Thursday, May 27, 2004

St. Vivian group seeks pastor's dismissal

Parents want music teacher back at school

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FINNEYTOWN - Upset that their popular music teacher's contract has not been renewed, a group of St. Vivian School parents is asking the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to remove the parish priest.

The issue came to a head after Confirmation practice Monday night, when the Rev. John Kroeger called 911 after some parishioners accused him of belittling a group of students who protested his decision. Kroeger apologized during Confirmation Tuesday for his actions the day before.

"Last night, during Confirmation practice, I lost my temper," Kroeger said. "I hope you will all pray for me."

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, who was presiding at the service for 53 confirmants, told the families attending that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati will do its best to help the parish through the problems.

This is the second time in six months that local Catholic parishioners have mobilized to protest a priest's decision about a school employee.

Nativity parishioners in Pleasant Ridge protested loudly last Nov. 24 when the Rev. Marc Sherlock fired Bob Herring, the school principal. Herring got his job back Dec. 17, and Sherlock left the parish in February.

Mary Beth Hoagland-Khamis has taught music at St. Vivian for about six years.

She is under contract until Aug. 14, said Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Kroeger offered her a contract with an addendum of stipulations, Andriacco said, but he could not release details because it's a personnel matter.

"She's signed the contract, but is not willing to sign the addendum, and therefore he has not signed the contract," Andriacco said.

That distresses Jerry Meyer, a lifelong St. Vivian member, who said Khamis has been one of the best Christian influences on his three children. What's more, she has introduced the children to producing musicals, started a strings program that grew to 40 students in a short time, and took the concert choir to perform last weekend at Disney World, a first for the school of 425 students.

Before Kroeger came to St. Vivian last July 1, she integrated contemporary Christian music with more traditional songs at the children's Mass on Fridays, and kids responded enthusiastically to the contemporary music, Meyer said. One such selection is "Awesome God."

However, he said Kroeger asked her to discontinue the contemporary music, and when the children's participation in Mass dropped off, the priest blamed Khamis. She could not be reached for comment.

Monday night, Meyer was in a meeting at church when Randy Kent,a volunteer at the school and parent of a seventh-grader, summoned him because Meyer's daughter was in tears after speaking with Kroeger.

Meyer demanded that Kroeger tell him what he said to her. Kroeger declined and started to leave. When Meyer blocked the doorway, demanding an explanation, he said Kroeger dialed 911.

Springfield Township Police responded to the call at 9:11 p.m. Monday, but there's no tape because the 58-year-old priest hung up without talking

After interviewing witnesses, police declared the incident an internal matter and did not file any charges.

Meyer later learned from his 12-year-old that, backed by a group of classmates, she told the priest she loved the music teacher and disagreed with his decision. The priest then spoke ill of the teacher and berated Meyer's daughter and the others for standing up for her, leaving her and others in tears, Meyer said.

Kroeger did not return messages left at the parish office Tuesday or Wednesday, and walked away when a reporter attempted to talk to him after confirmation Tuesday.

Andriacco confirmed that the archdiocese is investigating complaints from St. Vivian parishioners about Kroeger, but could not disclose the number or nature of the complaints. Parishioners are taking a page from Nativity parents, who fought tenaciously to get their principal back. They want the priest gone and the music teacher back.

St. Vivian, which has 1,024 registered households, is losing membership because of Kroeger, Kent said.

"Instead of being pushed out, we're fighting back. We're taking back St. Vivian," Kent said. "We still feel like the church is the people and not the priest, so we're acting on that."

Maggie Downs contributed to this report. E-mail

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