NEW LENOX – The longtime leader of Providence Catholic High School suddenly retired Friday amid an investigation into what the school described as “potentially inappropriate material on his mobile device.”
The Rev. Richard J. McGrath’s departure was described as a retirement “effective immediately.”
He headed Providence Catholic for the past 32 years.
McGrath told The Herald-News that he could not comment on the investigation.
“I’m retired now,” he said. “I’m very grateful to all the people who helped me in all the years I was at Providence.”
School and police officials would not comment on what type of material may have been on McGrath’s mobile device. New Lenox Police Chief Bob Sterba confirmed that police are investigating material on the device. Sterba said that school officials came to police with the information, following their protocols and acting responsibly.
“This is an open investigation,” Sterba said. “We have no comment at this time other than to say Providence High School contacted us due to certain concerns and as a result, the New Lenox Police Department has been working closely with Providence officials.”
Will County State’s Attorney Office spokesman Charles B. Pelkie would not comment on the investigation.
McGrath, 71, has been president at Providence Catholic since 1994, when the school implemented a president-principal model of administration. Before that, he headed Providence as its principal since 1985.
The Rev. John Merkelis, who served as principal at Providence when McGrath became president, will take over as acting president, the school said. Merkelis also will continue to serve as pastoral director of Providence Catholic during the transition.
Merkelis also serves as victim abuse coordinator for the Midwest Augustinians, according to the province’s website. Both Merkelis and McGrath belong to the Midwest Augustinians. The Augustinians oversee Providence Catholic.
The Diocese of Joliet said in a statement that both the diocese and the Augustinian Order, which oversees Providence Catholic, “followed the accepted protocol for responding to such allegations and are cooperating with local authorities.”
“We wish to assure everyone that in responding to any such allegation our highest priority is and will remain the safety and well being of our students at Providence Catholic and all children,” the diocese said.
“We ask everyone to refrain from speculation in this matter, as the investigation continues,” the diocese said. “As this is an active investigation, officials of the school, diocese and order are not at liberty to comment further.”
McGrath also is superintendent of schools for the Midwest Augustinians.
Brother Thomas Taylor at the Midwest Augustinians’ office in Chicago would not say whether McGrath continued as superintendent of schools. He said Midwest Augustinians could not comment beyond what was provided in statements from the diocese and the school.
McGrath also is a former member of the executive committee of the National Catholic Education Association Secondary Schools Department, according to a Providence Catholic biography of him. He also has written articles on school and athletic administration for NCEA publications.
A biography of McGrath now deleted from the Catholic School Management website said he has been involved in Catholic education since 1969, having worked at St. Rita High School in Chicago, St. Edward Central Catholic High School in Elgin before Providence.
He was ordained in 1973.