With fallout still ongoing from releasing their list of 13 friars with credible allegations of sexual abuse, the Denver-based Capuchin Franciscan Province has a new leader with strong ties to Ellis County and Thomas More Prep-Marian High School in Hays.
Bro. Mark Schenk, a native of Olmitz and a graduate of the once Capuchin-lead TMP, was elected this past week as new Provincial Minister, making him the leader of the order for the next three years.
Voting members, about 70 brothers and priests, met in Victoria this past week for the election, said Fr. Joseph Elder, Denver, director of communications for the order.
“It’s the only building we have that’s big enough to hold all the friars,” said Elder, referencing St. Fidelis Friary and St. Fidelis Basilica.
A new leader of the Mid-America Province of St. Conrad is elected every three years. The province, one of six independent provinces in the United States, includes the territories of Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri, as well as houses in San Antonio, Texas, and Papua New Guinea. Also elected is a new provincial council of four friars who meet once a month to advise the provincial minister.
The order’s previous leader, Fr. Christopher Popravak, ordered the independent audit that produced the list of Capuchin abusers.
Popravak was in Hays in early April with Bishop Jerry Vincke of the Salina Diocese for a listening session with the public about sexual abuse by clergy who have served in Hays, Victoria and the Salina Diocese.
With the change in leadership, it’s too soon to tell how Schenk will proceed with the clergy abuse investigation, said Elder, explaining that Schenk and his provincial council will initially work on personnel issues, filling in needs and gaps, and assigning and reassigning friars.
“In terms of the audit, we’re still responding to the feedback,” said Elder. The friars are getting calls from people they work with, people who are upset and people offering encouragement, he said. The new leadership will decide what happens next, if anything.
“Right now it’s just too early to say, we’ve just been extremely busy,” Elder said.
The Capuchins administered and taught at the boys Catholic high school TMP for more than 90 years from 1908 to 2003, including under its previous names of Hays Catholic College, St. Joseph’s College and St. Joseph Military Academy. The Salina Diocese took over with lay leadership in 2003.
At least seven of the friars on the list were known to have taught or worked at Thomas More Prep at one time. None of the 13 are in active ministry. Two are deceased and five have left the order, according to the Capuchins.
Schenk, who has family in Great Bend, attended Thomas More Prep from 1971 to 1975, then lived as a novice student in formation at St. Fidelis Friary from 1979 to 1980.
He was a member of the St. Bonaventure fraternity at TMP from 1984 to 1988.
At TMP, Schenk taught religion, computer programming and space science from 1984 to 1988. He was a campus minister from 1984 to 1985, director of the religious vocation program from 1984 to 1987, resident class advisor from 1985 to 1988, and worked in the Registrar’s office from 1985 to 1988.
From 1988 to 1994 he served in Rome as undersecretary general of the order, said Elder, and has served in other positions in Rome, St. Louis and Denver. Most recently, since 2006, he’s been in Rome as the English-speaking General Definitor, assisting the Capuchin’s worldwide leadership.
Of the four provincial advisors elected, two are from Kansas. Fr. Bill Kraus, from Grainfield, serves in a parish in San Antonio, Texas. Fr. Curtis Carlson, from Emporia, serves in Colorado Springs.
Popravak said during his visit that the Denver-based order is the only Capuchin entity that has done an outside investigation. There are six Capuchin provinces in the United States, all of them independent of one another.