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Ave Maria University fires Fr. Fessio again

The priest had previously been fired from his position as university provost in March 2007, and was rehired in a less prominent position after protests from students and other Catholics.

Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, the founder of Ignatius Press and a former student of Pope Benedict, has been fired from his position as theologian in residence at Ave Maria University.

Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, the founder of Ignatius Press and a former student of Pope Benedict, has been fired from his position as theologian in residence at Ave Maria University.


NAPLES, FL (CNA) - Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, the founder of Ignatius Press and a former student of Pope Benedict, has been fired from his position as theologian in residence at Ave Maria University. The action reportedly was taken because he criticized the administration’s handling of the school’s finances.

In a Monday letter, Fr. Fessio said that Dr. Jack Sites, Academic Vice President of Ave Maria University (AMU), had flown into San Francisco for an “amicable” Monday meeting with the priest to inform him that he was being dismissed.

Fr. Fessio said the dismissal stemmed from a November 2008 conversation Fr. Fessio had with Jack Donohue, who was then chairman of the board of AMU. According to Fr. Fessio, he told Donohue about the “urgency” of the university’s financial situation.

“I told him that there were policies being followed that were at the root of the problem, that the present administration was irrevocably wedded to those policies, and that without a change of administration the university was at great risk.”

In Fr. Fessio’s and Dr. Sites’ Monday meeting, Sites reportedly explained that Donohue had related the conversation to Tom Monaghan, a founder, major donor and present chancellor of AMU.

According to Fr. Fessio, it was decided by unknown persons “that the university could not have a faculty member making these criticisms of the administration and thus undermining the university.”

The priest had previously been fired from his position as university provost in March 2007, and was rehired in a less prominent position after protests from students and other Catholics. In his Monday letter, he said the circumstances of both firings were similarly due to “irreconcilable administrative differences.”

Expressing continued support for the university and a continued willingness to recommend the school to students and parents, Fr. Fessio wrote:

“I think it is an accurate summary to say that I am being dismissed as a faculty member because of a private conversation with the chairman of the board in which I made known my criticisms of the university administration; and because of allegations which have not been made known to me and to which I have not been given an opportunity to respond.”

“I will continue to think my dismissal is another mistake in a long series of unwise decisions,” his letter concluded.

The public relations firm representing AMU, Falls Communications, provided CNA with a statement from the university about Fr. Fessio’s firing.

“Ave Maria University (AMU) has announced that it has ended its formal relationship with Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J. and he will no longer serve as Theologian in Residence. The decision was made by the leadership of the university and supported by its Board of Trustees,” the statement said.

"While Fr. Fessio will not be continuing in any capacity at the university, AMU wishes to express its gratitude to him for the assistance that he rendered to the university.”

Adela Gonzales White, a spokeswoman with the Diocese of Venice, confirmed to CNA that Bishop Frank J. Dewane is a non-voting ex officio member of the AMU Board of Trustees and so was not involved in a vote concerning Fr. Fessio.

The bishop was only recently appointed to the board and has not yet participated in a trustees’ meeting.

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1 - 10 of 12 Comments

  1. Renee Goemaere
    4 years ago

    What a shame that we still can't talk about money in the church! This is a concern in Catholic education from the Elementary schools through the University level. Ave has made a concerted commitment to making the cost of college affordable to students from larger families, and I hope this commitment continues. My two oldest children attend AMU and the quality of education is outstanding. Please continue to pray for the success of this school - and make a donation if you can!

  2. Beth
    4 years ago

    I agree with you William. Constructive criticism should always be accepted.

  3. William
    4 years ago

    Criticism is not a bad thing.
    It may help people,institutions and governments improve.
    It should be constructive,point out faults and show how to correct them. If this criticism was in this vain, and it seems so, the university never should have fired Fr. Fessio.
    He was attempting to improve the university and he thought administration wanted to do the same thing.
    Constructive criticism should always be accepted, as an aid in improving ones life.

  4. Laurence
    4 years ago

    With all due respect to Fr. Fessio, the more I've thought about the matter, the more it seems to me that it was improper for Fr. Fessio to offer his criticism of the AMU administration because he was not a member of the administration, but a theologian of the University. He was not in the proper position to offer his criticism even if his criticism may in fact be on target.

    This does not mean, however, that there could never have been a right time to offer his criticism of the administration. But the timing he happened to choose was inopportune, in my opinion. An opportune moment to offer his criticism would have been if a member or some members of the administration had actively sought his opinion about the financial situation of the University.

    Nevertheless, it also seems to me that a brotherly correction to Fr. Fessio by a fellow cleric would have been more consistent with a charitable spirit. Firing him is rather harsh.

    At the same time, it may be Divine Providence at work that things have turned out the way they have - for the benefit both of AMU and Fr. Fessio.

    As Deacon Keith had recommended, let us all pray for them.

  5. Joe Woodard
    4 years ago

    Jean, my email address is josephwoodard@gmail.com

  6. Jean
    4 years ago

    Hey Joe Woodard who do I write to?

  7. Joe Woodard
    4 years ago

    All the students at Ave are upset. But we still know we're a Catholic school. For instance:
    --While Notre Dame was inviting Mr. Obama to speak at their graduation, Ave Maria's senior class was inviting Fr. Frank Pavone and Dr. Thomas Hilgers.
    --The name of our Rugby team is "The Papists".
    --All the students stop for the Angelus at noon and 6 PM.
    --The biggest club on campus is Students for Life.

    I have great personal respect for the leaders of the administration, but they've made some poor policy decisions (like firing Fr. Fessio), and they will continue to make some poor policy decisions. But the students (and the faculty) are taking the Catholic identity of the school very seriously. I'm not too worried.

  8. Jean
    4 years ago

    I hope another Catholic University isnt going to sell out?

  9. Pam
    4 years ago

    I am saddened by the termination of Fr. Fessio by the adminstration of AMU. He was a good influence at the University and was highly respected by the student body and, I can't help but think, probably even many in the adminsitration. While I know nothing but what I read about "why" this happened (which really isn't much) I tend to think Fr. Fessio had and has the best interest of this Catholic University in mind.

    So I wonder why they would want to dismiss someone who expressed their view (a concern) just because it was, evidently, not held by some, most, or even all of them. That everyone is always on the same page in everything is not necessarily a good sign. It just saddens me.

  10. Laurence
    4 years ago

    If the administration disagrees with Fr. Fessio's criticisms, why do they need to fire him? His criticisms were expressed in private, not public. How does such a private criticism undermine the University?

    Of course, his criticisms undermine the administration, but not the University, unless the administration secretly thinks that it is the University, or the core and substance of the University.

    Fr. Fessio was a theologian of the University. He did not teach a theological heresy, did he? He merely expressed his concerns, and yes criticisms, in private to the chairman of the board with regards to the institution's financial situation.

    I begin to foresee it now. When the administration becomes desperate for money, the gospel will become for sale to the richest and most prestigious bidders.

    Let's pray that AMU does not become another ND, whose board of trustees ought not to be trusted because they are truly wolves in sheeps' clothing - selling out the gospel to the richest and most prestigious persons or corporations of this country.


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