The Home of the Mother religious community has left the campus of Ave Maria University following an allegation that a sister who supervised religious discernment was responsible for “immoral conduct.”
The claim involves Sr. Maria Elena, who led the school’s program to help women discerning a religious vocation. The discernment program on campus currently has about 15 young women.
Sr. Maria Elena’s Spain-based religious community, also known as Hogar de la Madre, recalled the sister last year after learning of an accusation that she had an inappropriate relationship with a female student in the discernment program, the Naples Daily News reports. The student was not a minor at the time.
The community did not report the incident to the university. According to the university, Home of the Mother superiors did not follow Vatican-prescribed procedures for reporting such incidents.
In an e-mail to students, faculty and staff, Ave Maria University president Nick Healy said that the university was ending its relationship with Home of the Mother immediately.
"It was with sadness and concern that we learned that the former superior of the Hogar religious sisters on campus was responsible for immoral conduct," he commented, saying Sr. Maria Elena was recalled to Spain in March without explanation to the university or the Diocese of Venice.
He reported that Bishop of Venice Frank Dewane was told of the matter in August. The bishop met with Healy and university chancellor Tom Monaghan last week “to inform us of what had happened, and to provide guidance as to how to determine if there are other victims and help any student who might have been harmed.”
The decision to end the relationship with the Home of the Mother was made in consultation with the bishop and university trustees. According to the Naples Daily News, Healy is sending an e-mail to all students who were on campus last year to advise them of the procedure for reporting incidents.
The Home of the Mother community has been on the university campus since the 2004-2005 academic year, the school’s second year in Florida. Its sisters wear all-white habits. Two priests of the community, Rev. Colum Power and Rev. Henry Kowalyck, have also resided and ministered on campus.
Healy responded to CNA's inquiries in a Friday e-mail.
He explained that the woman’s discernment program was intended to give young women a chance to test their possible vocations to the religious life by living in a separate area of the dormitory, praying together, and receiving some spiritual direction amid their regular studies.
“We are making a determination as to who should run the discernment program in the future,” Healy reported.
Asked to explain how proper reporting procedures were not followed, he said that according to his understanding the leadership of the order “should have informed our Bishop of the misconduct when it was first reported” in February or March.
Healy said he was not aware of any civil or canonical investigation into the case. He reported that the priests and the sisters have already left the campus.
“The order has not informed us of where they plan to go,” he told CNA.