When Fr. Thomas Gillespie was yanked from the church on February 23, 1996, replacement priest Fr. Dan Ward and Abbot Timothy Kelly refused to provide an honest answer — the real reason — for Fr. Gillespie’s removal. According to the Abbey Banner, “Father Thomas Gillespie, is on sabbatical to take care of some health problems.” (Winter, 1996)
Later, Abbot John Klassen delayed the announcement of Fr. Tom Gillespie’s molestation of young boys for at least two reasons:
First, Fr. Gillespie had spent time with Jacob Wetterling’s family following Jacob’s disappearance in 1989. Second, the abbey could not afford to have Jacob’s disappearance — or the suicide of a young parishioner, Christopher Klehr — linked to Fr. Gillespie’s pedophilia.
A History of Misconduct in St. Joseph, MN
Since 1961, St. Joseph Parish in St. Joseph, MN has been home to some of St. John’s Abbey’s most notorious perpetrators of abuse and misconduct. In addition to sending pedophiles and other predators to the parish, the past two Abbots (Timothy Kelly and John Klassen) have misled the St. Joseph congregation on matters of abuse in their parish.
When Fr. Thomas Gillespie was yanked from the church on February 23, 1996, replacement priest Fr. Dan Ward and Abbot Timothy Kelly refused to provide an honest answer — the real reason — for Fr. Gillespie’s removal.
The reason provided by St. John’s:
“Assuming duties as temporary administrator of the parish in Saint Joseph, MN, is Father Daniel Ward. The former pastor, Father Thomas Gillespie, is on sabbatical to take care of some health problems.” Abbey Banner (Winter, 1996) [ View ]
Some parishioners, absent the truth, were left to believe that a 1992 abuse allegation (by another parish employee), a recent suicide in the parish, or the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling might have been too much for Fr. Gillespie to handle. Poor Fr. Tom…
When the parishioners finally received an official answer, from Abbot John Klassen in 2002, many of the details were missing. The Abbot reportedly claimed that Gillespie was pulled because of an allegation of abuse that occurred in a different parish, many years earlier. In truth, Fr. Tom Gillespie had at least four victims before arriving in St. Joseph and, during his time at the parish in St. Joseph, had at least one more. While wrestling with a 10 year old boy, Fr. Gillespie put his hands down the boy’s pants. The people of St. Joseph, not just the few who attended the meeting with the Abbot deserved then, and deserve still today, to know that truth.
Later, Abbot John Klassen delayed the announcement of Fr. Tom Gillespie’s molestation of young boys for at least two reasons. First, Fr. Gillespie had spent time with Jacob Wetterling’s family following Jacob’s disappearance in 1989. The abbey could not afford to have Jacob’s disappearance — or the suicide of a young parishioner, Christopher Klehr — linked to Fr. Gillespie’s pedophilia.
[Note: This was likely not the first and certainly not the last time that the abbey refused to release a monk's name for fear it would be linked to a local tragedy. Fr. Bruce Wollmering's name was not released to the public until 2006 because of the abbey's fear that he might be linked in any way to the 2002 disappearance of Joshua Guimond. When Wollmering's name was finally released, the abbey downplayed his multiple "relationships" with college students and inappropriate behavior dating back to the 70's.]
A second reason that the abbey likely waited six years to come clean regarding Fr. Gillespie: the statute of limitations. The abbey knows that its (financial) walls will come crashing down when a victim comes forward within the statute. It (money and the threat of a lawsuit taking it) is the reason why the abbey has been distancing itself from other entities in Collegeville lately.
[Note: Again, this was not the first time the abbey waited. In addition to Fr. Bruce Wollmering (above), the abbey waited eight years to go public with Fr. Michael Bik's history. Fr. Michael Bik, by the way, was in treatment for his misconduct at the same time he was serving as chaplain at the Prep School.]
Today, many parishioners in St. Joseph know about Fr. Cosmas Dahlheimer and Fr. Brennan Maiers. Sadly, the abbey has never released the names of other offenders and predators who have been assigned to the parish in St. Joseph, including but not limited to, Fr. Othmar Hohmann, Fr. Alban Fruth, Fr. Dan Ward and Fr. Aloysius Michaels. The abbey claims that there is not enough evidence, that credible victims refuse to come forward, or that a monk’s highly inappropriate relationship with a nun or colleague’s wife do not fall under the definition of abuse. And, when a person does come forward with such a claim, the abbey often questions the claimant’s reliability and integrity.
At one point, the abbey’s own integrity and good name may have been enough to sway judgement in the court of public opinion. That is certainly not the case today.
The abbey has a credibility problem. In Collegeville, six miles away in St. Joseph, and other places where the “dirty monks” have lived and traveled, you will find communities forever devastated by the abbey’s refusal to deal with its problems.
A partial list of St. John’s Abbey monks who have worked in St. Joseph, MN:
1961-1966 Fr. Othmar Hohmann (Associates: Alban Fruth, Olaf Skjolsvik, Brennan Maiers)
1966-1969 Aloysius Michaels (Brennan Maiers, Michael Naughton)
1969-1972 Simon Bishof (Michael Naughton)
1972-1977 Andre Bissett (Jonathan Fisher, Meinrad Dindorf)
1977-1979 Kenneth Russell (Cosmas Dahlheimer)
1979-1986 Corwin Collins (Cosmas Dahlheimer, Adrian Foxxe, Edmund Hall, Gerald Patnode, Virgil O’Neill)
1986-1996 Thomas Gillespie (Mathias Spier, Michael Bik)
1996-1996 Dan Ward
1996-2000 Florian Muggli
2000-2006 Greg Miller
2006-2010 Joseph Feders
Originally posted July 19, 2010. Edited July 20, 2010. Updated Sep 29, 2010. Updated Oct 11, 2010. Updated January 6, 2011. Updated April 7, 2011.