Today (November 10, 2009) marks the seven year anniversary of Joshua Guimond’s disappearance from the St. John’s University campus in Collegeville, Minnesota.
There are still more questions than answers. In the absence of answers, even more questions are being asked.
Most people are aware that the disappearance of Joshua Guimond is similar to other cases involving missing college students across the country. There are also dissimilarities.
On Saturday (November 7, 2009), a “Justice for Josh” march took place near the St. John’s University campus. The family was supported by more than two dozen participants. The group marched along the county road near campus and up to the building where Joshua was playing cards before he disappeared.
The night before, a meeting regarding Joshua Guimond took place in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Attending were people with background in law enforcement, profiling, psychology, criminal law, abuse, advocacy and investigation. The group’s goal was to review all of the facts, look at Joshua’s case on its own merits, and consider all possible scenarios.
At the end of the night, the possibility that someone who worked or lived on the St. John’s University campus was involved in Joshua Guimond’s disappearance was not ruled out.
There were sex offenders who were on campus, and known to the public, who weren’t properly investigated in the disappearance of Joshua Guimond. There were also offenders on campus, whose names were not known to the public, who weren’t properly investigated either.
The University and Abbey have rarely been proactive in announcing the name of an offending employee. When they do announce the name, the nature of the employee’s inappropriate behavior is usually understated or lied about.
Brother Isaac Connolly and Father Bruce Wollmering are great examples of the deceptive tactics used by the University and Abbey.
Brother Isaac Connolly
On October 2, 2002 the St. Cloud Times reported that a settlement agreement between St. John’s and several victims had been reached. Three days later, and one month before Joshua Guimond disappeared, another article appeared in the St. Cloud Times.
This October 5, 2002 article was about Brother Isaac Connolly taking a leave for “conduct concerns”. According to Abbey spokesperson William Skudlarek there was one allegation, that “Connolly’s conduct does not fall under any legal definition of sexual abuse”, that “the allegation does not involve a student”, and that Abbot John Klassen didn’t know about the allegation until the spring of 2002.
Four separate lies by the University and Abbey. They almost got away with it.
Brother Isaac Connolly was accused of two separate incidents of misconduct with students at SJU. After supplying alcohol, Connolly took a nude shower with a male student. In a separate instance, Connolly attempted to sodomize a male student after several years of grooming.
Connolly had plenty of student contact at both the Prep School and University between 1975 and 2002. According to St. John’s University spokesman Michael Hemmesch, “Connolly is one of the most visible monks to university students”.
Connolly worked in the SJU residence halls until the first incident occurred in 1979. Connolly was then sent to Japan for several years. He returned to work at the Prep School in 1986.
When the Abbey learned of an allegation against Connolly in 2000, he went to St. Luke’s for therapy. But Connolly remained on staff until he was removed in 2002 when threats to go public with the second incident were made.
In May of 2002, Stearns County Sheriff Jim Kostreba met with the Abbot to ask to review the records as part of investigations into two unsolved cases. It is believed that Brother Isaac Connolly was not part of that May of 2002 record review, even though the Abbey and Abbot Klassen knew of his past. Connolly was not fully investigated when Guimond disappeared either.
Father Bruce Wollmering
Another example of the Abbey’s deceptive tactics involves Father Bruce Wollmering, the former chair of the St. John’s University Psychology Department. Wollmering began molesting students in the 1960’s. In 2001, Wollmering confessed to one of his 1980’s victims that he was “in love” with a student on campus. In 2003, Wollmering was reported to the University and Abbey for sexual harassment. He was allowed to keep teaching, however, until the end of the 2002-2003 school year when he agreed (as part of a settlement?) to step down from his teaching and counselor duties. He resigned with dignity the next year.
The University and Abbey managed to keep Wollmering’s behavior (and his numerous inappropriate relationships) quiet until 2006. The Abbot has admitted that one reason for delaying the release of Wollmering’s name was the effect it might have on the University’s capital campaign. The Abbot convinced almost every member of his settlement-created External Review Board (members at the time included Kate Lally, Tom Frost, David Baraga, Susan Fuchs-Hoeschen, Father Dale Launderville, David Farrington, Barbara Illsley, and Charles Flinn) that delaying the announcement was the right call. Pat Marker resigned in protest of the Abbot’s deception and the Board’s participation in the coverup.
Father Wollmering is believed to have had at least twelve known inappropriate relationships as a priest, counselor and professor. The ages of the known victims ranged from 14 to 23 and older. A conservative estimate on the number of actual victims is likely over fifty. Experts in the area of abuse would assert that the number is closer to 120.
When Wollmering died in February of 2009, his room in the monastery was reportedly sealed for two days and searched by the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department has not released their findings. On Saturday, the Guimond family requested that the Sheriff’s Department’s findings be made public. Time will tell if they do the right thing.
What role (directly or indirectly) did Brother Isaac Connolly, Father Bruce Wollmering or other offenders in Collegeville have in Joshua Guimond’s disappearance? Did the fact that Collegeville is known to house sexual and other perpetrators have a role? What other information is being withheld by University and Abbey officials because of the damage it could cause?
Victims and their families are waiting for that information. They are also waiting for the lies (either by deception and omission) to stop.
Only when the St. John’s community puts truth and safety before secrecy and money will true progress and healing begin. The community’s continued desire to deceive, rather than fully disclose, means that we’ll hear the same stories (with different victims) repeated every few years.
We are about to enter that cycle again. The last time was just after the Wollmering disclosure. The time before that was just before Joshua Guimond disappeared.
What did Joshua think about abuse on campus? We don’t know. Yet.
The day after the October 2, 2002 St. Cloud Times’ article about the settlement agreement between St. John’s and several victims, Joshua Guimond performed an Internet search on “St. John’s Abbey” “Statute of Limitations” and “Conspiracy” even though the St. Cloud Times article didn’t mention the statute or anything about a conspiracy.
What Joshua Guimond looking for? We don’t know. Yet.
We do know that many files on Joshua’s hard drive were deleted in the days after he disappeared. Seven years later, the files are slowly being recovered.
A recent search of Joshua’s hard drive includes a cached copy of an October 22, 2002 Star Tribune article “St. John’s launches ad campaign to counter image woes”. The story was dated, and was accessed by Joshua, two weeks before he disappeared.
The article begins… “After a season of bad news about sexual abuse by some monks at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., the monastery’s university has launched a series of ads intended to offer a positive view of the school.” And continues… “But there’s no question that another reason for the ad is because of the sexual-abuse issue.”
What did Joshua Guimond think about the Abbey’s hypocrisy? We don’t know. Yet.
There is no debating that the Abbey, the Abbot and many members of the monastic community have committed inappropriate and illegal acts. Abbey officials have been willing to say nothing or when asked, deceive as necessary. They are still doing it.
On Saturday, the Guimond family requested a list of names of personnel on campus who have had assault allegations made against them. Each one should be questioned.
Certainly, every known monk offender should be questioned before they meet an untimely death (like Father Bruce Wollmering), leave the monastery (like Brother Jim Phillips, Brother John Kelly and others) or are allowed to travel the world unrestricted (like Father Francisco Schulte).
The process of elimination should have started seven years ago. Until all suspects are eliminated, the possibility remains that one or more was involved in the disappearance of Joshua Guimond.
Which one or how many? We just don’t know. Yet.
But let’s not be afraid to ask the questions and expect honest answers.