and Clare were later involved in a heated discussion on the field as Mater Dei players, coaches and fans looked on.

“It looked like you and Clare were having a heated conversation,” Jenkins was asked as he left the stadium.

Jenkins replied, “We’ve had a lot of those these days.”

A Register report in November detailed how a current Mater Dei football player punched a teammate, 50 pounds lighter than him, three times in the face during an alleged hazing ritual called “Bodies” on Feb. 4 while other Monarchs players shouted racial epithets at the smaller player, according to two videos of the altercation obtained by the Register.

The Santa Ana Police Department recommended the larger player be prosecuted for felony battery, according to a police report. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office does not intend to file charges in the case. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said the altercation does not meet the legal standards for criminal “hazing” or felony assault, but he is willing to consider additional evidence.

“If I had a hundred dollars for every time these kids played ‘Bodies’ or ‘Slappies,’ I’d be a millionaire,” Rollinson told the injured player’s father the day after the altercation, according to a court filing.

Mater Dei officials initially declined to cooperate with Santa Ana Police Department investigators, according to police reports. Rollinson and Kevin Kiernan, the school’s athletic director, finally agreed to be interviewed by a Santa Ana Police Department investigator with Mater Dei assistant principal for student services Miguel Gutierrez present on April 21, more than two months after the altercation and when the Santa Ana PD first requested information from the school, according to police reports.

Rollinson during the police interview denied hazing existed in the Mater Dei program. He added that the interview was the first time he had heard of the “Bodies” game.

The Register also reported that Chase Hall, a Mater Dei basketball player, allegedly was attacked and beaten by two Mater Dei football players as he left a gathering in Irvine shortly after midnight May 5, 2019, according to police reports.

Hall’s jaw was broken during the altercation and he will require additional surgery.

“I’ll never forget what the surgeon said,” Mary Hall, Chase’s mother told the Register while discussing the punch that broke her son’s jaw. “He said if it had been a quarter-inch higher.

“He would be dead.”

An Irvine Police Department investigator recommended that the two Mater Dei players be charged with aggravated battery and they along with a classmate, who police allege orchestrated the beating, be charged with criminal conspiracy. The two players were given probation, according to Mary Hall.

The Hall family filed suit in Orange County Superior Court this past May 5 against an All-County linebacker for Mater Dei (Player 1), a senior Monarch lineman who had received a scholarship offer to play at a Pac-12 school (Player 2), and a classmate alleging assault, battery, negligence, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment. The suit continues to proceed through the court.

The Mater Dei commissioned investigation will also focus on videos showing Monarch football players acting out simulated sex acts on other players, alleged hazing and fights in the school’s locker room, Mater Dei officials told the Orange County Register.

One video is a compilation of events taking place largely in the Mater Dei football locker room and begins with a Monarch player sneaking up behind a smaller player and placing a bag or pillowcase over the head of the smaller player who is then surrounded by other players. The video continues to show a fight among players while other players cheered, players simulating sex acts on each other, at least six players surrounding and simultaneously slapping a cowering player, a player being dragged across the locker-room past a condom and a semi-nude player sitting on a toilet.

A second video titled “Miss Summer Ball” shows a Mater Dei player approaching a seated player and then starting to pull down the sitting player’s shorts and underwear off and then acting out simulated sexual acts on the player while at least 20 teammates cheered, laughed and filmed the incident with their cell phones.

Both videos were posted on social media accounts of Mater Dei players. Mater Dei confirmed that the videos are from 2018.

“I understand those videos to be a couple of years old, but nonetheless appalling,” Jenkins told the Register last week. “They should certainly be part of the safety review conducted by the independent law firm.”

Staff writer Rich Archbold contributed to this report.