Priest who taught here faces sexual abuse charge in Baltimore Diocese

Accused by student at Baltimore high school

The Buffalo News, New York/November 9, 2013

By Melinda Miller

A Franciscan friar who was vice principal at St. Francis High School in Athol Springs and later principal at Cardinal O’Hara in the Town of Tonawanda is accused of molesting a student while he was a teacher at a high school in Baltimore in the 1970s, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has revealed.

The Rev. Michael Kolodziej, 69, has been suspended from the priesthood following allegations that he abused a boy at Archbishop Curley High School during his tenure there in 1975-79. The former student says the priest sexually abused him while “wrestling.”

Following these accusations from Baltimore, the mother of two former students at O’Hara said that Kolodziej also made a habit of wrestling with students there as “punishment” in the 1980s.

Both Curley High School and St. Francis High School, where Kolodziej was assigned from 1979 to 1982 as a teacher and assistant principal, are run by the Franciscan Order.

Kolodziej later became principal of Cardinal O’Hara High School.

The allegations have led to Kolodziej’s suspension from all public ministry by his order, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore has withdrawn permission for him to function as a priest in its area.

The Baltimore Archdiocese says it reported the allegations to police immediately and is encouraging people to report any other possible cases of child sexual abuse.

The Diocese of Buffalo has reprinted the Baltimore statement on its own website and noted that Kolodziej was a priest here from his ordination in 1970 until 1974, and again from 1979 until 1988.

The Buffalo Diocese also urged anyone with information about sexual abuse to report it to the police.

“If clergy or other church personnel are suspected of committing the abuse, please also call this confidential hotline: 716-895-3010,” the Buffalo Diocese said.

Ellen Christensen of Tonawanda said her two sons attended Cardinal O’Hara in the 1980s and that, while there, it was common knowledge that the principal wrestled with male students.

“My youngest son was Parish Council president in his junior year, and he said Father Michael used to wrestle with him as a form of discipline,” Christensen said.

She said her son never felt the wrestling was abusive or sexual in nature, but she herself complained to Kolodziej at the time because she felt uncomfortable about it, partly because it was violent.

“I asked him right out why he did it,” she said, “and he said, ‘It works.’ ”

She said it was her understanding that when students got into trouble, Kolodziej would give them a choice of detention or wrestling with him.

“They all thought they could beat him because he was ‘old,’ but he was a good wrestler and he would pin them,” Christensen said.

“Everyone was naive then,” she said. “None of this” – about clergy sexual abuse – “had come out.”

Kolodziej was serving as parochial vicar at St. Philip Benizi Parish in Jonesboro, Ga., south of Atlanta, at the time of his suspension.

The Buffalo Diocese provided this list of Kolodziej’s positions in Western New York: hospital chaplain (1970); associate pastor and school director at St. Mary of Sorrows Church (1970-71); and teacher at Bishop Turner High School and Villa Maria College, from 1971 to 1974, when he entered the Franciscan Order and moved to Baltimore.

He returned to serve at St. Francis from 1979 to 1982 and Cardinal O’Hara from 1982 to 1988 before becoming pastor at Holy Trinity Parish in Lawrence, Mass.

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