Brother Isaac Connolly, a former dean of students at St. John’s University, took a leave from the St. John’s Abbey after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced this spring, the campus community learned Wednesday.
The allegations were not a case of sexual abuse, said the Rev. William Skudlarek, abbey spokesman, who said Connolly asked for the leave.
Abbot John Klassen and St. John’s University President Dietrich Reinhart told students about Connolly’s situation Wednesday during a meeting to address questions about a recent legal settlement and media articles about sex abuse. A meeting earlier in the afternoon addressed similar concerns with staff.
Skudlarek would not reveal the allegation’s details. He said Connolly’s conduct does not fall under any legal definition of sexual abuse. The allegation does not involve a student and happened more than a decade ago, he said.
“It was an allegation of an incident of sexual misconduct that was inappropriate for a vowed monk,” he said.
Klassen asked Connolly, a former dean of students who has worked with preparatory and university students since 1976, about the allegations in April when a former student brought it forward.
The leave for vocational discernment that began in April and will last three years was not at Klassen’s request, Skudlarek said. It is common for a member to take a leave when considering leaving the monastery, he said.
Skudlarek wouldn’t say where Connolly now resides, in order to respect “the need he felt for distance and separation to work things through.” Connolly could not be reached for this story.
Connolly is one of the most visible monks to university students, said Michael Hemmesch, St. John’s University spokesman, who attended Wednesday’s session for students. The loss of Connolly, who most recently worked as the university’s executive assistant to the vice president of student development, caused “quite a void in the student development area,” Hemmesch said.
Emily Maeckelbergh, a senior at the College of St. Benedict, attended Wednesday’s meeting.
“I think the monastery wanted to get the point across that they are really active in addressing the problem, including the victims and the monastic community and the students,” she said.
Students asked about Connolly wanting to know how the abbey was addressing the situation as well as how the monk and former university administrator was doing. Regarding the latter, students were told they could contact Connolly with letters addressed to the abbey.
Maeckelbergh said she has “a mixed feeling” about the Connolly news, saying she was surprised to hear his name come up, but she was reassured by Klassen and Reinhart.
“I’m glad they said it, that they named his name,” she said. “It makes me feel safer to know they are taking care of these problems rather than brush them under the carpet.”
St. John’s Monk Takes Leave after Conduct Concerns
By Kristin Gustafson
St. Cloud Times
October 5, 2002