Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Letter from the Fr. Jim, Melinda, and Carol

FOR THE RECORD

One of the action items on the surveys distributed by Support UCC was to request an investigation into the resignations of our Chaplaincy Team, Jim Link, Melinda Szilva and Carol Persin.
The Chair of the Board of Governors, Dorothee Retterath, continues to hold the line that the departure of the chaplaincy team, while sudden, is not a collapse. In her letter to the Catholic Register responding to an article on SJU she stated:
"the article also created a false impression that chaplaincy at St. Jerome’s has “collapsed.” This is a wildly inaccurate characterization. While chaplaincy is undergoing a time of transition due to early retirement and a resignation, it continues as a vital aspect of our character as a Catholic university."
While a full investigation is unlikely to be initiated, the most likely source of accurate information would be from the consultant's report which is due to be delivered sometime in April. As a community we may or may not ever see that.
However, our former chaplaincy team have all agreed to publicly release their letters to the BoG. You will find them below - in order of presentation: Jim Link, Melinda Szilva and Carol Persin.

To: Dorothee Retterath, Chair, Board of Governors David Perrin, President Myroslaw Tataryn, Dean Jim Robson, Chair, Staff Assembly David Seljak, President, St. Jerome's Faculty Association Andrea Charette, Staff Representative, Board of Governors Ted McGee, Faculty Representative, Board of Governors Conrad Hewitt, Chair of College Council
January 27, 2009
The recent volley of correspondence between the various internal St. Jerome's constituencies and the Board of Governors has sadly reinforced my decision to leave St. Jerome's. In spite of missives to the contrary, it seems that any open and discussion of the issues at St. Jerome's are not welcome. The resignation of Dr. Gregor was ! the last nail in the coffin after so many people here had literally bared their working soul to him ? albeit for naught.
I want to make it perfectly clear that it was never my intention to retire from St. Jerome's at this point in my career. I resigned from my position as chaplain and director of campus ministry as the only recourse I had to managing my wholistic health. My decision to apply for early retirement (at a 12 per cent penalty) was simply a financial parachute for my religious community. My religious community is considering this to be a sabbatical until I will be reassigned to work next year.
A number of issues prompted my decision. First, over the last two years I have noticed a decided shift in the governance of this university. It is moving from a collegial and familial model of working together to a more corporate, hierarchical and less consultative model. Some staff and faculty I have spoken ! with feel that administrative is "dismissive" in listening to their suggestions or ideas. For me as a Resurrectionist, this is certainly counter to the attitude and spirit with which we tried to bring from the spirit of our own mission statement. The qualities of respect and subsidiarity are sadly suffering. Morale is low. I know of some staff who remain that they cry every day before they come to work. Many faculty have admitted that they are "working to rule," that is, they teach and then leave in order to minimalize their presence and contact at St. Jerome's. The staff are divided into two groups and a tension exists between them.
From my position as chaplain for over 16 years, I refuse to have the ministry we have done over these many years trashed or under-valued. My recent contact with some chaplains from across Canada at the National Students conference last week confirmed the respect and admiration they shared for the Melinda and me in our exemplary service as chaplains. I also feel ! that the president and dean do not valued the role of lay women in the church. The president's refusal to accept the title of Melinda as "chaplain" and his insistence that he would only call her the "associate chaplain" and his self insertion as interim chaplain following my surgery this past summer and direct displacement of Melinda's returning to work are but two examples. Melinda was on a secondment as the national coordinator for Canadian Catholic Campus Ministry but the national board had already named the successor at this point. The chair, Fr. Michael Behard, had told Melinda to go back to work at St. Jerome's. In addition, Melinda and I were schedule to host the National Chaplains' conference at St. Jerome's. The president of St. Jerome's as interim chaplain refused to pay the bills for the start up costs. I returned early from my surgery to help host the conference. Melinda and I financed it out of our own pockets.
As a ! long time chaplain I am worried about the loss of a sense of sacred space. Again and again over the past year, I have gone into Notre Dame chapel only to find it being used as storage space for air conditioners or other items designated for the residence. Or else, I find evidence from glasses and pitchers that it is being used for meetings of some unknown nature. In speaking to students at St. Jerome's and from across campus, that chapel is well respected by them as a place of quiet refuge and prayer. It should be protected and respected.
It is also of concern to me that the president and dean have repeatedly said they do not want to cancel Sunday Eucharist at St. Jerome's but in the same breath will criticize me for spending so much time working on a weekend. In my opinion, they greatly undervalue the power of Sunday Eucharist to influence and effect the lives of students. Repeatedly ? and this was reinforced by my encounter with two former alumni last week ? one of the top things that students remem! ber when they look back at St. Jerome's is their experience at Sunday Mass. Melinda and I both know that we can name well over 15 of our former students who are now chaplains, parish ministers, liturgical consultants and one with a PhD in Liturgy who will testify that it was their experience here that influenced their present careers and academic pursuits. As a former alumnus myself I could give the same testimony. For over forty years this pastoral model has been the model of ministry at St. Jerome's. It wasn't broke so why try to fix it?
I can only say that I am deeply saddened by the decision I had to make to resign. I would ask that any mention of my departure be accurately referred to as a resignation and not a retirement. I refuse to be part of the "spin-doctoring" that has surrounded the departure or firing of recent previous employees here at St. Jerome's. We have identified St. Jerome's as a place which has "enthusia! sm for the truth;" I only hope we are indeed committed to it.
Sincerely,
Fr. Jim Link, C.R.Former shared owner and founder of St. Jerome's University

January 29, 2009
To: Dorothee Retterath, Chair, Board of GovernorsDavid Perrin, PresidentMyroslaw Tataryn, DeanJim Robson, Chair, Staff AssemblyDavid Seljak, President, St. Jerome?s Faculty AssociationAndrea Charette, Staff Representative, Board of GovernorsTed McGee, Faculty Representative, Board of GovernorsConrad Hewitt, Chair of College Council

A recent media release was sent out by Dr. Perrin to the staff, faculty and members of the Board of Governors announcing the new position I accepted in January. I am not sure how he got that announcement since it was not sent to St. Jerome's. I want to be clear that I applied for the position because I knew I needed to leave St. Jerome's. I did not in any way encourage any member of College Council to ask for an ex! it interview. I had thought of my meeting with Dr. Gregor as an exit interview of sorts. It is extremely unfortunate that we will never see his report due to his resignation. I was also very hurt to hear the Executive Committee say that even if the Steering Committee did interview us they wouldn't allow the board to see the results. Why are they so convinced that the board should not hear from faculty and staff about their experience? I have a question to ask those who continue to de-value the experience of those who feel they have been treated unjustly. How can you reduce the experience of these people to acts of ingratitude or over-dramatization? What did I have to gain in speaking up when I did? What did I have to gain by quitting my job? What did I have to gain by losing my faith community? I continue to grieve these losses. Honesty led me to leave St. Jerome's and endure these losses. What I have retained is my sense of self-respect. ! When I first came to St. Jerome's things fell into place. I truly felt God was calling me to be there. Once again I have been given a new path that feels like a gift. I was offered a very good job at the beginning of January. I am very grateful for the chance to work for an organization dedicated to the valuable work of helping people find Hope in times of crisis. The experience is like having been dead and then being brought back to life. I truly hope that St. Jerome's will have a similar transformation. May it one day be again the St. Jerome's we knew and loved and fought for with pride. Sincerely, Melinda Szilva, Former Chaplain

January 28, 2009

To: Dorothee Retterath, Chair, Board of Governors
David Perrin, President
Myroslaw Tataryn, Dean
Jim Robson, Chair, Staff Assembly
David Seljak, President , St. Jerome’s Faculty Association
Andrea Charette, Staff Representative, Board of Governors
Ted McGee, Faculty Representative, Board of Governors
Conrad Hewitt, Chair of College Council

I wish to communicate to you my disappointment in the decision by the Executive Committee of the SJU Board to reject the motion by College Council to conduct interviews with the outgoing chaplaincy. I felt that the interview process was one way to inform Board members of a conflict that has led t the resignation of the entire chaplaincy team without going public. The decision by the Executive Committee now requires that I state in a public letter why I am leaving.

I do not write this letter to assign blame but simply to state publicly that it is not accurate to describe my departure from St. Jerome’s as a happy decision to take early retirement as has been done on several occasions. I resign my position with great sadness and as a direct result of the crisis in morale and confidence that is found at almost every level as SJU.

I pray that St. Jerome’s will find a way to move past these problems in the near future.

Sincerely,

Carol Persin

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