Mather Eyed for Catholic College

The Legion of Christ considers the former Air Force base as the site for a private four-year university.
By Terri Hardy — Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Friday, November 8, 2002

A conservative Catholic order is moving forward with plans to build a private university in the Sacramento region and has been in serious discussions with city and county officials about where it could locate a campus.

As its first step, the Legion of Christ wants to open a downtown graduate school with an eye toward establishing a four-year core campus in another location — possibly at the former Mather Air Force Base.

The group has secured the name “University of Sacramento,” said Barry Sugarman, vice president of institutional development for the university project.

“We’re committed to the Sacramento region,” Sugarman said. “We’re ready to go.”

The Legion of Christ is a conservative Roman Catholic order of priests founded in 1941 in Mexico. It operates 11 universities in Mexico, Spain, Chile and Italy and a graduate school of psychology in Virginia.

The Legion has been looking for about two years for the right area in the United States to build its first full-fledged university. After analyzing several locations for their economic strength, household income and Catholic population, they zeroed in on the Sacramento region, Sugarman said.

Their choice was decided when Legion officials discovered the metropolitan region was the largest in the state without a private four-year university.

Legion officials have toured possible buildings and met with Betty Masuoka, Sacramento’s assistant city manager who oversees economic development, Sugarman said. They envision starting with a graduate school of education, which would include a credential program and perhaps a school of ethics.

Once they start operations there, the Legion plans to build its four-year residential campus.

Sugarman and others have met with Sacramento County officials on several occasions about settling at Mather Field. County officials said they were impressed after touring the Legion’s Mexico City university recently while on a trade mission with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Paul Hahn, Sacramento County’s economic development director, said.

Now, the only thing left is to ink the deal, Hahn said.

“We’ve pretty much said we’re open to hearing any offers,” Hahn said.

Hahn said county officials are unconcerned about allegations resurrected this year surrounding the Legion’s founder, Marcial Maciel Degollado.

In 1997, nine former priests accused Maciel of sexually abusing them during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Legion officials have denied the allegations.

Legion spokesman Jay Dunlap said Vatican officials did not investigate the charges because they believed the claims to be without merit.

Closer to home, some parishioners at Sacramento’s Our Lady of Guadalupe have complained about the Legion’s priests there, saying they were aloof and made some people feel unwelcome. In September 2000, several parents became angry when a priest asked some teenage girls what they considered to be sexually inappropriate questions during confession.

The Sacramento diocese investigated the confession complaints and the priest involved said he had been trained to ask such questions in Mexico. Dunlap called the incident a “cultural clash.” He said the church is vital and thriving.

Earlier this year, developer Angelo Tsakopoulos proposed donating land west of Roseville for a private college campus. A team of education, business and civic leaders — many with ties to Tsakopoulos — formed the Regional University Committee to find a likely candidate.

But developer Eli Broad offered another Placer County parcel for a college. Tsakopoulos responded by identifying several other sites in the region — either near or on land he would like to develop — as possible university locations. Mather Field was one of the targeted properties.

In July, the Diocese of Sacramento paved the way for the Legion to locate in the region when Bishop William Weigand gave formal permission to develop a campus here.

“It has always been Bishop Weigand’s dream to have a Catholic University in Sacramento,” the Rev. Jim Murphy said Thursday. “We’re tired of rooting for San Francisco (Catholic) teams. It’s time we had our own.”

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