Files Complaint against Diocese
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
February 12, 2014
ALBUQUERQUE — One of the Diocese of Gallup’s own
mission schools has filed a complaint against it in U.S.
On Jan. 30, Albuquerque attorney Charles R. Hughson,
legal counsel for St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School,
filed a complaint concerning a dispute over real estate property
According to the Gallup Diocese, St. Bonaventure is
one of its 10 diocesan Catholic schools. St. Michael Indian
School is classified as a private Catholic school in the
In the Complaint to Quiet Title, Hughson argues that
property Bishop James S. Wall claimed as belonging to the
diocese actually belongs to St. Bonaventure. Hughson also claims
a former chief executive of St. Bonaventure Mission transferred
property to the diocese without authorization. Included with the
complaint are copies of four warranty deeds involving land
transactions from 1992 to 2002.
Hughson declined to comment when contacted Friday.
“Because it’s pending litigation, I’m not free to
comment on it,” he said.
According to the first warranty deed, the Diocese of
Gallup transferred eight parcels of land in Thoreau to St.
Bonaventure in September 1992. Bishop Donald E. Pelotte signed
the warranty deed before Anna J. DiGregorio, one of his longtime
chancery staff members and notaries.
The second warranty deed indicates Robert D.
O’Connell, then the school’s chief executive, transferred most
of those same parcels back to the Gallup Diocese in March 2002.
In the complaint, Hughson claims O’Connell wasn’t authorized to
transfer the property “since no board resolution to transfer the
Deeded Property was made and it was not within the scope of
authority conferred on the executive director under St.
Hughson claims O’Connell’s warranty deed is invalid
and that St. Bonaventure has been paying the taxes and insurance
on the property since receiving it from the diocese in 1992.
Citing a statute in state law, Hughson argues the Diocese of
Gallup “has been barred since at least September, 2002, from
challenging St. Bonaventure’s title” to the property.
Two other warranty deeds indicate St. Bonaventure sold
two properties to private individuals in the mid-1990s. Barbara
Jean Morales, vice-president of the school, signed a warranty
deed on Nov. 4, 1994, apparently selling a parcel of land the
Gallup Diocese had given the school two years before. Another
warranty deed, signed by O’Connell on June 6, 1995, involves a
parcel of land that does not appear to be part of the land given
by the diocese.
The document signed by Morales possibly violated a
provision of the warranty deed signed by Pelotte in 1992 that
stated “in the event the above-described property is no longer
used as a Catholic Mission and School, said property shall
revert to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup.”
O’Connell, who now lives in Colorado, was contacted
for comment Friday. O’Connell disagreed with Hughson’s assertion
that he had acted without authorization.
“I wouldn’t have done that unilaterally,” he said.
According to O’Connell, he served as chief executive
of St. Bonaventure from 1994 to 2006. During that time, he said,
minutes were kept of school board meetings and any decisions
regarding property transfers were discussed and approved by the
board. O’Connell said the board president was Paul Leche, an
attorney from Austin, Texas, who was always concerned with legal
“Paul Leche was very vigilant about things being done
properly,” O’Connell said.
The Rev. Thomas Maikowski, then the director of
education for the Gallup Diocese, was very detail oriented and
also concerned that proper protocol was followed, O’Connell
According to O’Connell, the parcels of land in
question had been donated by Phillips Petroleum, and there were
a number of discussions between chancery and mission officials
about who should own the land and what should be done with the
At the time, O’Connell said, there was a “big push”
coming down from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for
dioceses, not parishes, to own all church property.
“I didn’t push back very hard and neither did the
board,” he said.
O’Connell did remember the 1995 sale of one parcel of
land to a private individual and said the land was sold to help
pay the taxes on other properties. He also agreed with Hughson’s
assertion that it was St. Bonaventure, not the Gallup Diocese,
which paid the property taxes on the Thoreau land.
O’Connell also recalled that the future of St.
Bonaventure Indian Mission and School was very uncertain when he
was hired in 1994. The diocese had just removed the Rev. Doug
McNeill, the mission’s previous director, after McNeill had been
named in a clergy sex abuse lawsuit. According to O’Connell,
Pelotte would only allow the mission to erect temporary
buildings because if enrollment faltered, the diocese would
close the school and sell off the property.
An additional complicating factor, he said, was that
St. Bonaventure was not an independent 501(c)(3) organization,
but rather used the Diocese of Gallup’s 501(c)(3) status.
“They could take that 501(c)(3) status away from us,”
The Diocese of Gallup’s bankruptcy attorneys have not
yet responded to the St. Bonaventure complaint.
In October 2012, St. Bonaventure made national news
after becoming embroiled in a fundraising fiasco with Quadriga
Art, a New York direct-marketing company whose business
practices were being investigated by the U.S. Senate Committee
on Finance. A CNN news investigation claimed St. Bonaventure
allegedly owed Quadriga Art $5 million after signing a
fundraising contract with the company in 2008. CNN reported that
debt was forgiven once the news network began investigating St.
Bonaventure’s contract with Quadriga Art.
That contract had apparently been signed in violation
of the Diocese of Gallup’s published financial policies. In
comments to the media, diocesan attorney James “Jay” Mason said
officials with the Gallup Diocese were unaware of St.
Bonaventure’s predicament until contacted by CNN.