(CBS) — For 30 years, Father John Smyth helmed Maryville Academy in Des Plaines. He was nothing short of a miracle worker, turning wards of the state at a flailing orphanage into success stories. He was celebrated, despite Maryville’s closure in the early 2000s due to violence and a slew of damning findings, including inadequate supervision.
As the sun set on Smyth’s life, allegations of sexual misconduct arose. The stories are eerily similar: adolescent boys, athletes, African-American, from the South and West sides of Chicago. All were taken from bad situations for decades during Smyth’s tenure and sent to the venerable Maryville.READ MORE: State Reps LaShawn Ford And Fran Hurley To Host Crime Summit at UIC
Their stories, told for the first time to CBS 2 Investigative reporter Brad Edwards, raise the specter that Father Smyth may, in the end, have been more of a monster than a minister.
“To do this story right, we need to have a sense of what this man did,” Edwards told an alleged victim we’ll call Matt.
He described in graphic detail his encounters with Father Smyth.
“It was both oral and penetration,” said Matt. He went onto describe the act in detail not suitable for print.
“It made me not want to eat anything for the next two days, I kept rinsing my mouth,” said Matt. Even now, he said, “There are some days where I’m brushing my teeth 10 times a day.”
Another victim, we’ll call Mark, is a middle-age, married, African-American father.
“He [Father Smyth] would sit me on his lap and pull my pants down,” said Mark.
Smyth, 84, died in April. He was a captivating figure. He was a star on the University of Notre Dame’s basketball team and selected by St. Louis in the 1957 NBA draft. He chose the priesthood instead. He was assigned to Maryville after ordination in 1962 and became its executive director in 1970 — a position he held until it was shuttered.
“The children who come here really blossom,” Smyth once said about the residents.
“He had sex with you and then you’d get stuff?” Edwards asked Mark.
“Shoes, furloughs to go home.” Mark said. “When I went home on the weekend, it was blood in my stool.”
Mark said he told his alcoholic parents, who he said did not care. His Illinois Department of Children and Family Services [DCFS], file at the time notes Mark “recently informed his parents of his homosexuality.”
He was 12, in a Catholic home for kids, placed there by the state.
“I was crying out,” said Mark. “They never paid me attention. It was like they was protecting like Father Smyth.”
Matt’s story is eerily the same.
“After it [sex] happened, I was able to go back home on the weekends,” said Matt. “That was the exchange. After the second time it happened, I did say something to a staff member.”
“You’re saying as a 12-year-old. You were sexually assaulted and you told a staff member there — and they blew you off?” asked Edwards.
“You sound surprised by that,” said Matt.
CBS 2 Investigators obtained a memo on yet on a third alleged Father Smyth victim, who said he too reported it to Maryville.READ MORE: Multiple Juveniles Arrested After Large Gathering, Fights Near Millennium Park
The response? “That’s crazy,” according to the document.
Attorney Jeanine Stevens, represents a half-dozen alleged victims of Smyth.
Edwards: “Are there more potential victims that are out there, that have reached out to you?”
Stevens: “Absolutely, yes.”
Edwards: “Do you have a number?”
Stevens: “I would estimate I received phone calls from 30 people.”
Stevens: “30. He [Smyth] was larger than life, he would talk about his basketball days at Notre Dame.”
Edwards: “What was his M.O.?”
Stevens: “He mostly went after kids who were basketball players.”
“Basketball, and I was pretty good,” said Mark.
CBS 2 Investigators obtained nine “privileged and confidential” memos outlining alleged abuse, via the Freedom of Information Act filed with the Cook County State’s Attorney. The first two allegations against Smyth came in March of 2018.
The Archdiocese of Chicago alerted DCFS and the Cook County State’s Attorney of one of those the next day. Some 10 months later, in January of 2019, the archdiocese removed Father Smyth from ministry. When that news broke, seven more victims came forward, bringing the total to nine.
All are believed to be DCFS wards of the state, like Matt and Mark.
In March of 2018, DCFS knew of at least one alleged Father Smyth victim, but as Smyth ailed, DCFS failed. It took 10 months to finally begin a standard 60-day investigation. Today, that’s more than two months overdue.
“Why did it take them so long to investigate the allegations against him?” asks Matt. “I think it would’ve continued to happen if Maryville was never closed. I was there all the way until the very last day of it being opened.”
“I thought I was going to a better place when I went to Maryville,” said Mark.
Mark’s life has included a suicide attempt. He’s now married, but he adds, “It’s like I’m living a double life.” He cheats on his wife with other men. He can’t control it, he says. Both Mark and Matt, who don’t know each other, are attending counseling paid for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“It’s like I kept having nightmares about it, and I just kept having nightmares about him doing this to me,” Mark said.
Maryville has since reopened, reincarnated as a different kind of facility providing a variety of services. On the grounds, there’s a life-sized statue of Father Smyth made of bronze tossing a child skyward, commissioned in the 1990s.
Des Plaines police said they investigated two allegations against Father Smyth before he died, but neither of the alleged victims wished to pursue complaints. Police are currently investigating an additional allegation that was made after Smyth’s death.
However, what remains unknown is why the Des Plaines police department was not made aware of all nine alleged victims the Archdiocese, DCFS and State’s Attorney all know about.
The Archdiocese said they put the internal investigation on hold so that it doesn’t interfere with the investigations conducted by local authorities. The Archdiocese of Chicago and Cardinal Blaise Cupich said they do not comment on ongoing cases and declined CBS 2’s request for an on camera interview.
Hundreds attended Smyth’s funeral, and sang his praises. Park Ridge lawyer Frank DiFranco, represents Smyth’s interests.
“Those [the accusers] cases are people from the 1970s or 1980s. They’re absurd. It’s ridiculous. All it is is someone trying to get money on a lawsuit,” DiFranco said.
None of the alleged victims have filed suit, yet.
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The original story reported “The Archdiocese of Chicago and Cardinal Blaise Cupich said they do not comment on ongoing cases and declined CBS 2’s request for an interview. The Archdiocese says it halted an internal investigation, when the DCFS inquiry began. The reason for the Archdiocese decision is not clear.” However, in an email, the Archdiocese said “At the request of the civil authorities, we wait for them to complete their investigation before we complete ours. This minimizes the likelihood that the investigations will inadvertently interfere with each other.” We have updated the story to reflect this.