July 1 is a day to celebrate; school has been renamed

VTDigger [Montpelier VT]

June 30, 2023

By Maura Labelle

The name change will mean a lot to Vermonters who were victims of abuse by Catholic clergy, especially the clergy who Bishop Marshall allowed to molest children time and time again.

July 1, 2023, is a historic day. It’s the day that the name of the late Bishop John A. Marshall comes off the independent Catholic school in Morristown, which is now renamed the All Saints Catholic Academy.

For this accomplishment, I compliment the head of school, Carrie Wilson, and the school board that supported her efforts.

Marshall, who served as bishop of the Diocese of Burlington from 1972 to 1992, was likely the worst in Vermont history to serve in this position. Throughout his tenure leading the diocese, Marshall transferred from parish to parish priests who had sexually abused Catholic children. 

When those priests got to their next assignment, they abused kids again, and then were transferred again. Marshall presided over a cycle of pedophilia, but he didn’t care about the children, only about the reputation of the church and avoiding a scandal. He allowed a lot of abusers to get away with their crimes.

School founders couldn’t have known of the bishop’s transgressions when they named the Morristown school for him, as what Marshall had done was possibly the best-kept secret in Vermont history. But now that the truth is well known, Carrie Wilson and the school board have taken a bold step.

When I first called Ms. Wilson to ask that the name be changed, I was expecting her to hang up the phone on me. However, the reaction I received was quite the opposite. As a survivor of St. Joseph’s Orphanage, I appreciated her kindness. She received my thoughts warmly and told me that she supported a name change and that it was under consideration. 

Carrie was considerate of my thoughts. What a wonderful person!

Here is what she eloquently told the school community in announcing the name change, in words that will be so important to abuse survivors, as Ms. Wilson acknowledges that they are believed:

“… While we did not discuss this with the students, we would be remiss not to acknowledge that part of our motivation to rename the school relates to the unthinkable abuse of children by priests who were under the leadership of the school’s namesake, Bishop John Marshall. 

“While our school is not responsible for what transpired — nor can we change what happened years before the school was even built — we can take steps to assure our current and future students that we are committed to the process of healing. We now know better, so we must do better.”

The Catholic Church could use more leaders like Carrie Wilson. Clearly, Vermont would benefit if Bishop Christopher Coyne and his top lieutenant, Monsignor John McDermott, vicar general of the Diocese of Burlington, had just an ounce of her courage and compassion. Catholics worldwide would benefit from having women in the church leadership, rather than only men.

Carrie Wilson has devoted much of her life to the education of children. She and all who work at the newly named All Saints Catholic Academy deserve gratitude for operating a wonderful school, and at the same time working to right a wrong. Their willingness to make a necessary change will mean a lot to Vermonters who were victims of abuse by Catholic clergy, especially the clergy who Bishop Marshall allowed to molest children time and time again.

And a reminder. If you were abused by clergy, call the police and then a lawyer. However, don’t call the diocese. They will do absolutely nothing to help you, as they are only looking to protect themselves.

This commentary is by Maura Labelle of Colchester, a former resident of St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington.