Saturday, November 29, 2003

Parents fight for principal

Unexplained firing galvanizes Nativity parish

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PLEASANT RIDGE - When Nativity Principal Bob Herring got on the loudspeaker after school Monday, somberly informing teachers that parent-teacher conferences would be delayed by an unscheduled faculty meeting, Mindy Burger knew something was terribly wrong.

Kara McLaughlin, 12, protests the firing of longtime principal Bob Herring in front of the Cincinnati archdiocese offices Tuesday afternoon.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
"I went to the computer," the Nativity School art teacher said. "I was sure there was another terrorist attack."

At the staff meeting, she said the Nativity pastor informed teachers that Herring was no longer principal.

His keys and computer had been confiscated and the principal of nearly 20 years had been escorted from the building.

"At that point, myself and about half the women in the room started sobbing," said Burger, who has taught there seven years. "Some men's eyes filled with tears. ... Everybody knew we had parents waiting upstairs."

And so, just days after the Archdiocese of Cincinnati was found guilty of criminal charges for failing to report abuse involving priests and children, the church became mired in controversy again.

This time, it involves the firing of the principal of one of the crown jewels of Cincinnati's Catholic school system.

The Rev. Marc Sherlock, Nativity pastor, fired Herring over what he called "philosophical differences." Sherlock did not return phone calls or provide further details.

Herring, who has declined media interviews, has filed an appeal with the archdiocese.

Joe Muenchen, Nativity Pastoral Council president, met for a half-hour Friday morning with Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk. Muenchen said the archbishop pledged to take a more active role.

A Friday afternoon meeting with Sherlock was not as encouraging, Muenchen said. "He is continuing to take a stance that he did the right thing."

Tim Garry, Herring's attorney, said a meeting between Herring and the priest Friday also was unproductive.

The dismissal galvanized parents and parishioners into action. In a holiday week, they've shown up at meetings and protests by the hundreds - taking the longtime principal's side over the parish priest, who has been there 31/2 years.

Priests come and go, but for some parishioners, the principal has been the parish beacon.

"For the last 20 years, I have been spiritually led by Bob Herring, who has been here all the time," said Dianne Fisk, a parishioner and Nativity parent from Pleasant Ridge. "I have not had spiritual leadership from our pastors."

Barb Daugherty, mother of three Nativity students from Amberley Village, said, "If there is a different in philosophy, the majority of us would align with Bob Herring's philosophy, because that's the reason we're at the parish and the school. That's the reason I'm there, anyway."

Parishioners say the issue is bigger than Bob Herring and Nativity.

"Catholics all over should be concerned with this, because next week, it could be their parish dealing with something like this," said Meg Muething, president of Nativity's St. Anne Society.

Principal where he attended

Herring, 54, attended Nativity School himself. As principal, he has built a loyal following at the K-8 school of 388 students.

"This is a truly a beloved man," said Patti Newberry of Pleasant Ridge, mother of three Nativity students. "He's highly respected. The school has 17 international exchange programs. There's a computer in every classroom."

Former students who learned of his firing via the Internet have rallied in his defense.

Patricia Sexton is a former Pleasant Ridge resident who works as an investment banker in Singapore. She was a Nativity student from 1981-89, several of those years with Herring as principal. In 1986, her sixth-grade teacher, Eileen Hackett, was diagnosed with cancer.

"To say that Mr. Herring, alongside the help of others, carried our sixth-grade class through that difficult time, would not be an understatement. Looking back on those years, his devotion to Mrs. Hackett, the students, and the school should be an inspiration to us all. I am really disappointed to hear how the pastor has dismissed not only Mr. Herring, but his integrity."

The archdiocese gives a parish priest has the power to hire and fire the principal. But Nativity parents say that's too much power.

"We are going to fight this," Newberry said. "It's a microcosm of what's going on in the church - the lack of respect church leadership shows its parishioners."

Herring's supporters still have questions about why he was fired. The archdiocese has said Herring is not under investigation for any wrongdoing.

Art teacher Burger asked what Herring has done to deserve this.

"He's worked for half of what he could get somewhere else," she said. "They're dying for good principals. He's devoted his whole life to this school and this parish."



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