Students Unite in Protest of Campus Ministry Firings

By Dave Heaton Special to The Hoya

Despite rallies, meetings with the administration, a “protest Mass,” candlelight vigil and letter campaign in response to the firing of four senior members of Campus inistry, students did not convince the university to alter its decision to have no full-time Protestant ministers on campus next year.

University Chaplain Adam Bunnell, OFM, told student leaders in two closed meetings Friday and Monday that he may consider restoring full-time Protestant ministers after a one-year period during which the Protestant ministry would be handled by three to five “permanent part-time” ministers, according to Jeff Jaynes (COL ’00) and Brian Sayers (COL ’99), who attended the meetings. Bunnell would not reconsider rehiring the personnel whose contracts were not renewed, they said.

Bunnell could not be reached for comment.

The recent firings are the result of university-wide budget cuts affecting at least 14 central administrative departments, including Campus Ministry, said Senior Vice President Jack DeGioia in an April 30 letter, according to an article in the Blue and Gray. The Med Center is partially responsible for these budget cuts, the article said.

According to Paul Donovan, Medical Center spokesman, the Med Center gives an annual grant of $28 million to central administration, and will no longer supply a large portion of that grant once it enters into partnership with MedStar, an independent health-care provider.

Last Friday at noon, roughly 300 students gathered outside of Healy Hall chanting, screaming and praying in an effort to bring back the ministers who had lost their jobs. The students wore red clothing as a sign of united support for the ministers.

The protest began with words from Sayers, who gave background information about the firings to the students in Healy Circle. Sayers turned the event over to Rayshad Holmes (MSB ’99) who led a prayer for those at the rally. Following Holmes, four students spoke to raise support for each of the four ministers, beginning with Martha Van Hoy (COL ’99), who recalled Rev. Bruce Epperly’s years of service to the university. Epperly was one of the Protestant ministers whose contract was not renewed.

According to Van Hoy, Epperly reached out to troubled souls, a valuable asset that cannot be assigned a monetary value. She asked the crowd, “What are the values of this university?,” which she then answered by saying that budgetary concerns are more important to the administration than Epperly’s 17 years of faithful service.

After Van Hoy, William Garcia (SFS ’99), Jacques Arsenault (COL ’01) and Kia Campbell (MSB ’99) rose in succession to deliver personal stories of encouragement about John Kelly, S.J., Minister of Music Jeremy Young and Protestant Rev. Cynthia Woods, the other three ministers whose contracts were not renewed. Throughout the rally, students spontaneously erupted with cries such as “Viva Father Kelly,” “Heavens no, they won’t go,” and “We want Leo!”

Eventually, those leading the rally called upon associate professor of government Anthony Arend to the top of Healy steps to address the students.

“I know that Fr. O’Donovan is willing to listen,” said Arend, as he offered his service as a mediator between the students and administration.

Minutes later, Dean of Students James A. Donahue came before the students and said, “The administration is listening.” Donahue then said that he would speak to O’Donovan and Bunnell to see if they would be willing to meet with the leaders of the rally.

While Donahue was inside, students again began to chant, “We want Leo.” Senior Associate Dean of Students, Penny Rue came out to speak to the protesters, who heckled her. Rue said the campus ministry situation boiled down to budget concerns.

Soon thereafter, Donahue returned, saying the administrators would be willing to meet with a delegation of five of the protesters.

The meeting lasted about two and a half hours. At the meeting, O’Donovan met with the students for about 45 minutes, Jaynes said. O’ Donovan then left, saying he had full faith in Bunnell’s ability to handle the situation. Bunnell did not change his mind on the issue. A second meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday night.

Students awakened Saturday morning to find red fliers scattered in their hallways asking them to come to an informational session at 4 p.m. in St. Williams Cathedral. Also, a table was set up outside the New South cafeteria where students could sign a petition to bring back the ministers. Wendi Wright (SFS ’01), who was not one of the delegates but had helped in organizing the protest, said the petition had gained over 500 student signatures in less than two hours.

At the informational meeting, the delegates who had been chosen to meet with O’Donovan and Bunnell described Friday’s meeting. According to Sayers, “the meeting was a `slap in the face.'”

The five student leaders, Sayers, Jaynes, Van Hoy, Garcia and Holmes, said their goal going into the meeting was “to have the four chaplains … be invited back to full time positions, and if they didn’t want them back, to hire someone else to fill the full-time position.”

Wright said statements had been released to news agencies such as CNN and the Associated Press, that 227 alumni had been contacted, and that letters had been sent to 20 members of the Board of Directors.

At 11 a.m. Sunday, more than 160 people gathered in St. William’s Chapel to bid farewell to Epperly. Included in the service was an emotional prayer from Woods and a meditation offered by Rabbi Harold White, who sat on the committee that decided to bring Epperly to campus. As the hour-and-a-half-long service drew to a close, Epperly told students they could still contact him for spiritual advice, and encouraged them to work with whomever was chosen to fill his shoes.

At 8 p.m., the “protest Mass” was celebrated on Healy Lawn, immediately followed by a candlelight vigil to show support for the ministers.

The delegates again met with the university administration at 7 p.m. last night. The administration detailed for its students their plans for the next year, according to Van Hoy. The university is planning to hire a full-time Protestant “program coordinator” to organize Protestant activities on campus, but will leave Campus Ministry devoid of any Protestant ministers.

Van Hoy, who is graduating this spring, said “Bunnell shows no recognition that the plan is fundamentally unacceptable.”

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