The Josephites, owners of St. Augustine High School, this afternoon announced the immediate transfer of the Rev. John Raphael, the president who led much of the public opposition to Archbishop Gregory Aymond’s wish to end corporal punishment at the New Orleans school.
st-aug-raphael.JPGView full sizeRusty Costanza, The Times-Picayune archiveThe Rev. John J. Raphael speaks at St. Augustine High School on May 18, 2010.
PHOTO: Rusty Costanza, The Times-Picayune archive
Rev. John J. Raphael speaks at St. Augustine High School on May 18, 2010.
A brief, unsigned statement by the order said Raphael has been transferred to an undisclosed new job in Baltimore.
The Josephites said another Josephite priest, the Rev. Charles Andrus, has been appointed interim president at St. Augustine, effective immediately.
"Though Father Raphael and I disagree over the issue of paddling at St. Augustine," Aymond said in a brief statement, "we agree on many things, especially the importance and success of St. Augustine High School and the pro-life issues of our Church.
"I publicly thank him for his many years of service to the school and the New Orleans Catholic community.
"At this time I ask the community to join me in prayer for Father Raphael and St. Augustine High School in this time of transition.
Raphael, himself a St. Aug graduate, has been among the chief public defenders of corporal punishment at the 60-year-old institution, with the strong backing of parents and alumni.
In May, he and the school sued an education consultant Aymond hired to look into the disciplinary system at St. Augustine. The lawsuit claimed she fabricated reports that students and some parents there had complained of injuries.
As owners of the school, the Josephites have not joined Raphael and the local St. Augustine community in support of corporal punishment. Indeed, they ordered it suspended at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year.
Whether it would be reintroduced, and under what conditions, has been the topic of weeks of public debate.
Raphael's removal was announced in a weekend email that stunned the St. Augustine community and Raphael himself.
The Rev. Edward J. Chiffriller, the superior general of the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, said Raphael’s removal is effective immediately.
A series of email exchanges obtained by The Times-Picayune indicated that Chiffriller informed Raphael of his dismissal on Saturday and ordered him to go to Baltimore "as soon as possible" for discussions about his next assignment.
Chiffriller explicitly forbade Raphael’s further presence on the St. Augustine campus, effective immediately. He also barred Raphael from any role in the operations of the school.
In response, Raphael asked for a reason for his dismissal and asked what had changed since his and Chiffriller’s last communication — a routine one — on Monday.
He said that since he lives on campus, it would be impossible to comply with the order to vacate the campus immediately. He also said Chiffriller’s order forbade him from assisting in even essential transitional duties.
"I will not allow you to make me a homeless person without a bed to sleep in," Raphael replied. "You must allow me the opportunity to arrange a proper personal and professional transition.
"There are other unanswered questions that I will have to pose to you before any movement can be made on my part."
Raphael said he would have no public comment on his dismissal, but he sent out an email to students, parents and faculty saying, "Our battle is not over, our cause is not loss, our school shall prevail. Now is the time for all of us to stand together, not to waver, not to quit."
He added, "Rise, Sons of the Gold and Purple!!!"
Troy Henry, an engineering consultant who heads the school’s local board, said no one, including Raphael, saw the dismissal coming, especially so swiftly.
He said he spoke briefly to Raphael on Saturday.
"He’s as stunned and flabbergasted as I am," Henry said. "Father Raphael and I didn’t agree on everything, but it’s hard for me to understand how anyone thinks this is best for the school."
Henry said the news stunned the local board, whose members spent much of Saturday evening on the telephone with each other. He said the board has scheduled an emergency meeting Tuesday.
For weeks Raphael, himself a St. Augustine graduate, has been the most visible and articulate public spokesman for the St. Aug community in a running, sometimes angry public debate over continuing corporal punishment at the 60-year-old institution, which educates 650 African-American males from sixth grade through high school.
Aymond, who exercises some oversight over the Josephite-owned school, has said he wants the practice of paddling stopped.
The Josephites’ national leadership seems to agree. It ordered at least a temporary stop to paddling last year over the objections of Raphael and members of the high school’s local board.
In interviews this spring Raphael argued not only that corporal punishment could be appropriately applied at the school, but also that people who were not African-American, including the leadership of his own Josephite community, had no right to impose their cultural norms on how African-American students are raised.
With the policy in suspension, many St. Augustine parents and alumni have lobbied fiercely for its return in a campaign that has included a public march on the headquarters of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, a student rally, a town-hall meeting at the school, a meeting with Aymond brokered by a congressman and two lawsuits — one of them by Raphael.
Aymond said last week he would not negotiate about discipline with St. Aug community members until the lawsuits were dropped.
Still, Aymond said Saturday that he did not ask Raphael’s superiors for his removal. Nor was he consulted beforehand, he said.
Henry, the board chairman, said he had not spoken with either Chiffriller or Andrus, the new interim president.
Henry said Andrus is a member of both St. Aug’s local board of directors and the Josephites’ governing council. However, his local duties are as a pastor, not an educator, and Aymond said the Josephites did not ask him to give up Andrus as a parish priest, meaning he will remain in the pulpit at Blessed Sacrament/St. Joan of Arc.
"They said he is to be interim president — and ‘interim’ is the key word here," Aymond said.
Henry said Raphael’s dismissal is the more remarkable because it is likely to be one of Chiffriller’s last acts. Several sources said the Josephites are only about two weeks away from electing new leadership.
Raphael returned to St. Augustine, his alma mater, the year before Hurricane Katrina and helped rebuild the devastated school as its post-Katrina principal and then, this year, its president.
Henry said board members have to keep the school on a sound footing, especially this summer as parents decide whether to send their sons there in the fall.
"Through all this we’ve been trying to behave professionally, and to me at least, this looks personal," Henry said. "And it’s not in the best interest of the school."
Henry later sent out an email calling for a rally Wednesday and declaring, "The time has come to DEFEND OUR SCHOOL! ... THIS IS NOT about one man. This is about the thousands of MEN and the legacy of a solid institution being defamed. This ‘game’ is an insult to our intelligence. … Stand for Who We Are!"
Bruce Nolan can be reached at 504.826.3344 or email@example.com