Reporting Mike Parker
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Amid the upheaval of their longtime pastor being forced to move out of the rectory as a new pastor takes over, parishioners of a Catholic church on the Southwest Side were facing a new challenge on Tuesday – the parish’s school principal just quit.
Rickey Harris has resigned as principal of St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic School, saying he felt disrespected by the new pastor, Rev. William O’Donnell. He also cited a “lack of support given by the Office of Catholic Schools” when O’Donnell suspended him after joining St. Margaret.
Harris’ resignation comes the same week St. Margaret’s former longtime pastor, Rev. Dan Mallette, is being told to move out of the church rectory for six months, so repairs can be made and O’Donnell – officially installed as the new pastor on Sunday – can establish himself in the parish.
“The unfortunate events of these past weeks have caused me to pause and reflect on who I am, my purpose, and whether or not I will allow myself to be disrespected, my integrity questioned, and reputation that I have worked so hard to build to be stained with deception and untruths,” Harris said in a letter to parents and students.
Scores of parents came to a meeting at the school Tuesday night to try to find out more about why Harris suddenly resigned. Parents and students seemed to love and respect him.
“He had a whole lot of different things that’s worked for the parents and the kids. And that’s what I’m interested in. As long as she’s happy, I’m happy,” Ron Robertson said.
“I don’t believe he should have left,” he added.
In his letter, Harris blamed his relationship with O’Donnell.
“I am quite uncertain of any future events by him. Thus, I must use wisdom and protect myself,” he wrote in his letter.
Reporters and cameras were barred from the parents’ meeting at the school on Tuesday, on O’Donnell’s orders. He also refused to discuss the controversy.
“I don’t really care to carry this out, and explain this through the media,” he said.
Asked if he was sorry Harris resigned, O’Donnell said, “Is there anything that I can say to you that I just haven’t said? I don’t care to carry this out in the media, okay?”
Several parents leaving the meeting said no details were given about the resignation. One parent said they were told simply that there was a conflict – an “exchange,” as she put it – between Harris and O’Donnell.
Mallette – who is now pastor emeritus at St. Margaret of Scotland and can return to the rectory after six months – has also clashed with O’Donnell.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Mallette has called his successor “a genius at being a pain in the ass.”
Mallette accused O’Donnell of barring him from saying mass in the church, and cutting off his phone lines after O’Donnell started working there.
Mallette had been pastor at St. Margaret for 35 years, and built one of the city’s most diverse congregations with numerous worshipers both white and African-American.
But the surrounding neighborhood has been plagued for many years by gang violence, and assailants have twice attacked Mallette in his rectory bedroom.
The first time, in 2002, he fought them off, but last year a pair of robbers beat him and left him with broken ribs and facial injuries, in a brutal attack that dominated the headlines in early December.
Mallette has said he doesn’t know where he will go when he moves out of the rectory.
“First time since I was a baby that I don’t have a place to sleep,” he said Monday morning.
But the Archdiocese of Chicago said that’s not true. Spokeswoman Colleen said Mallette has been given a number of options, including priest retirement homes and other accommodations.