Matt C. Abbott
Did Catholic school fire principal for being too Catholic?
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By Matt C. Abbott
August 8, 2023

I’ve written about the Darnowski family in past columns (see here, here and here). One of the Darnowski children is my godchild. There’s been an unfortunate development with the family, described in the letter below. Please keep them in your prayers.

_____________________

Douglas W. Darnowski
[Personal information redacted]

July 28, 2023

Bishop Mark Spalding
Diocese of Nashville

Dear Bishop Spalding:

My name is Dr. Douglas Darnowski, and I am the recently-terminated principal of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Loretto. I wanted to write to you to tell you about the injustice and lack of charity which I have experienced.

I was told that I was hired during late May of 2023, signed my contract in June, officially began work July 1, though I actually started work, both in-person and remotely in early-mid June of 2023. I worked for free for a good part of June for the good of that school and its people, meeting with teachers and telling them that there would be no radical change in curriculum. Instead, having been hired to shift the school to the Catholic Classical model, I told them that I would take 3 years to gradually introduce the model and its techniques.

I was never given any kind of clear introduction to the hornet’s nest that I was approaching, information about my predecessor’s departure after endless attacks from the parishioners, or the parish finances, or the endless turnover among teachers. This includes my final interview, which was mostly conducted by Dr. Tony Bonta. I only received a few warnings from secretaries at my start-for-free in June and one or two off comments from Fr. Delly.

I removed, with Fr. Delly’s expressed support, some spiritually dangerous books from the library and one classroom, doing so quietly as Fr. requested. I only told one teacher, Mrs. Busby, from whose classroom I removed some books. She said it was OK after I indicated that it would include several series of books, not all of which I could name at that point.

I tried to craft policies as soon as possible to deal with all raised concerns, including concerns that 7th and 8th grade girls would be uncomfortable asking for help from males. All this while working for free and trying to fill two positions while not even officially hired yet.

On July 17, there was a 2-hour meeting with the School Advisory Board and community. I was pummeled, accused of being a radical, extremist Catholic. I was told that I should not have changed some curriculum to keep LGBTQ materials out of the school, told that kids need to be given those spiritually dangerous books as they will see them eventually. I even passed around a copy of the unexpurgated Penguin Classics version of the 1001 Arabian Nights, which is pornographic (I could send you jpgs to prove this). It had been on the 7th/8th grade casual reading shelf, which the 5th and 6th graders could also access. Parents thought it no big deal, as the public school had worse, according to them. I was accused of planning to eliminate all traditions, including the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus-related fundraisers. (I had reapproved these over a month earlier, as I told the crowd!) I was told that I was going to shove religion down the kids’ throats 24/7, even after explaining how the classical approach weaves subjects together beautifully, without being heavy handed. Etc., etc.

I was told that I would drive away the non-Catholics, though the most supportive people on average were the non-Catholics at the school. That same afternoon, a family added themselves to the school, Baptists!, after hearing about the use of the Baltimore Catechism in some grades, Seton books for a few subjects in a few grades, and a male teacher for one of their sons.

The school secretary, a protestant and former school parent, had been hiding book fair books because she was so scandalized by some of those for sale to children, and she was thrilled with my plans. She’s more Catholic in her thinking than most people in that parish. What a scandal!

Dr. Tony Bonta came for the meeting on July 17 and told me, at the end, “I think you’ll get your chance,” with a big smile. The next day he and Fr. Delly and two other diocesan officials had a meeting and terminated me. I met with Fr. Delly and the parish secretary on July 19, thinking it was about budget, and was promptly fired. Fr. Delly was near tears and said that he had not slept all night, and secretary was also on the verge of tears. The parish is now advertising for a person to do exactly what I was trying to do, on sites like that of the ICLE.

My wife and I have 15 children, and we live in Corydon, IN. Six of the children are internationally adopted and handicapped. We are basically camping in our empty house, hoping to sell it as we can no longer afford it, while I desperately look for enough work to take care of my family. I have to pay almost $1500/month on COBRA from a previous employer, plus the moving expenses. The $5,000 in moving support from Sacred Heart didn’t even meet the initial cost of the storage boxes, much less ongoing monthly costs. I am getting my severance, but this garbage has left us in deep trouble.

We packed all of our belongings and those of my mother-in-law, who has been living with us, fixed our home, working 12- and 15-hour days to do so. Those materials got to Huntsville, AL, near a home on which we had made a contract, before I was fired. Their storage costs me over $1000/month, and we have had to ask to be released from the contract on the house we’d made. We still don’t know if we will get the $5,000 in earnest money back.

I was even fired before my Nashville benefits could lock in, meaning that I cannot even do COBRA through Nashville for my family’s healthcare, which would have been cheaper than from my previous employer by about $500/month.

Please tell me how any of this is decent, charitable, Christian, Catholic? Can you even just suggest to me how I can find a decent job now and help my family recover? Does the diocese want to reinstate me and support me this time as it is looking for the same thing that got me terminated when I tried my best to do it?

The Church tells us to be open to life, to be virtuous, to look at the sacrificial lives of the saints. Does the Church Militant really mean that? I feel like a sacrificial lamb for the unCatholic mess that is that school and parish.

Please do not hold against the man who brings this letter to you that he has done so. He is a fine Catholic man and has a young family.

Sincerely,

Douglas W. Darnowski

_____________________

To date, the bishop has not responded to Darnowski’s letter.

Click here to watch a recent interview with Douglas and Adele Darnowski.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media, and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)

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