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Ontario Catholic board fires faithful school chaplain, says he wasn’t a ‘good fit’

Lianne Laurence Lianne Laurence Follow Lianne

KEMPTVILLE, Ontario, June 20, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – When Lorne Plooard’s local Catholic school board fired him last month, they didn’t tell him why.

Nor did the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario give Plooard any evaluation or warning before abruptly dismissing him as chaplain for St. Michael’s Catholic High School in Kemptville. 

But Plooard admits when he took the job three semesters ago, “one of my concerns in going to the school in general was, am I too Catholic?” he told LifeSiteNews.

After all, Catholic schools are “mission territory,” he says.

St. Michael’s Catholic High School is typical in that “most of the students are non-practising and only one-third are baptized,” he said, and a majority identify as “pro-choice.”

“I’m going to be talking about marriage as being permanent. I’m going to be talking about marriage between a man and a woman. I’m going to be talking about defending human life. I’m going to be talking about bread and wine becoming the actual body and blood of Christ,” said Plooard.

“These are controversial issues, and I am not afraid of controversial issues.”

Fired with no warning 

Even so, Plooard, who has a Masters of Divinity from St. Peter’s Seminary in London, had no inkling what was coming when he and principal Tracy O’Brien attended a meeting at the board office May 15.

Superintendents Brent Bovaird and Natalie Cameron told him then his chaplaincy hadn’t been a “good fit,” and handed him a letter signed by human resources manager Nicole Proulx.

It informed the young father of three children, aged five, almost three, and eight months, that he was on paid administrative leave immediately, and his employment terminated as of June 28, 2018.

“Unfortunately it has been decided that there is no longer a sufficient level of compatibility between your approach to the role of Chaplaincy Leader and the desired approach of St. Michael Catholic High School,” read the letter.

While it mentions St. Michael’s, the decision was clearly the board’s, not the school’s, Plooard told LifeSiteNews.

“I’m going to need a better answer than that when I go home and tell my wife that I’m being fired,” he recalls responding. 

Plooard quickly relayed news of his firing to Father Andrew Shim of Holy Cross Church, where he’s been part-time youth minister for nearly two years.

He and Shim decided to do a background check, thinking that “perhaps there was a complaint against me,” Plooard said.

“I want to make sure I have moral righteousness,” he said, adding that “if there are any accusations against me” he couldn’t run programs at the parish, “to protect the church, to protect the program, and to protect the kids.”

However, the police check came up empty, as did the CDSBEO employee file Plooard requested.

‘Justice for Chaplain Lorne’

The board’s firing of Plooard has since sparked controversy in Kemptville, a small community 6o kilometers south of Ottawa.

To date, there are 373 signatures on two online petitions asking the CDSBEO to reinstate the chaplain, petitions that brim with accolades for Plooard, and anger at the board.

“Mr. Plooard was fired because he presents the Gospel and the bible teaching, and held to the moral teaching of the Church. He was CATHOLIC. Not acceptable in our Catholic school system???” reads one.

“A terrible injustice that must be righted. The board and anyone that is responsible for this should be ashamed of themselves and held accountable,” reads another comment from Brian D.

“I am concerned that this SB decision lacks integrity,” writes Dan T. “I also believe that it sends a worrisome signal to future chaplains or students that the SB is intolerant of actions that reflect the RC faith.”

But despite the backlash, the board has kept silent.

Not one of the CDSBEO administration staff or trustees contacted by LifeSiteNews would comment on Plooard’s firing, other than communication director Amber LaBerge.

“As you may be aware, the CDSBEO is not at liberty to discuss confidential information publicly,” she wrote in an email to LifeSiteNews.

“It would therefore be inappropriate to comment on the circumstances associated with the Chaplain at St. Michael Catholic High School.”

LifeSiteNews also contacted Kingston Archbishop Brendan O’Brien, who relayed through his secretary he did not comment on school board matters.

School bans student petition

Moreover, discussion of the firing was essentially banned at St. Michael’s High School, according to Grade 12 student Hanna Kentfield, who started circulating a petition there. 

When her principal told her to stop doing so or she’d be suspended, Kentfield moved the petition online.

School staff also thought Plooard left of his own accord, Kentfield told LifeSiteNews.

“The teachers just kept telling us he’d moved on on his own, and I said, ‘That’s a lie.’ So a couple of the teachers called him to ask him about it, because apparently all the teachers had been told that he’d moved on on his own, but he obviously has not,” she said.

Kentfield started the petition for the sake of future students, adding the board didn’t seem to realize Plooard’s influence on students.

“I know he’s impacted me all through high school,” said Kentfield, who went on a mission trip to Guatemala with Plooard. 

“And it sucks that there’s going to be kids coming into the school that could have had the opportunity to have him as an influence, who won’t now.”

Wake-up call on Catholic schools

That’s echoed by Todd Fortin, who is using Knights of Columbus networks to circulate a second petition.

A long-time parishioner and Grand Knight of Holy Cross Church’s Knights of Columbus council, Fortin has witnessed Plooard’s effect on students first-hand.

“We have seen a noticeable increase of young people coming to Mass, and some of them bringing their parents, which we haven’t seen before,” he told LifeSiteNews.

“His Crossroads youth group has blossomed from nothing, to some Friday evenings he has 60 kids there.”

Plooard’s firing is a “wake-up call on what’s actually going on in the Catholic system,” and has people asking what can they do, Fortin said. 

“There’s a lot of questions being asked. We don’t have really that many answers yet,” he added. “From what we can see of the dismissal, all we can take, because it’s still very vague, was that he was dismissed for being too Catholic.”

Father Shim declined to comment when contacted by LifeSiteNews, but according to Plooard, he also viewed the high school chaplaincy as “potentially dangerous in terms of, yeah, you might not fit well with the culture.”

Nevertheless, the parish priest encouraged Plooard to apply for the position because he saw that it “could really help out our evangelical efforts at the parish,” Plooard said.

Indeed, four St. Michael’s students were received fully into the Catholic Church this Easter, three of these baptized Catholics returning to their faith, one hitherto unbaptized.

And that, in essence, is why Plooard hopes he can return to St. Michael’s. 

“I just want what’s best for the students,” he says. “That’s what I want to go back for.”

Petitions are found here and here.

To respectfully express your concerns: 

Most Rev. Brendan O’Brien, Archbishop of Kingston
613-548-4461
[email protected]

CDSBEO director of education John Cameron
613-258-7757, ext. 3117 
Email: [email protected]

CDSBEO superintendent of school effectiveness Brent Bovaird
613-258-7757, ext. 3025
Email: [email protected]

CDSBEO superintendent of school effectiveness Natalie Cameron
613-933-1720, ext. 3099
Email: [email protected]

CDSBEO trustees:

Chair Todd Lalonde, Phone: 613-933-6442
Email: [email protected]

Vice-Chair Ronald Eamer, Phone: 613-931-2369
Email: [email protected]

Nancy Kirby, Phone: 613-250-0482
Email: [email protected]

Brent Laton, Phone: 613-925-3313
Email: [email protected]

Karen McAllister, 613-537-8153
Email: [email protected]

Robin Reil, 613-345-4354
Email: [email protected]

Sue Wilson, 613-678-3306
Email: [email protected]

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