Kamehameha Teacher Put on Leave

By Susan Essoyan
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
September 27, 2009

A teacher who joined the faculty of Kamehameha Schools after being barred by his former religious order from working with children has been put on leave.

The Star-Bulletin reported Friday that Thomas J. Gardipee had been banned from teaching or ministry with minors because of alleged sexual misconduct with students at St. Lawrence Seminary High School in Mount Calvary, Wis.

The Capuchin Province of St. Joseph, which owns and runs St. Lawrence, removed him from his position as athletic director and teacher in December 1992, according to Provincial Minister John Celichowski. His superiors prohibited Gardipee, a Capuchin friar, from working with minors from that point until he chose to leave the Detroit-based religious order in May 2001, Celichowski said.

A year later, he was hired by Kamehameha Schools, where he teaches world history to high school students. The news of his troubled past shocked the Kapalama campus, but some students posted online comments praising him. School officials said they stood by Gardipee but would investigate the matter.

"He has earned respect as an excellent teacher, and his performance in the classroom and other school responsibilities have never given us reason to question his character," Michael Chun, headmaster of Kamehameha Schools, said in a letter issued in response to the Star-Bulletin's article.

"At the time of his hire in 2002, Kamehameha Schools followed our normal hiring procedures, including criminal background and reference checks. At this time, we are investigating apparent inconsistencies between what the newspaper has reported and information we have gathered. The teacher is currently on leave as we review this situation."

Kekoa Paulsen, director of community relations and communications for Kamehameha, said yesterday that Gardipee remains an employee in good standing. "We will take appropriate action once our review is complete," Paulsen said.

Gardipee, 52, has not responded to requests to be interviewed and his attorney Dean Choy declined to comment on the situation yesterday.

The Capuchins took action against Gardipee in 1992 after four former St. Lawrence students said he had given them alcohol, erotic magazines and condoms, and two said he had invited them to masturbate with him in his room, according to the Milwaukee Journal.

Students had lodged similar accusations against him in 1988 and the province removed him from his job at the Catholic boys' boarding school, but reinstated him three months later, Celichowski told the Star-Bulletin. In January 1993, Gardipee faced a criminal charge of enticing a minor for immoral purposes and intimidating a witness, but those charges were dropped.

In April 1993, a 21-year-old alumnus of the school filed a civil suit against the Capuchin Province, the school and Gardipee in Circuit Court in Waukesha County. It accused Gardipee of sexually abusing, harassing and stalking him over a period of three years, as reported in the Chicago Tribune. A settlement was reached in that case, according to Celichowski.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction began proceedings to revoke Gardipee's teaching license in 1994, according to communications officer Patrick Gasper. But the license had already expired. Gardipee's name is listed in its educator database with the words "licenses denied."

Some of his current and former Kamehameha students are speaking out on his behalf, and decrying the newspaper for revealing his background.

"In my time at KS, Mr. Gardipee struck me as a considerate, well-educated and passionate teacher," Carina Chernisky, a 2006 graduate, wrote in an e-mail to the Star-Bulletin.

"It is very apparent that he loves what he does," she said. "I was also a part of the group he took to Europe in 2005, and my respect and admiration for him only grew throughout the trip. ... Even if these allegations were true, he's obviously changed."

Peter Isely, Midwest director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said yesterday that the Capuchins took action against Gardipee after "extensive, expert investigation" and they restricted his activities for as long as they could.

"The children of your storied and famous school deserve as much protection and care, surely, as the children in Wisconsin," Isely wrote in a letter to Kamehameha's headmaster Friday. "Gardipee, no matter what his other qualities, quite clearly appears to have forfeited his privilege to work with youngsters and obviously must seek a livelihood in some other capacity."

After he was barred from teaching, Gardipee spent his remaining eight years with the Capuchins making and selling pottery before he was hired at Kamehameha.

"This raises a lot of troubling questions about due diligence and vetting of teachers at Kamehameha Schools," Isely said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.