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AMU Terminates Relationship with Campus Religious Group

sisters1aThe visible religious community known as The Home of the Mother will be leaving Ave Maria University's campus this week after allegations surfaced that the nun supervising the school's program to help women discern a religious vocation "was responsible for immoral conduct" last spring, the university announced Tuesday.

The religious group, which is based in Spain and known also by its Spanish name Hogar de la Madre, recalled the nun, Sister Maria Elena, last year after learning of accusations that she had an inappropriate relationship with a female student in the program, but the group did not report the incident to the university. Nor, apparently, did superiors at the Home of the Mother follow Vatican-prescribed procedures for reporting such incidents.

The student, who has not been identified, was not a minor at the time, the university said.

University President Nick Healy said in an email to students, faculty and staff that the university was terminating its relationship with the Home of the Mother effective immediately.

"It was with sadness and concern that we learned that the former superior of the  Hogar religious sisters on campus was responsible for immoral conduct," Mr. Healy said in the campus-wide email. He said that the nun was "recalled to Spain in March of this year without explanation to the University or the Diocese of Venice."

Mr. Healy said that the matter was brought to the attention of Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice in August, and Bishop Dewane met with him and University Chancellor Tom Monaghan last week "to inform us of what had happened, and to provide guidance as to how to determine if there are other victims and help any student who might have been harmed." He said that the decision to terminate the relationship with the group was "made after careful consideration and in consultation with Bishop Dewane and our Trustees."

Mr. Healy said he is sending an email to all students who were on campus last year advising them of the procedure for reporting any incidents.

The Home of the Mother group has been on the AMU campus since the 2004-2005 academic year - the school's second year in Florida. Its nuns, familiar for their all-white habits, have been running the university's Women's Discernment program, which helps young women determine if they have a calling to the religious life. Two Home of the Mother priests, Fr. Colum Power and Fr. Henry Kowalyck, have also resided on campus, celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, organizing retreats and providing spiritual direction.

The Home of the Mother is a Vatican-sanctioned "Public International Association of the Faithful" but is not an approved religious order like the Franciscans or the Dominicans. It was formed in the early 1980s in Spain and its website says there are more than 100 sisters currently in 10 countries around the world.

The group has drawn both strong supporters and detractors in their time at Ave Maria, with some people admiring them for their evangelical fervor and others denouncing them as controlling and cult-like.

Mr. Healy said the university is reviewing the future of the Women's Discernment program on campus, which currently has about 15 young women.


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