CHICAGO (CBS) — The CBS 2 Investigators made a remarkable discovery about the statue of once-beloved Fr. John Smyth, the disgraced longtime leader of Maryville Academy in Des Plaines.
The bronze statue came to symbolize pain for grown men who have accused Smyth of sexually abusing them when they were children.
CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards sat down with the attorney representing a dozen accusers, and then he went to see the statue.
Smyth 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 in 2004.
Smyth could have been a star in the NBA, yet he decided to take over a rundown orphanage in Des Plaines
“It’s a very curious question,” said Jeanine Stevens, an attorney for 12 of Smyth’s alleged victims. “My first thought is why did you do that unless you were looking for a place to hide? And you needed to hide something like your need to molest little children, and to dominate little children, and to control them, and you have no other place to do that. You get in the NBA, you’re not going to be able to do that, and you’re not going to have access to children.”
“He’d been there just a few years before we started learning of victims in the 60s, all the way up until 2003, 2004. There are victims in the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, the 2000s. It just started and it never ended,”
Smyth had a 9-foot tall monument to his work at Maryville Academy.
“He just lived and breathed to help people,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said at Smyth’s funeral earlier this year.
Smyth died in April to accolades, despite his priestly collar having been removed from his neck in January amid sexual misconduct allegations.
During CBS 2’s months-long investigation, that 9-foot bronze statue, commissioned in 1996, came up time and time again. The work is titled “Standing Tall.”
Stevens and the alleged victims she represents have called for the statue just outside the Maryville chapel to be removed.
“It’s got to come down. It absolutely must come down,” Stevens said. “It’s got to come down immediately, and we have to stop pretending that Father John Smyth had a beneficial effect on these children.”
“What I think should happen with that statue is it should be removed,” said one victim, who CBS 2 is naming only as Matt. “It doesn’t need to be there. It represents the complete opposite of what I think Maryville was intended to stand for.”
“It’s like when they tore down Saddam Hussein’s statue down. The same with that. Put a rope around it and take it down,” said another victim, who we’ll name John.
The statue is now gone, but a plaque still stands on a pedestal near where the statue once was.
So where is the statue?
The artist didn’t even know it was gone.
The head of Maryville Academy said no one asked her for permission to remove the statue, and it was taken down without her knowledge. She referred CBS 2 to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.
A spokeswoman said the Archdiocese did not authorize the statue’s removal.