SMITHFIELD – The Legion of Christ announced last month that it will be closing its doors on the Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville at the end of the academic year, leaving residents to wonder what will become of the 44-acre property at 60 Austin Ave., which town records assess at $6.5 million.
Representing the Legion of Christ in Rhode Island, attorney Daniel Stone told The Valley Breeze & Observer that plans for the property are still under consideration.
“It’s not presently for sale,” he said.
Jim Fair, spokesman for the Legion, told The Observer that poor enrollment is one reason for the college’s closing in June 2015.
While The Observer reported that 78 women were enrolled in 2010, and 50 in 2012, Fair said that only 12 women currently attend the college full-time, and a couple dozen are in part-time programs.
“It’s too big a facility for that number of people,” Fair said.
He added that the college charges no tuition, leaving the school to depend on private donations to fund its operating costs, which he said he couldn’t name off the top of his head.
The Observer reported that in 2009, the college’s annual expenses were $4.65 million and its revenue was at $4.6 million.
But it’s not all about the numbers.
“Our organization has gone through a lot of turmoil over the past four or five years,” Fair said.
The Legion was taken over by the Vatican in 2010, under Pope Benedict XVI’s direction, after it was discovered that the organization’s founder had sexually molested seminarians and fathered three children with two women.
The Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado started the Legion in 1941 and passed away in 2008, the same year that millionaire widow Gabrielle Dauray Mee died while living in an apartment at the college, leaving her estate to the organization.
According to court documents, Mee, who became involved in the Legion later in life, gave an estimated $60 million to the Legion.
But her niece, claiming that Mee was kept in the dark about Degollado’s scandal, tried to challenge the will in both Smithfield’s Probate Court and in Superior Court; after her challenge was dismissed in September 2012, Mary Lou Dauray filed papers in July 2013 to have the dismissal overturned in Rhode Island Supreme Court and have the case returned to Superior Court for trial.
According to Dauray’s lawyer, Bernard Jackvony, an oral argument on the appeal is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 9.
In an article from The Observer, Dauray said that if her aunt had known about Degollado’s past, “she never would have transferred her assets to the Legion.”
Despite the scandals and lawsuits that have surrounded the Legion of Christ, the Mater Ecclesiae College has continued to operate for years.
But in a letter published on Oct. 9, Nancy Nohrden, territorial director for the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi in North America, said that lower enrollment rates were the result of “difficulties and institutional changes over the past few years.”
Writing to the community of consecrated women, she said that maintaining the school’s accreditation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges will not be possible in the foreseeable future.
While women who graduate from the college don’t become nuns, they do receive degrees in religious education and pastoral studies. They take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, and many teach at Catholic institutions after they graduate.
As for women currently enrolled in programs at the school, Fair said that students who are seniors will graduate as usual at the end of the academic year.
“Students who are not (seniors), we’re in the process of finding an appropriate way for them to continue,” he said. “We don’t expect any students to be left behind.”
According to the college’s website, in order to obtain a bachelor’s degree, a woman must complete eight semesters of schooling and receive a minimum of 124 credits.
Nohrden said that despite the college’s imminent closing, “this in no way implies an end to the formation of young consecrated women in North America.”
“We expect there will be a continuing program, but we haven’t determined the location for that yet,” Fair said. “It’s cyclical. We expect (enrollment) could turn around.”
Mater Ecclesiae was founded in Wakefield in 1991, and moved to its current location on Austin Ave. in 1998.
The school also made news in July 2012 when Daniela Heredia, a 12-year-old girl from Guatemala, was struck and killed by a car that veered off Putnam Pike.
The girl was in Greenville attending a program hosted by the Mater Ecclesiae College.
The closing of this College does not come as a shock. It is suspected that enrollment and contributions are down due to Maciel’s transgressions. As with past closings, the Legion will reallocate their funds into more favorable and susceptible locations throughout the world.