The Sunday Edition

Alumnus Michael Enright on the failure of leadership at St. Michael's College School

"There seems to be something in the DNA of large and hallowed institutions, especially Catholic ones, which breeds delay, dissembling, cover-up," says Michael Enright, who attended St. Michael’s high school in the 1950s.
Toronto police say they're looking into two new allegations of assault that surfaced Monday at St. Michael's College School. “The incidents as described are not hazing. They are not the boisterous over-enthusiasm of febrile young teenagers; these are crimes,” says St. Michael's alumnus Michael Enright. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)
Listen4:46

On my first full day at St. Mike's, two senior students grabbed my brand new and expensive textbooks and threatened to throw them in a urinal. 

An upperclassman with a high-pitched voice suddenly appeared in the locker room and told the students; "Leave the kid alone."

It was Frank Mahovlich, the most famous student in the most famous high school in the country.

St. Michael's College School was known broadly for two things — its senior hockey team, the Majors, and its emphasis on discipline. It was where lower income Catholics sent their sons. Better off Catholics went to the dreaded rival, De La Salle "Oaklands."

We wore white shirts with ties, blue blazers, grey flannels. If we weren't properly dressed, we were sent home. It was a tough school. But it carried a large measure of glamour.

It was exciting to sit behind Davey Keon of Noranda, Quebec in French class. Or to walk the halls with Gerry Cheevers and Caesar Maniago. They were the macho stars of a macho school. When they walked into the cafeteria for lunch, they sauntered to the front of the line. Nobody minded.

There was a definite jock culture, but for the most part, I thought, the Basilian priests seemed to contain it.

The shock and the pain of the last 10 days as more and more allegations of sexual assaults on young students are disclosed, run wide and run deep.

Given the history of sexual abuse of boys and girls in Catholic schools and parishes in the last 25 year, it is hard to argue ignorance.- Michael Enright

There have been at least six incidents. Eight students have been expelled, six have been arrested and charged with various counts of assaults; they are 14 and 15 years old. Compounding the tragedy was the failure of the administration to immediately call the police.

The incidents as described are not hazing. They are not the boisterous over-enthusiasm of febrile young teenagers; these are crimes. 

And more disconcerting still was the reaction of some parents. Instead of directing their ire at the administration, they were angry at the media. A screaming parent called a radio reporter a "maggot."

How did an esteemed, indeed beloved Catholic high school, go from Ferris Bueller's Day Off to Lord of the Flies? And how did the assaults escape the attention of the teaching staff and the administration?

Given the history of sexual abuse of boys and girls in Catholic schools and parishes in the last 25 year, it is hard to argue ignorance.

There seems to be something in the DNA of large and hallowed institutions, especially Catholic ones, which breeds delay, dissembling, cover-up.- Michael Enright

I was taught by some great men at St. Mike's. Fr. Joe Penny, my English teacher, taught me to respect the language of stories and poetry. My home room teacher, the legendary Fr. David Bauer, instilled a love of history and the importance of compassion. 

Of course there were the other kind, such as the math teacher who brought a putter to class to whack you in the shins if you offended him; or the priest who used a heavy wooden compass to hit his students; or the religion teacher who called Glenn Gould a homo.

In the aftermath of the disaster, the principal and administration keep hectoring students to come forward and report incidents. This they will never do. Whether out of loyalty or fear, young men will never rat on one of their own. By putting the burden of its own failure on the students, it becomes clear that the administration does not know what is going on in their school.

There seems to be something in the DNA of large and hallowed institutions, especially Catholic ones, which breeds delay, dissembling, cover-up.

In the meantime, St. Mike's will be left with security guards prowling the halls, clouds of suspicion which will take generations to disperse and traumatized young boys afraid they are walking targets of bullies. 

All that personal St. Mike's paraphernalia: leather windbreaker, good condition, school tie, class ring, ball cap. 

No serious offer refused.

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's essay.