EXCLUSIVE: Father Travers Speaks Plainly About His Damien Dismissal — By Peter Bennett

August 8, 2011
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father-traversIn a few days, the telltale signs of another school year will begin at Damien High School. The marquee will be flashing its back-to-school greeting, teachers will be handing out syllabuses, and football players will be cracking shoulder pads at Dick Larson Stadium under the watchful eye of head football coach Greg Gano.

Things couldn’t be more normal, except for one glaring and still largely unexplained omission. The man who has led Damien for a half century, Father Patrick Travers, will be missing.

Over the summer, Travers was abruptly dismissed by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a religious order that oversees the catholic high school in La Verne, Calif.

The timing could not have been worse for Travers, now 74, who still lives on campus, but will quietly gather his things and leave his priestly residence as of this Friday. The end of this upcoming academic year in June 2012 would have marked Travers’ 50th year at Damien, which also happens to be Damien’s 50th graduating class and Travers’ 50th year as a priest.

“It was a hurtful, devastating thing,” said Travers via phone on Monday.

In the order’s official statement that appears on Damien’s home page, it states that “Recently, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts considered it appropriate and timely–at the imminent approach of his 75th birthday—that Fr. Pat be allowed to take a respite from his lengthy labor of love to enjoy a much deserved and long overdue sabbatical.”

But, it appears, no one, in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, of which the Order is a part, ever bothered to check with Travers. According to Travers, he never got so much as a phone call. “The Archdiocese never talked to me,” Travers said.

The Rev. Peadar Cronin, a 35-year veteran of Damien, broke the news, according to Travers.

“He called me in,” Travers said, recalling the fast-breaking sequence of events. “I wasn’t privy to any conversations. It was the order’s decision.”

Since the shake up, Cronin has been appointed the school’s new principal.

What could have possibly caused Travers’ abrupt dismissal? While Travers can only speculate, he said he believes that the Archdiocese was upset over a June mission of Damien alumni volunteers that traveled to La Morita, outside of Tijuana, Mexico, to build houses for the town’s poorest residents. For more than 20 years, members of the Damien community have built over 60 houses in La Morita, including classrooms and community centers, representing donations exceeding $1 million.

Earlier this year, however, the Archdiocese, in light of the violent fallout from Mexico’s ongoing drug war, banned any more trips to Mexico involving current Damien students. In response, Damien alumni — to continue their long tradition of serving the poor of La Morita — organized a trip outside the auspices of the high school. On their own accord, some of the alumni volunteers brought their children, who were still minors. To bless and celebrate the new construction projects, the volunteers summoned Travers to deliver a mass, a request he faithfully fulfilled.

Travers believes it was this trip, conducted in an unofficial capacity and apart from the school, which drew the ire of the Archdiocese and the order of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

“On their own, parents put together a crew to build five more houses,” Travers said. “They asked me to come down and celebrate mass with them and the locals. It was a community celebration to say the least.

Travers added that La Morita has always been a safe and peaceful community. “I have less concern going there than going to some parts of Southern California,” Travers said.

Asked about a longstanding rumor that he didn’t recruit hard enough to attract top athletes to Damien as a possible reason for his dismissal, Travers said, “I never believed in that (recruiting). When I got wind of that, I squashed it. We got along well with other schools because of our fair play. I didn’t want to upset the applecart and cause an annoyance that way.”

Thus, Damien enjoyed a sterling reputation over the years, not to mention a capital improvement program that helped build a new gymnasium and community center, aptly named the Travers Cronin Athletic Center, and the modernization of both the football and baseball stadiums.

On the phone, Travers hardly sounded like the retiring type or someone ready to enjoy a long awaited sabbatical, despite having bad knees, diabetes and heart troubles (he’s had a couple of stent operations). “I’ve got a few miles left on me,” Travers said vigorously.

Indeed, Travers is currently in discussion with Catholic church officials to represent a regional parish in San Bernardino County. He wasn’t at liberty to share any more details, but promised to disclose the information at the appropriate time with LaVerneOnline.com

Should Travers be in need of any recommendations, he can certainly point his interviewers to his Facebook fan page, which has been “liked” by more than 2,000 people since news first leaked about his unceremonious departure, similar to the public’s outcry that has welled up since the announcement over the weekend that comedian Jerry Lewis, the face of the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon, had been fired.

While Travers is disappointed over his sudden departure, he is not bitter, calling the order’s action “a very Catholic, but not a Christian” one.

Regardless of the actions of the Sacred Hearts order or the Archdiocese, they cannot erase a half century of achievements and memories.

“I certainly have tons of happy memories,” Travers said. “That’s for sure. “We’ve had a lot of successes these 49 years, in a multiplicity of ways. I feel very good about that.

“I’m very happy about some of the associations I’ve made. I remember sitting on the curb in front of the Texaco station – where the fire department is now – talking with (then Mayor) Frank Johnson about how we were going to solve all the problems of the world.”

Travers added that he also struck up a great friendship with Mayor Jon Blickenstaff during his 24 years in office. “I was also just connecting with La Verne’s new mayor, but I guess that’s been cut short,” Travers said.

It’s more than a little ironic that Father Travers, who’s been primarily responsible for building so many homes for the poor, will now find himself homeless as of this Friday. Actually, he has made arrangement to stay with another priest until his new assignment is worked out. “I’m kind of a vagabond of sorts,” Travers said.

He also added that that he wanted to thank the many members of the community for their offers of rooms, apartments, cabins and other domiciles during his time of transition.

“God indeed works in mysterious ways,” Travers concluded.

To reach Father Travers, you can drop him a note at his La Verne, Calif. post office box, No. 8228. As other news is forthcoming, LaVerneOnline.com will report it.

13 Responses to “EXCLUSIVE: Father Travers Speaks Plainly About His Damien Dismissal — By Peter Bennett”

  1. Ok, so Fr. Travers was told by the Archdiocese not to take any Damien students to Mexico because of the violence. A group of adults (Damien alumni) along with their sons (who just happen to be currently enrolled at the school)go down to Mexico anyway and ask Fr. Travers to come down to “bless” their work. You can’t tell me that these people didn’t know they were doing exactly what the Archdiocese told them not to do. Fr. Travers must think that both the Archdiocese and the readers of this story are too dumb to see through his veiled efforts to do as he wants despite being told not to.

    Imagine the field day the media would have if God forbid, one of the students was hurt or worse while in a place they were no suppose to be. There’s a lot the students could have done on this side of the border to organize and fundraise in support of the work in Mexico without having to go there. Rather than work with the Archdiocese and his own order to show that the work in Mexico was safe for all to participate in, Fr. Travers decided to do as he wished despite being given a direct order to the contrary.

    As a religious, Fr. Travers took a vow of obedience which he violated plain and simple. If you or I were told by our boss not to do something and we decided to do as we wished, we’d be looking for a new job shortly there after.

    As for him being homeless, he’s a member of a religious order which has committed itself to caring for its members. Fr. Travers will be provided for until he passes away. The only thing that has changed for him is he’s being reassigned to a new ministry because he placed his own desire above that of the good of the students/school and defied a direct order.

    The truly sad part of this whole story is that I have no doubt this whole mess could have been avoided had Fr. Travers worked with the people who are ultimately in charge of the safety of the schools students rather than doing as he decided was best and wanted to do.

  2. Father Travers Dismissal

    Here is a man that has given his life to a school to a community and the people he serves. He has help serve the poor for years. He help build a better world for those need a helping hand. He help govern students with their future but yet the Archdiocese dismiss this man after 49 years makes no sense. The Archdiocese will do more for Priest accuse of sexual child abuse than honor this man who has given his life to his faith and his school. The Archdiocese will never see a man like Father Travers again. The Archdiocese should be a shame of itself. Jacob Perez

  3. Enrollment has declined dramatically at Damien during the last five years. Did Fr. Travers use the marketing programs mandated by the Archdiocese (which does not include recruiting athletes by the way)? No! Instead he wanted to wait until the economy got better. And when is that going to happen?

    When the archdiocese took the marketing responsibility away from him and gave it to his own hand picked principal, he became divisive and mean-spirited at the campus among faculty and staff. When he was called in and counseled about this he said he would improve but the antics continued. Faculty and staff do not need to live in fear of a priest who happens to be their boss.

    The principal (Sam Pearsall) is doing a great job and the new president (Fr. Cronin) has been well received by alumni according to the FB page you referred to.

    It is unfortunate that the FB page would not allow posters to give the other side of the story but would allow posters to take cheap shots at the archdiocese. Reading the FB page gives the impression that Fr. Travers has become a cult figure among the older alumni. A priest shouldn’t be a cult figure. Jesus should be the focus of the school and the school program.

    Anytime an article appears about the Church, people surface from under their rocks to attack it. They refer to the child abuse scandal as if nothing has changed and disciplinary action hasn’t taken place. Since 2002 ALL credibly accused priests have been removed from the priesthood in the archdiocese and put on the street. The child abuse prevention programs now in place in the archdiocese are among the best in the nation better than the local public schools. More people (clergy, staff, teachers, students, volunteers) have received child abuse awareness training than probably any other entity in California. But the cheap shots continue through the anonymity of the internet.

    Damien HS has a great future with good leadership and a good faculty. Fr. Travers did amazing work for many years at Damien. But his recent behavior and divisiveness warrants his removal by his Relgious superiors (who would never allow him to become homeless unless he choose to become homeless).

  4. As a former Damien Student (Class of 81), I was heartbroken to learn that Father Travers was being removed as President of the marvelous High School of which he was so instrumental in shaping over the course of half a century.

    Father Travers is a man of great moral character, geniune humility and tremendous strength. He just might the only Principle of a major California High School who insists upon protecting his young men by driving them to away games in the school’s bus.

    He oversaw the bowling club and taught me Geometry.

    In 1994, over Christmas break, he organized a reunion of all Damien students from beginning of the school to that date. He missed all of us.

    If Damien High School has a face, it is surely that of Father Patrick Travers. He bleeds Green and Gold. He has mentored each and every Damien student with whom he ever came in contact. I cannot imagine DHS without him.

    That Father Travers may have been removed from his post as a result the La Morita House Building Program smacks of worst type of bureacratic meddling. Father Travers being made “homeless” because he said a Mass intended to bless newly-built homes is the epitome of tragic irony.

    I want to say further, that I hold no grudges against Father Cronin and, while Father Travers will be a tough act to follow, I wish him the best of success out of these difficult circumstances. I know in my heart that Father Cronin will serve Damien High School well and faithfully as the new Principal. I will pray for a smooth transition and for great success.

    Father Travers will be in my thoughts and prayers. For his unselfish devotion to the young men of Damien, he has my eternal gratitude.
    Well done, Father Pat.

  5. Another DHS Alumni
    August 9th, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    I am very ashamed of the way the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary removed Fr. Travers from his home. Fr. Travers is a big part of the DHS community and what it’s evolved to today. He is genuinely concerned with each and every student passing about the halls of the high school and willing to help any student needing it, be it spititually, emotionally, financially or disciplinary, you name it. I have great respect for this man and having graduated over 25 years ago, I still know he has the same impact on students today as he did back when I was at DHS.

    I don’t think he was disobedient to the Archdiocese by cancelling the Tiajuana Mission trip. They never had a “school sponsored” missionary trip and it never transpired. What did transpire was a “private” missionary trip with DHS Alumni, and there kids whom some may have been current students at DHS, to “keep the tradition” going of Fr. Travers work. They invited Fr. Travers to join them and he did, all as a privately sponsored trip, not a DHS activity. I hope the DHS Alumni continue to go on these trips south of the border, and they continue to invite Fr. Travers to ensure his tradition continues.

    It would have been respectful of the Order to allow Fr. Travers to reach a milestone of 50 years of service. I know the 49 years we had him will never be forgotten.

    I can no longer make any annual donation to the school or its pledge drives or fund raising efforts. It just upsets me and I cannot support a school who didn’t support a spiritual leader who guided countless boys into becoming productive, successful men today, me included. I wish Fr. Travers the best and know we have “tons of happy memories” too.

  6. I read this story with great sadness. However, several of the comments make me sadder still. I WANT to attack those of you who say that Fr. Travers should, indeed, be gone; yet I cannot. Why? Largely because of the education I received from people like, oh, let’s see, Fr. Travers, Fr. Cronin, Fr. Frank Doherty, Fr. Peter Dennis, Fr. O’Laughlin, Fr. Mahre,…the list is long; these men (and a few women) provided me with a foundational education which requires me to THINK critically. So when people say things like, “…his recent behavior and divisiveness warrants his removal,” my first thought is, “Well, obviously this guy knows what he’s talking about; he sounds intimately close to the situation.” Perhaps he is. However, his comments make me sad in that they fail to substantively acknowledge the wealth of good that Fr. Travers accomplished during his tenure. It SOUNDS as though he’s saying, “Well, he blew it, so he deserves what he gets.” I remember a man who tried–very hard–to teach me geometry, with infinite patience; and I let HIM down–NOT the other way ’round. I figure that, if he did that for me, how many other young men were affected in the same loving, CHRISTIAN way? Then there’s the comment, “Imagine the field day the media would have if God forbid, one of the students was hurt or worse while in a place they were no suppose to be.” My niece is forever asking, “Well, what if this…” and “What if that..” What if. Indeed. I believe that I was still at Damien when I learned that one cannot live their lives with “What ifs…” Did Fr. Travers make a bad judgment call? Maybe. Maybe not. All I KNOW is that I never read about any catastrophe in any media outlet from that trip. Hmmm, kinda makes me think that maybe some good stuff happened.

    Look, I don’t want this to be personal–honestly I don’t. I’m of the belief that, those of us who are and always will be Spartans, whether we’re in La Verne or not, should stand with each other, and protect our own. Perhaps you men believe that you are doing that. Perhaps you are. I’m just largely unwilling to throw the baby out with the bathwater, which is what it appears that the Archdiocese is doing.

    “With our shield or on it”? Fr. Travers, I’d be proud to carry your shield, should you ever need me to. I am a professor now, and you helped make me the teacher that I am. I thank you–for ALL your efforts on behalf of all the young men whose lives you have so care–fully touched. And, in the vernacular of today’s youth,…YOU ROCK!!!!!

    Mike Fleming, ’79

  7. The absurd attempts of commenters to justify the decision of the archdiocese are laughable at best. Father Travers was a cornerstone of the school and the community, no matter what slight professional differences there may have been. Dismissing him in this way is insanely disrepectful and smack of the usual arbitrary church decision-making.

    It’s no wonder that church membership is declining — a consistent culture of hypocrisy and unchecked hubris at the top levels.

  8. Thank You to Father Travers for driving the bus to all of my HS away football games and keeping score and sweeping the gymn floor at every home basketball game I ever played there and for being there and doing a thankless job for 50 YEARS! Thanks for teaching me Geometry. Thanks for being a steady consistent presence and guide for the young men who attended DHS. You will be missed and your “work” was appreciated!

    I wish you the best in whatever God and the future holds for you!

    Rich Macaluso ’70

  9. I have never meet a man who is clearly a modern day hero than Father Travers. He gave me support and guidance I use to this day. The Archdiocese needs to find a way to allow him to retire with respect. Given all the terrible things that have happen in the Los Angles Diocese in the past 20 years, it seems they would want to celebrate men of such character and substance. Not let him go quietly into retirement.

  10. Father Travers is a great man and has helped many young men achieve their goals. As a Damien parent something was NOT right at Damien last year. It was not made clear what the problems were but something was clearly not functioning. The Archdiocese removal of Father Travers is another reason why I am happy my sons chose to leave Damien and are excelling in public high school. Our local public high school has a better sports program, better guidance program and a lot less hypocrisy than Damien. It is shameful what the Diocese has done but honestly not surprising. I wish Damien High School well but you will need to do it without the tuition we have been pumping into the school. We are delighted with our boy’s new school and not having to worry about Diocese politics. I wish Father Travers well and hope his next assignment treats him better that what the Sacred Hearts have done.

  11. What would Jesus do?

  12. I haven’t a clue as to what prompts the diocese to make such abrupt and rash decisions. But I have been completely uninvolved with the church and Damien HS for many years so I demure to criticize this decision. All I can recall about Fr. Travers, while attending Damien in the 80’s, was that he was a self-sacraficing, devoted and dedicated educator and administrator. Those priests had to wear many hats and they worked restlessly hour after hour. It would be remarkable if any of them ever happened up to a full night of sleep. There jobs were enormously demanding. I may have had several conversations with Travers during my days at Damien; he always appeared aloof and indifferent to me. Maybe he was just overwhelmed and overworked. A parochial school today would be hard pressed to find a more committed incumbent of such great longevity as Fr. Travers. I m sure Fr. Cronin will be an excellent successor as principal for he has served the community for over 40 years himself

  13. I ‘m a grateful mother of one of Father Travers- Damien sons. Father thank you for being such an important part of my sons life. Your example of living a Christ like life has been inspiring to many. My son wouldn’t be the young man he is today and I’m blessed that he has continued to be your good friend. My son and husband are in Mexico again this year doing the Lords work w/ Father. I will never forget what my son told me the first time he went on this mission trip… don’t worry mom remember what you always tell me.. If God is for us, who can be against us… I think of those precious word and I’m humbled every time.
    Thank you Father for always going were Jesus leads you.

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