Mater Dei High appoints new president over hazing scandal
A longtime educator with experience overseeing high school athletic programs will take the helm of Mater Dei High School amid an ongoing controversy over an alleged hazing scandal involving its legendary football program.
Michael Brennan will start at the Orange County private school on February 1, officials from the Diocese of Orange said on Friday. He has been president of St. Anthony High School in Long Beach for the past year.
The news comes less than a week after the abrupt resignation of former school president Father Walter E. Jenkins, who started Mater Dei in July. Officials said Jenkins would have to return to South Bend, Indiana, to “take on a new mission” with his religious order, the Congregation of the Holy Cross.
His departure follows weeks of controversy for Mater Dei’s football schedule and head coach Bruce Rollinson. A complaint filed in late November by the family of a former football player accused Mater Dei and the Diocese of Orange of trying to cover up a violent altercation in the locker room that left the player with a traumatic brain injury.
School officials said Jenkins had not been fired and there was no connection between the dispute and his departure. They declined to provide further information on why he left the program after less than a year on the job. Jenkins could not be reached for comment.
After the lawsuit was announced, Jenkins hired a Sacramento-based law firm to investigate the school’s safety protocols and its athletic programs. Brennan will oversee the exam, which is slated to begin this semester, according to the diocese.
Brennan said in a prepared statement that he was “dedicated to ensuring that the campus has a safe, productive and educational environment based on Mater Dei’s core values ââof honor, glory and love.”
âI am delighted to be returning to Orange County and delighted with the opportunity and promise to lead Mater Dei, one of our country’s preeminent Catholic schools,â said Brennan. âCatholic education has always been essential in providing society with devout and ethical leaders and the citizens of tomorrow. ”
Prior to joining St. Anthony, Brennan spent almost 15 years as principal of Servite High School in Anaheim. He was president of the Trinity League, the high school athletic conference that includes Mater Dei, for about a decade. He was also president of the CIF Southern Section Orange County League Placement.
But some have questioned the hiring, saying Brennan’s resume and her long-standing involvement in high school athletics shows the diocese prioritizes sport over responsibility.
“If they really wanted change, they would have brought in someone from the outside, a champion of child safety and transparency,” said Joelle Casteix, Mater Dei graduate and section spokesperson. Californian Network of Survivors of Those Abused by Priests. , or SNAP. âMater Dei and the Diocese of Orange tell us that they are sticking to the status quo.
School officials who worked with Brennan said he was a highly skilled professional. When he left Servite in January 2021, he was hailed as “a high school track and field champion” in a press release.
Servite football coach Troy Thomas said Brennan was “a great man”.
“Whenever there was a problem or something was going on in the football program, he would come and talk to me and advise me,” Thomas said. âHe handled situations as best he could. “
Brennan’s arrival comes amid other calls for careful consideration of Mater Dei. A New Jersey SNAP leader recently filed three complaints with government and church officials over an allegation of hazing between members of Mater Dei’s football team in November. The complaints, filed this week, are aimed at ensuring that organizations other than the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange investigate the reported hazing.
The lawsuit giving rise to the complaints, filed on November 23, alleged that the soccer player’s injuries resulted from a “Bodies” fight, in which two players hit each other between the shoulders and the waist until one of them gives up. The student agreed to face a player who weighed 50 pounds more in an “effort to fit in and show he’s strong enough,” according to the complaint.
The locker room injury occurred in February, and in December the soccer team won their third state championship in five years.
Brennan will be Mater Dei’s fourth president in two years. In January 2020, longtime president Patrick Murphy stepped down as president of business operations for the Arizona Coyotes, a National Hockey League team in Phoenix. He was replaced by Father Steve Sallot, who served as interim president until Jenkins took over in July 2021.
Brennan was identified as a possible candidate for the post when the diocese searched for a replacement for Murphy, a process that took months.
“Michael Brennan (…) was a strong and approved candidate in the research process conducted by the Diocese of Orange less than a year ago,” said Tracey Kincaid, spokesperson for the diocese, in a th -mail. âHis skills and experience are a perfect match for Mater Dei’s needs today. “
Editor-in-chief Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.