St. Saviour


In Take Action Now on May 31, 2009 at 11:56 am

outside of Bishop DiMarzio's office 6/1/09

outside of Bishop DiMarzio's office 6/1/09

After the pastor’s unexplained decision not to renew Principal James Flanagan’s contract, many parents felt like we were all alone in our struggle against this cold decision. We also feared that, although our cause was clearly moral and just, we might not have much chance of success given that we were up against Fr. Murphy, who has autocratically ruled over Saint Saviour’s Parish since he arrived in June 2004. Thankfully we parents and parishioners are reminded of how important this struggle is every time we see our children. Knowing how truly fortunate we all are to have such a dedicated and compassionate principal, whose success cannot be questioned, get us through the periods of frustration.
We have found inspiration in an unlikely place…Cincinnati, Ohio. One of our parents and SSPS member found an article about Nativity Grade School, a Catholic School in Cincinnati, Ohio, which suffered similar trauma. On November 24, 2003, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Pastor Fr. Sherlock of Nativity Parish in Cincinnati, fired Robert Herring, the principal of the grade school. Like Mr. Flanagan, Mr. Herring was a very successful principal who was beloved by his students and the parents. Immediately following his termination, a large group of parents went to Fr. Sherlock and asked him to reconsider and rescind the termination. As with Fr. Murphy, who is also in his fifth of his six year term at Saint Saviour’s, Fr. Sherlock refused to give any reason for his decision and refused the parents request to rescind the termination. Also like Fr. Murphy, Fr. Sherlock had limited to no involvement in the school. In the weeks that followed, they prepared protest signs and picket lines appeared outside the church and school. Parents, students and grade school alumni also demonstrated outside the Bishop’s office. Finally, after approximately four weeks, Fr. Sherlock agreed to rescind the termination of Mr. Herring. Over five years later, Mr. Herring remains the Principal of Nativity, and in 2006 was named as one of the five National Distinguished Principals for the entire United States.

Reading about the successful campaign run by the parents of Nativity encouraged us. What happened next was even more inspiring. One of the parents in our group reached out to one of the leaders of the Nativity group to advise them of our struggle and to request any guidance or advice they could provide. What we received was several lengthy e-mails, as well as a 20 minute phone call, which provided not only advice but were filled with tremendous compassion, encouragement and understanding. In one e-mail, the gentleman from Nativity advised that, upon reading our e-mail he immediately recalled the shock and frustration that the November 24, 2003 discharge of long-time and beloved Nativity School Principal Robert Herring by Fr, Sherlock and empathized with the writer, the writer’s family, Mr. Flanagan, the St. Saviour parishioners, the school parents, the students, and the faculty.

More information is available about the Struggle in Cincinnati to re-instate their principal:



  1. Dear Members of Nativity Leadership Crisis Committee:

    Below please find an e-mail from an parent from St. Saviour’s elementary school in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. Fr. Murphy, the Pastor at his Roman Catholic parish, has unilaterally chosen not to renew the year-to-year employment agreement of James Flanagan, the long-time Principal at the Rowland children’s Roman Catholic grade school, without consultation or explanation. Mr. Flanagan, age 62, has been helping the St. Saviour Elementary School grow to over 400 students, and thrive, while other Catholic elementary schools in Brooklyn have closed or are closing. Many St. Saviour Elementary School parents are actively seeking a change in the heart and mind of the Pastor, Fr. Murphy. Apparently Fr. Murphy hasn’t been at all engaged in the superintendence or supervision of the parish elementary school over the last few years. Sound familiar yet?

    I have asked for, and received, James Rowland’s permission to forward this information to you, so that you can pray for St. Saviours’ parish community, which seems to be going through a challenge very similar to ours 5.5 years ago at Nativity. Aside from any musings about the Fighting Irish (Fr. Murphy non-renewing Mr. Flanagan), I am reminded of the words of former New York Yankee catcher and manager Yogi Berra: “It seems like déjà vu all over again.”

    I hope it is heartening to the St. Saviour Elementary School parents that other Roman Catholics have walked the road they’re walking and worked together for a wonderful result. May God’s Providence help them achieve a just result and reconciliation as Church within their parish. When I talked with the concerned parent this afternoon, I heard cause to believe that a good result could be achieved.

  2. My father has forwarded me the e-mail you sent him Tuesday evening about St. Saviour’s Pastor Fr. Murphy’s decision not to renew the employment contract of Principal James Flanagan. Remembering the shock and frustration of the November 24, 2003 in-term discharge (with pay) of long-time and beloved Nativity School Principal Robert Herring by then Nativity Pastor Rev. Marc Sherlock, followed by Fr. Sherlock’s reinstatement of Mr. Herring an agonizing 3.5 weeks later, followed by Fr. Sherlock’s decision to seek a new assignment several weeks later, I empathize with you, your family, Mr. Flanagan, the St. Saviour parishioners, the school parents, the students, and the faculty. I, and my five brothers and sisters are graduates of Nativity School , then 2-8, now K-8. When Mr. Herring was discharged, all three of our children were students at Nativity, as well as some of their cousins, many friends’ children, other alumni’s children and grandchildren, etc.

    Based on your May 17, 2009 letter to Bishop DiMarzio which you attached, there are a number of similarities in Mr. Flanagan’s and Mr. Herring’s situations, but some differences. Both men appear to be excellent and experienced principals of thriving Roman Catholic elementary schools, respected and well-loved by their parish communities. In each instance the pastor has refused to discuss the reasons for his decision on the grounds of privacy, although Fr. Sherlock at least stated publicly that Mr. Herring’s discharge was not the result of any criminal act (to exclude any implication of child abuse, theft, etc.). In each instance, the pastor did not consult with, or even inform, any parish lay leadership, such as Nativity’s Pastoral Council, Education Commission, or Parent Teacher Association, prior to executing his unilateral decision. In each instance the parishioners are the subjects in an essentially feudal system of church governance in which the bishop or the archbishop is the overlord, the pastor is the vassal or lord of the manor, and the parishioners are the serfs, urged to pray, pay and obey. This system, an autocratic one, rather than a democratic one, is a far cry from the way in which citizens govern themselves in a democratic republic, and publicly-traded corporations run themselves. The system, although archaic, works until the pastor stops acting in a pastoral and benevolent way.

    The parish community organized by the Pastoral Council quickly “chartered” a group of 11 lay leaders called the “Leadership Crisis Committee” which quickly set up a website. Attached please find some information about the structure and mission of that ad hoc organization. Fr. Sherlock took great offense at both he name, and existence, of the Leadership Crisis Committee, so if St. Saviour chooses a similar path, you may want to consider a different name. Details of our controversy are very well documented on a website called Nativity Moves Forward, which I think is at Hundreds of Nativity parishioners engaged in organized, peaceful and prayerful demonstrations, first at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s offices in downtown Cincinnati , then on and around parish grounds, organized by school parents, including Meg Muething. A journalist and journalism professor named Patti Newberry issued press releases to the electronic and print media, which covered our sad story for weeks. Members of the Leadership Crisis Committee, led by Meg Muething prepared information leaflets and passed them out at neighboring parishes requesting prayer, etc. The LCC tried to keep the parishioners as well-informed as possible.

    I believe that the efforts and prayers of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people, collaborating in an organized way, contributed to Mr. Herring’s reinstatement. If the Archbishop of Cincinnati or his Auxiliary Bishop reached out to Fr. Sherlock to either order or urge him to engage in the ultimately successful mediation (2 days before the scheduled arbitration hearing), or to reinstate Mr. Herring, that fact has never come to light. I think it is totally appropriate that the lay members of the Church, including your parish community, express their opinions about Fr. Murphy’s decision, as prayerfully, respectfully, and effectively as possible, just as you have in your May 17 letter to Bishop DiMarzio. With a few public, and regrettable, lapses, I think the parishioners at Nativity successfully expressed their opinions. Throughout the storm of controversy, Mr. Herring maintained an inspiring Christlike approach and attitude. After reinstating Mr. Herring, Fr. Sherlock chose not to reconcile with his parish, and the Archbishop gave him an assignment to a parish about 70 miles away, with no grade school, a year before his first six-year term as Pastor at Nativity had been scheduled to end.

    Five years later, Mr. Herring continues to do an exemplary job as Principal. Nativity Parish and its grade school ministry continue to thrive. Our “new” pastor, Fr. Paul DeLuca has been supportive of both the school ministry and of Mr. Herring personally. I am proud of our lay parish community for having chosen to challenge the unilateral and truly lousy decision by Fr. Sherlock. Although we lost a very few loving families (two I can think of), who essentially seemed to believe that the Pastor is always right and should always be obeyed, I think our parish is stronger, more vital and more engaged than if we had just accepted what seemed like a nonsensical, tyrannical decision.

    I commend you and your fellow parishioners for your efforts to reinstate Mr. Flanagan as Principal. You and your mission are in my prayers. Please feel free to call or e-mail me if you want to discuss this matter. Meanwhile, I would ask that you consider allowing me to inform Mr. Herring, and other Nativity Church lay leadership about your struggle, so that they can pray for you, too.


  3. My e-mail to our friends in Cincinnati

    Hi Everyone,

    I cannot even begin to express my gratitude to all of you. We had a meeting tonight and initially we heard a lot of people asking the question “What possible chance do we have?”. I was able to tell them about your story, your success and all of the advice and words of encouragement I received from you today and it really helped to change the mood and re-energize a lot of us. The fact that you have taken the same path we are presently embarking on and were able to succeed provides us all with a great deal of inspiration. As I told my fellow parents tonight, even if we lose and are ultimately unsuccessful in saving Mr. Flanagan (I remain confident this will not be the case), we owe it to ourselves, our children and our beloved school to undertake this battle. We did not choose this task but I am confident that, buttressed by your success and inspiration, there will be many of us at Saint Saviour’s manning the front line.

  4. This is an inspiring success story

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