Wave of resignations at St. Joseph's College causes confusion for alumni

Four leaders at St. Joseph's College have announced their resignation since the beginning of October. Why many of them decided to leave is still unclear.

Posted: Oct 17, 2019 12:00 AM
Updated: Oct 17, 2019 12:24 AM

RENSSELAER, Ind. (WLFI) - A wave of resignations from St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer is causing new confusion among alumni. It all started on October 2nd.

The university's Facebook page announced Bill Hogan decided to resign from his role as Vice President for Advancement. After that, Board of Trustees Ned Tonner and Mara Davis resigned, and Chief Information Officer Michael Kohlman is stepping down too. Kohlman said his last day will be November 1st. Hogan's resignation is the only one that has been officially announced by the university. Monday was his last day.

Ned Tonner shared this statement, which he had posted to his private Facebook page:

"I submitted my resignation to the Board of Trustees for Saint Joseph’s College this past Tuesday (October 1st). Bill Hogan’s departure certainly impacted my decision, which I made of my own volition. My vision for the re-birth of SJC aligned with his. I did pour my heart into this and enjoyed co-chairing the Purple Tie Dinner with Mindy Beier and working with others. I only wish the best for Saint Joe’s."

The fountain still shoots water into the sky and the bells still ring every quarter hour on the Rensselaer campus. The bells should signal the end of class for students at St. Joseph's College. Instead, they ring on a silent campus with empty sidewalks.

"Without the alumni, St. Joe's will never come back," said 1989 alumnus Tim Conroy.

This is a sad realization for him. He said he could have gone to a school in Birmingham, Alabama. A place with a much more pleasant climate come February. However he said attending St. Joseph's is a family tradition.

"I started coming to St. Joe's when I was 7-years-old when my brother went here," he said. "I came here in the 80's and met my wife here of almost 30 years, I have two sons who came here. One found his wife here too."

He got his degree in business administration.

"The best part about St. Joe's is that we are family," he said. "The faculty was great. If it wasn't for Sister Catherine Fay, I wouldn't have graduated."

There is a sign on a light pole on the main drive into the school. It reads "Community: Involved for Life." Many alumni feel left in the dark and without any kind of communication ever since St. Joseph's College announced it would close in May of 2017. It was last October that SJC announced it's partnership with Marian University. Communication has been an ongoing struggle since 2017.

"Alumni got notice that there were problems and then two weeks later, it was announced that the school was closing." said Conroy. "It's just mind boggling how something that's been around for 127 years can just fall apart in one day."

1976 alumnus John Paczesny said at times, it was hard to keep faith.

"The day that the announcement broke, it was very difficult for me," he said. "On Easter Sunday of 2017, I said to my wife, we're going to church in Rensselaer and I'm saying goodbye."

Paczesny has kept up the fight, though. He has been vocal from the start about getting his alma mater back on track.

"I've talked to so many alumni over the years, we want new leadership, we want a plan, we want a vision and we haven't seen any of that," he said over the phone. He currently lives in South Bend.

He said Hogan was always accessible and willing to answer his questions about how Core 128 was doing. That's the university's main fundraising program. But now, he said getting information is like pulling teeth.

"Most of the information comes from the St. Joseph's College Facebook page now," he said. "There used to be on the school website a column called 'news' where they would post all newsworthy or official press releases. That has been deleted. They've deleted the board of trustees and every body's email. It's almost nonexistent."

A post appeared on the St. Josephs College Facebook page on Wednesday. It reads, "CONSTRUCTION: Please excuse the dust while we make some changes to our page. Check back soon to see the updates!"

Alumni were sent an update to their emails on Tuesday. It reads, "The 128 Core Partners document targeted December 31, 2019, for the development of “a comprehensive three-year plan.” It does not mention the resignations, but does say they're still fundraising to eventually return to academic programming. In the meantime it estimated operational costs for just the next three years to be "several million dollars."

Both Conroy and Paczesny have similar demands for the future of their university.

"That a new board comes in, one that had nothing to do with the closing, with a whole bunch of expertise," said Conroy.

"I want to be able to walk on my campus again, I want to be able to go in the church and sit there and quietly pray," said Paczesny. "I want to be able to have homecoming activities back on campus."

"We are Pumas and we are involved for life," said Conroy.

News 18 did reach out to SJC through the Facebook page for a comment and some clarification. We have yet to hear back.

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