A Report on the Cumulative Events Leading Up to the Dismissal of Robert Hickson As a Professor of Language and Literature from Christendom College in August of 1988
By Dr. Robert Hickson
18 October 2017
Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist
After the recent 40th Anniversary of the formal Founding of Christendom College in 1977, some graduates of the College (as well as my high-spirited and courageous German wife, Maike) approached me and desired to know from me a little more about the early history and heritage of the College, to include some of its special challenges and sorrows. My loyal wife, who is from Germany, is also a professional historian and knows that “truth matters.”
After a refreshing two-year preparatory time in Spain (1974–1975), [http://www.apropos.org.uk/documents/BrentBozell6-7-14.pdf], and some intermittent collaboration during the next few years (e.g., in our own separate and joint lectures, and other efforts to help recruit some students for Christendom College), especially with Dr. Carroll and even Brent Bozell, it was only on 1 July 1980, however, that I first arrived on campus in Front Royal, Virginia with my family (with our four children) to be a full-time-professor in Language and Comparative Literature at Christendom College (to include some further English and Latin studies). And I was to remain there as Head of the Department (and as an additional tutor of Latin as well as becoming the first coach of the College basketball team) up until the beginning of the spring semester of 1987. After that time I finally received from Dr. Damian Fedoryka — though he was quite reluctant to do so — a paid Sabbatical year (with a salary of $28,000 for the entire year) for the next academic year 1987–1988 — with no academic duties on campus, nor any encouraged participation with students on or off campus — up until I was entirely dismissed by him, thus also fully separated, after some eight years, from any further association with Christendom College as of 1 September 1988.
Moreover, there then being — by Dr. Carroll’s own original and resolute design — no Academic Tenure at Christendom College (not even after one’s being there seven or eight years); and, secondly, there being no retirement program at all from Christendom College, I was henceforth to be entirely on my own with my family, which in September of 1988 included our eight children. For, we had arrived from Chapel Hill, North Carolina with four young children in July of 1980 and we were now to depart the College with our eight young children that September of 1988. How did this all come to pass?
Additionally, because of the longstanding requests of my loyal sacramental wife, Dr. Maike Hickson, and with her own earnest and sustained encouragement to do so, I have at last decided to present and sometimes summarize, as well, some of the things that led to my final dismissal from Christendom College after eight years as a professor there (1980–1988) and almost seven years as a Department Head; and also after having been the first professor, back in Spain in August of 1975, to have been invited by Dr. Warren Carroll himself (with his wife Anne) to be one of the founding faculty members, especially as a professor of Literature and Language (to include the varieties of Ancient and Church Latin, not just the range of earlier forms of English).
My doctoral studies in Comparative Literature (Mediaeval) and Greco-Roman Classics finally allowed me (as someone “Ph.D — ABD”) — with Dr. Carroll’s warm and urgent encouragement — to come up a little early from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and thus to arrive in Front Royal, Virginia in that July of 1980. Our family had four young children then, and our fifth daughter was soon to be born in Front Royal, on 3 December 1980. (Three sons would later be born to us, from late January 1982 up until late December 1985.) The College, as it was presented to me, then quite urgently needed my help as a teacher, as well as a counsellor to the President; and so I took a risk and decided not to finish my Doctoral Dissertation while still in North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but only accomplish it later up in Front Royal, in the early summer of 1988 as it turned out.
In early September of 1980, I began my fuller range of teaching as Head of the Literature Department, to include the teaching of Latin, as was fitting, in order to aid the restoration of Catholic higher learning, one of Dr. Carroll’s own rooted aspirations for the College from the outset. (Mr. William Marshner, despite his wide learning and linguistic skills, did not any longer want to teach any courses in Latin, especially not classes in Beginners Latin; and so I accepted to do so, instead, and went even further with the Latin — and a little Greek — happily.)
Almost a year before I arrived with my family in Front Royal, I had visited the new campus there by myself alone (without my family) to look for a home, and I spoke to Dr. Carroll candidly about a few of my hesitations and earnest concerns, after the President of the College himself had forthrightly asked me to do so. Recalling some of the acknowledged weaknesses and vulnerabilities of Triumph Magazine and their dedicated staff before they would effectively soon come to operate no longer, I told Warren Carroll, once again, that I saw several disadvantages of having so few resident faculty members with their own families in Front Royal and, instead, effectively having a largely absentee faculty, to include Warren Carroll himself, who would usually be at the College only two or three days a week, sleeping overnight himself then only one or two nights on campus. Secondly I told him that there would likely be difficulties with a co-educational student body of largely sequestered young men and women, not only without a full-time resident chaplain, but also with so little athletic activity nor any kinds of wholesome training, as in the local horsemanship farms. (Soon, I was at least, though rather inadequately so, to become the College’s first basketball coach, and I could add it to my activities as a father, but only because of the indispensable assistance of a new friend, Greg Dick (R.I.P.), who was my unpaid assistant and friendly athletic contemporary (one year older), and himself also once an officer in Vietnam (in the years 1965–1966) after he had graduated from the University of Virginia in 1964, which was also the same year that I, as a very callow, 21-year-old lieutenant, had graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.)
Without going into too many of the historical details, it might nonetheless be of special interest to the reader to know about that formidable cigar-smoking Irishman with his own large family who indispensably (and quite providentially) helped us to find and purchase the property which is now the Front Royal Campus of Christendom College.
I first met him while, as an active-duty Army captain myself in our U.S. Army Special Forces in 1970, I was teaching on Fort Bragg at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School and Center. It was then that this roaring Irishman delightfully came to the Unconventional Warfare School to give a couple of strategic lectures there — especially about the C.I.A.’s strategic efforts to aid and even to train the non-Communist “free labor movements in Latin America.” He was a very good and quite manly speaker and we spent a day or so together. As he was leaving Bragg, and again smoking his big cigar, he invited me to visit him in Front Royal, Virginia where he, as the Managing Labor Leader, was then in charge of running a sort of training mission combining the assets of our U.S. Intelligence Community and those of George Meany’s own AFL-CIO Labor Organization.
I later told Warren Carroll all about this, when the property in Front Royal — the Labor Movement Front — was suddenly open for purchase. Dr. Carroll understood these things, because he was himself once in the Intelligence Community as an Historian in the Agency’s “Foreign Broadcast Information Service” (FBIS) — a learned, largely non-covert, element of the Central Intelligence Agency. Somehow, in God’s Providence, George Meany and Cardinal O’ Boyle and William Carrigan and Attorney Bob O’ Neill, along with some others, rather improbably came together in a timely way to enable us, in our unmistakable poverty, to purchase that special property in Front Royal, Virginia. More could be said, but not now, about how the College, later in the early 1980s, almost moved again to another new Campus, some twelve miles away, at the Kenneth Gilpin family’s beautiful Scaleby Estate in Boyce, Virginia in Clarke County to the northeast en route to Berryville. It was an alluring, but risk-filled proposed move that I, for several reasons, had early on strongly opposed — which was to the (at first) great discouragement of Warren Carroll (and of most of the other Faculty Members).
There was a Board Member and College Advisor, Walter Stuart, who especially desired this property and larger overall project, however. He thus required much additional evidence and coherent argumentation to dissuade and convince him to let this large project go, even before the local citizens of Boyce variously demonstrated that they certainly did not desire to have a Catholic College in their small village. Kenneth Gilpin himself then made other personal plans, though he was very disconsolate — and despite the College’s keenly alert, financial and and operations officer, Richard (“Dick”) Seelbach’s own sustained courteous and reasonable explanations to Mr. Gilpin about our poverty and other institutional vulnerabilities. There was, nonetheless, much mutual affection there and even blushing openness about our impoverished situation. Dick Seelbach, himself a retired U.S. Naval Officer, was again so important, and even indispensable. (How many know that?)
Returning Now to Some of the Pertinent Early History of Christendom College in Spain
In August of 1975 — after again being with my German mentor Dr. Josef Pieper in Spain (in San Lorenzo de El Escorial) — Dr. Warren Carroll and his wife Anne unexpectedly invited me to go with them in the early evening out to a fountain on the campus of the Universidad Maria Cristina. Dr. Carroll then presented to me an unexpected secret and asked me to keep this meeting confidential. For he was to announce to me his plans for a new College and then at once to make an invitation to me to be on his faculty, which I at once gratefully accepted.
Warren Carroll then more fully and quite realistically told me about his special plans to found a College — to be called Christendom College — if Triumph Magazine and its Christian Commonwealth Institute were both soon to falter and effectively collapse, which, then in mid-1975, he saw to be altogether likely. That is to say, from the strategic vantage point of that late Summer of 1975 when President Francisco Franco was already near death himself and many people in Spain and elsewhere were fearing an outbreak of another Civil War when he died. (That is a compound fact and a troubling cultural and psychological fact, for sure, as my own ongoing conversations in Spain showed, also with the Military.) Out by the University fountain, Dr. Carroll (in the presence of his wife) then solemnly — I do not overstate this matter –made an invitation to me to be the first person he was inviting to be on his Founding Faculty: to be a Professor of Literature and Language (both of which he believed to be very necessary in his proposed Curriculum of Studies). It was an invitation at least to be a temporary part-time faculty member, even if I could then not at once become a full-time member of the resident Faculty, due to my nearly, but not entirely, completed doctoral studies in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
He also then again earnestly told me that I was the only one — aside from his wife Anne, seated there beside him — to know of his intentions and his more specific plans; and I was to promise him to keep what he had just told me as a strict secret (except for telling Sharon Mahoney Hickson, my Civil Wife then, who came reluctantly with me to Spain in 1974, but was not in Spain at all that Summer of 1975, despite certain later allegations. In that Summer of 1975, she was, rather, in the United States with some weakening sickness of her own, but also very generously aiding my more gravely injured mother, who was back again from the hospital and again in her home in Margate, New Jersey on the Atlantic Seacoast.)
Moreover, we should know that Dr. Carroll was later twice to ask me (between 1980–1985) to succeed him as the President of Christendom. But, both times I politely declined, emphatically saying that, first of all, I was NOT COMPETENT; and, secondly, that I was NOT INTERESTED — for, I wanted to teach and to be a scholar and also a writer; and I especially did not want to be such an Administrator, for which my own INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL CHARACTER were so thoroughly unsuited.
Warren Carroll and I (along with Sharon Mahoney Hickson herself ) were in 1980–1981 already to have a rather serious falling out: first about the Rock Music on campus; and then about the personal pictures of some female students being misused by the College Staff (e.g., Dr. Mirus, as well as by Dr. Carroll); the inordinately self-vaunting claims being made by the College Advertising and Recruitment Programs; and, most importantly, about the Moral Life of some of the students, both on and off Campus — which was further based on evidence given by some of the students themselves along with the evidence confidentially provided to me by the trusted Dick Seelbach. (For, Dick Seelbach was especially trusted by the students, and they confided many private things of moment to him, who was practically wise and always very discreet. Why did Dr. Jeffrey Mirus only leave Christendom College in 1985, for example? What has Dr. Carroll said?) There was a female student who left the year before.
One could tell much more about such matters if the readers would be sufficiently interested — and I could myself specifically give to you all much additional and verifiable evidence; and could (and would) likewise present to you other personal witnesses (to include even Walter Janaro the Chief of Sound, former Maggie O’Reilly/Ciscanak, and even the current Professor of English, Sharon Mahoney-Hickson herself).
From another perspective, you should again know that I was asked to leave Christendom College, finally, after 31 August 1988 — after having finished a reluctantly paid Sabbatical Year (from 1 September 1987 — up until the end of August 1988) which was quite grudgingly given to me by the New President of the College, Dr. Damian Fedoryka. And this financial remuneration to my family and me was only given at all because of the decisive and authoritative (and legally alert) help of the Head of the Christendom College Board himself, Christopher Cuddeback (R.I.P.). For, Mr. Cuddeback knew that Hickson already had a signed contract for that 1987–1988 year which was thus to be honored.
Moreover, during my eight full-time years on the Faculty of Christendom College, I never received more than around $28,000 a year — as the financial officer, Richard Seelbach, repeatedly told me. He also often (that is, four times) told me down the years that only one other person was then receiving a lesser salary than I, and that was Warren Carroll himself, who had no children. (During the interval September 1987-September 1988, my eighth and last year at the College during my paid Sabbatical Year, I then had eight children, but still received a salary of $ 28,000 or so, until 31 August 1988. Then I was on my own.) I also later learned what some of the other members of the Faculty were actually being paid (some almost double mine own), given some of their own urgent requests and special needs. It should be known, however, that I never requested any increase of salary during my eight years there — although Dick Seelbach often told me, in fairness, that I should do so.
Although I had been there at the College for over eight years, being also for seven years head of the Literature and Latin Department, we had No Tenure. And so I was asked to leave the College with our eight children. My Contract was not renewed — and I was dismissed, technically and legally. It was, strictly speaking, a Case of “A Non-Renewal of Contract NOT FOR CAUSE.” In moral terms, however, I then already had tenure — but Warren Carroll did not then support me at all.
Given what, in that summer of 1986, first unjustly — and indeed inhumanly — happened to the Seelbach Family — both to Richard (“Dick”) Seelbach himself (the College’s gifted Finance — and — Operations Officer), and also to his gracious wife Betty (increasingly infirm with her growing cancer) — we were soon to realize that this year of 1986 itself was to prove to be an especially important year for the future and true honor of the College, and also for the future of my own family of ten at the time. (Important to note is that Dr. Fedoryka had just become President of the College in the Fall of 1985.)
The impending and increasingly unjust intrusions first became clearer to Dick Seelbach — and then to me — during the summer recess of 1986, and only after I had gone to Germany to visit my beloved mentor, Dr. Josef Pieper, at his home in Münster, Germany. The specific chronology of some of the fundamental facts and events may very well now further help us to understand, and much better, the fuller developing situation at the College, and especially the growing atmosphere of distrust and broken trust. For example, the even more oblique and patently destructive (and also quite loose and costly) activities of philosophy Professor Russell Hittinger himself (also as the new and provocative Dean of Students), for example, are still all too inadequately known to me — and, in any case, Hittinger himself (as the recent and coldly imperious Dean of Students, designedly replacing the beloved Dean Raymund O’ Herron) suddenly and disloyally and completely left the College, in the following summer of 1987, in order, much more prestigiously so, to teach philosophy courses at Fordham University, the Jesuit University in New York City. (On another occasion I would, and could, give more information and some reliable examples concerning Hittinger — also from some of Hittinger’s own Christendom students.)
Back now to that momentous Summer of 1986: Some time in late July or early August of 1986, I received an urgent message in Europe from the College Administration, telling me through my civil wife (Sharon Mahoney Hickson), that I was to return to the College campus early and soon for a special plenary meeting of the Faculty and Staff, before our academic classes were to resume. I was given no reason at all for such an urgency, much less for its suddenly timely importance. But, despite its inconvenience, I did not at all suspect anything sinister — not yet. But I was soon to be proved wrong.
Preserving now some of the subsequent essentials — after I first gave the sad facts and news of my departure to Josef Pieper — I expedited my return to the College for the meeting, which was conducted, at first, and only very briefly, by President Damian Fedoryka himself, who made an important announcement; and then continued mostly by the Academic Dean, Dr. Robert Rice, whom I first mercifully brought to the College in 1981 (when he wanted to leave his boring and quite morally dessicating, protracted employment in scholarly Lexicography, at the Old English Dictionary Project in Michigan).
Shockingly — and rather nervously — first Dr. Fedoryka (rather breezily) said, and then Robert Rice himself repeated the sad fact, that Dick Seelbach had freely and suddenly decided to leave the College permanently. There was no farewell party mentioned. (Moreover, Dr. Rice did not mention anything about Betty Seelbach, too, Dick Seelbach’s vulnerable wife, who was also then still a paid employee of the College, as an Accountant and as the manager of travel vouchers and the like.)
After Robert Rice’s general meeting had concluded and the other faculty members (along with the few invited senior administrators) had completely departed, I went up to Dr. Rice at once, and directly said: “Is it really true that Dick Seelbach freely left the College? Did he freely do it so suddenly and without even a farewell? Something doesn’t sound right here. Was it because of the illness and possibly worsening health of his wife, Betty? All things considered, including the tones of voice used by Fedoryka in his own casual Announcement, this proffered story does not even pass the smell test. Or does it? ”
Dr. Rice’s only answer to me then was: “Yes, he left and did it freely himself.” The Dean then rather stiffly indicated that he was not in a position to discuss the matter any further. I still remember him to have been more than a little nervous and exquisitely evasive — especially the look in his eyes. For sure, I did not believe him.
Very shortly after that otherwise superficial and punctiliously tedious meeting, I telephoned Dick Seelbach at his home and I then went to visit him there. He said, with some hesitation and polite reticence, that he would now tell me, but cautiously, the whole truth. However, I was not to make any of it public in any way, or even to present it privately and confidentially, at least while he and Betty were still alive. For, it would be very detrimental for them both, he said — and for him especially. But first he said to me, by way of an acute warning: “Bob, you’re next. I heard them in the hall talking about you. Damian Fedoryka and Russell Hittinger (and maybe with the help of some others, like Dr. William Luckey and Rice himself) have all together quite swiftly now gotten rid of Betty and then of me,” he said; “and they have now forbidden me from ever again coming back onto the Christendom campus, and they have also forbidden me from ever speaking about what has happened and how it was done. If we were to disclose anything, they assured me, then I [Dick] would never get another good job. They then became quite serious. “Now you be careful yourself! You’re next. They want you out. For sure, you’re next.” So vividly do I remember his words. (And I kept my promise to him. But it was difficult to do so. The sordidness he and his wife had to endure was truly flagitious.)
In that pivotal year of 1986, the final corrupt process of injustice and cruelty against the Seelbachs was to start in this way: Betty had refused to sign off on some of the excessive travel expenses that Dr. Russell Hittinger had claimed and had submitted for reimbursement. Hittinger — a close friend and very intelligent associate who was brought to the College by Fedoryka himself after he had become College President in the latter part of 1985 — soon became very indignant and insultingly angry and demeaning to Mrs. Seelbach. She was given an envelope and swiftly fired from her responsible position, though the higher Management knew very well of her own deteriorating health (for, there was a growing cancer for her to face). Betty Seelbach had received the envelope placed in her College mailbox, and when she opened it, it said that she was fired — no explanation. Her husband, Dick, then took that envelope into President Fedoryka’s College office and said to him: “What’s this? What’s this for? And why so suddenly?” Fedoryka said nothing, but, instead, then handed another envelope to Dick Seelbach, which said that Dick himself was thereby also fired. Fedoryka put nothing in writing, however, about his even more imperious and intimidating prohibitions; that is to say, he gave his warnings and his somewhat vengeful promises only orally to Dick Seelbach, but did it quite trenchantly and emphatically. I could tell the reader much more about these matters, if there still be the honorable interest in the truth — to include Dr. Warren Carroll’s own lack of any written or oral response — not even some consoling words — and not even after Betty had died. (Dick told me all of this and that, after he had been sent away from the College, he never again heard a word from Warren Carroll, not even a sign of compassion. Nor did I a few years later.)
Perhaps, by way of this brief narrative, I have helped the reader to understand, in proper proportion, some of the true early history of Christendom College. In any case, the reader could and may now share this testimony with anyone of his choice — to include Dr. and Mrs. O’Donnell themselves, Dr. Mirus, Dr. Rice, Mr. O’Herron, and then Mr. (but now Dr.) Marshner, among others. Dr. O’Donnell — who later was to succeed Dr. Fedoryka as President in 1992 — had himself belatedly first come to be on the Faculty the College only just before the Spring Semester of 1985 (he had, in the previous Autumn 1984 Semester, unexpectedly, but quite remuneratively, stayed in California with the wealthy Harry G. John’s efforts to spread Catholic Television, but O’ Donnell was the last Faculty member to be hired by Dr. Carroll. That belated hire thus completed, as Dr. Carroll often used to say, his “Founding Faculty.” However, he later narrowed the definition and meaning of that concept and reality of “The Founding Faculty.” It is five persons now, and will likely remain such.
Now we must face another set of clearly punitive envelopes — given to Hickson himself after his inquiring, but finally feckless attempts to defend the Seelbachs. These deposited envelopes were given to Robert Hickson (in 1986–1987) by Damian Fedoryka: the first one being Hickson’s own demotion notice which he received on 23 December 1986 (two days before Christmas); and the second one being deposited slightly later, on 16 January 1987 (his dismissal notice, which was also placed in Hickson’s College mailbox). What I now additionally propose to relate, therefore, may be very hard to believe — even after knowing about Fedoryka’s treatment of the Seelbachs — but what I shall now say is the truth. Coram Deo, before God, I vow this testimony to be the truth.
After Fedoryka more and more fearfully knew quite well that I had many grave suspicions about the unjust and cruel removal of the Seelbachs, President Fedoryka first sent to me in writing and starting in August of 1986, shortly after the dismissal of the Seelbachs — in close collaboration with the unmistakably punctilious Academic Dean, Robert Rice — a series of highly restrictive, bureaucratic official letters (almost Talmudically legalistic as well as novel). These Official Memoranda soon effectively constricted me and took away my maneuver room, and thus soon provoked my own defensive responses, concerning Academic Freedom, too. My resistance was also hoping thereby to address the Fedoryka-Rice warnings and their seemingly increasing threats. Then, after our seemingly conciliatory 9 November 1986 meeting on neutral ground at Dr. Timothy O’ Donnell’s home (with Founding Faculty Member Raymund O’ Herron also loyally in keen attendance as a fair and objective witness), things seemed to settle down a little and even to become hospitable. For, example, on my birthday on 29 December 1986, Fedoryka and his eldest daughter, Katrina — also one of my very good students — even visited me and my family and our foreign guest at our home. They sincerely (we thought) came bearing homemade confections as gifts. However, six days earlier, on 23 December, I had already found an official envelope from Fedoryka in my college mailbox telling me that, even then “effective immediately,” and still to be so as of 12 January 1987 (when the new semester classes would start up again), I would no longer be Head of the Literature Department, in spite of the agreement in my signed contract. Other things were ominously hinted at, as well, which soon then also came to pass (i.e., on 16 January 1987). In any case, Dr. Robert Rice, as of 12 January, would still be, both the Academic Dean and also now — with his new customs and procedures — the active new Head of the Literature Department (where he had been, somewhat restively so, under my authority since 1981).
Father John Hardon, S.J., my confessor and spiritual counselor advised me, for the greater common good of the College, not to contest that sudden change of Department Head and thus the new appointment of Rice. But when, on 16 January 1987, President Fedoryka additionally informed me that my Academic Teaching Contract for the forthcoming academic year of 1 September 1988–1 September 1989 would not be renewed, Father Hardon changed his mind. It was time to appeal the decision.
Even though I had already taught at the College for seven years as the Head of the Literature Department, I had no tenure. None of the Christendom Faculty then had any form of tenure. For, by Warren Carroll’s deliberate design, and because of the mutual trust we all had at the beginning, there was to be, from the outset, no Tenure System at the College. (Perhaps they do now provide such an added form of security for families, under an equitable and differentiated Tenure System.)
Father Hardon — upon hearing of this letter of 16 January and its irreversibly firm announcement of my non-renewal of contract — then emphatically told me that I must respond immediately; indeed, that I should at once appeal to the College Board, asking for a withdrawal and honorable reversal of President Fedoryka’s grave decision. Thus began a month of strenuous preparations until 21 February 1987, when the College Board, by a narrow vote (8 versus 6), upheld President Fedoryka’s standing decision. The vote would have been even closer (7 versus 7), had not the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Christopher Cuddeback, unexpectedly changed his vote at the last moment, purportedly “for the sake of charity and harmony,” as he later told me in person, but it was contrary to what he had already promised to several of us, because of all the letters of support he had received, as he told me himself (over a hundred of them just from students, and not one of those often eloquent letters were against Hickson.)
It is now fitting that I present a few of the salient events and persons involved in this Appeal trial, especially the conduct of several of the main contestants, as it were. It will largely cover the interval from mid-January 1987 to the third week of February 1987 — a little over a month.
By way of partial Resumé: The official letter about my punitive demotion — which I first received on 23 December 1986 in my on-campus College mailbox — was sent to me by President Fedoryka himself. His formal letter then informed me, for the first time, that I had been removed as Head of the Literature Department. Since the new academic semester was soon to begin, on 12 January 1987, Robert Rice would at once become the new Department Head (as well as continue to be the College’s Academic Dean). After I withdrew my initially intended appeal to the Board concerning that mandatory change of the departmental leadership — and, instead, accepted that arguable injustice for the sake of the greater common good of the College — I received yet another official letter only a few weeks later. I was then informed that my contract for the 1988–1989 academic year would not be renewed: I would now have to face with my family a “non-renewal of contract not for cause.” (I still do not fully know the essential meaning and implications of the protective legal language.)
After I had informed Father Hardon of this latest development, he said to me at once on the telephone — and decisively so — that I had to appeal that Presidential decision to the College Board of Supervisors, some of whom even then told me that, had there been an earlier just appeal from the Seelbachs themselves, I would never have needed to make an appeal against Damian Fedoryka, for he would have been gone. But now it would be different because Dean (and Professor) Russell Hittinger, Damian Fedoryka, and Warren Carroll himself, were already all now newly “politicking” and packing the College Board with their own specifically recruited supporters, such as Dr. James Hitchcock, as well as an adversary priest from the Washington University of Saint Louis (whose name I cannot now recall).
On Thursday morning (19 February), a few days before the Hickson Appeal was to take place on Saturday, 21 February 1987, in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia at Saint Mary’s Church, Professor Raymund O’Herron — the loyal friend and generous presenter of my case at the upcoming Saturday Appeal — approached Timothy O’ Donnell on campus outside our little chapel and, with me standing beside him, he said: “Tim, we have to get together and prepare our joint testimony at the Saturday Appeal. Since you earlier hosted at your home, on 9 November, the important meeting with Hickson and me and Fedoyka, your reputation and independent unbiased witness will be very important at the Appeal. You can certainly show how Fedoryka backed off on, and clearly broke, his earlier promises. When may the three of us [i.e., along with Hickson himself] get together?”
O’ Donnell said nothing. He just looked down. Ray again said “When shall we meet?”
O’Donnell then said “I won’t be at the Appeal. I’m going out of town with Cathy [his wife] this coming weekend.”
Being gravely upset by those words, Ray then very vehemently and incredulously said: “What! What?!” (and he then trenchantly said more.)
I then said to O’ Donnell: “Did Warren Carroll ask you to go out of town?”
O’Donnell again looked down, but after another awkward moment, he shamefacedly said “Yes, he did. For, Warren has said: ‘If Hickson wins his appeal, the College will collapse’.”
Furthermore, although Mr. O’ Herron and I did not know of it at the time, nor even until much later (some time after the conduct and outcome of the 21 February Appeal), Dr. O’Donnell had actually already written, on 11 February 1987 — thus before the Trial and Appeal — his own very supportive Memorandum, in justice and on my behalf, addressing it and perhaps even then (I hope) sending it to the whole set of Board Members, which included the already very supportive Chairman of the Board, Mr. Christopher Cuddeback himself. In his Memorandum, O’ Donnell had also reliably and fairly summarized the important 9 November 1986 meeting at his own home with Fedoryka, O’ Herron, and Hickson also in alert attendance.
We wish now to present, in its entirety, that very timely Formal Letter, purportedly sent to the whole Christendom College Board, and which was dated 11 February 1987; and written by Dr. Timothy O’ Donnell, who was later himself to become, in 1992, the next president of Christendom College. However, Mr. Raymund O’ Herron and I never saw this letter written by O’Donnell, not until some good portion of time after the 21 February Appeal. Nor did Dr. O’ Donnell at all even tell us — and also encourage us — on that same Thursday morning (19 February) that he had already written his earlier 11 February Memorandum in support of the truth and also in support of our own moral and intellectual position. Therefore, Mr. O’ Herron and I could not introduce O’ Donnell’s supportive Letter at the actual Trial and Appeal. (Something smells fishy here, no?) Maybe Dr. Carroll did not want to have that O’ Donnell letter sent and widely circulated, or even circulated at all, to the Christendom Board. For, that honest Memorandum did not show President Fedoryka at all in a good light, certainly not in an honorable light as a man who faithfully keeps his promises. Dr. Carroll wasn’t doing so well himself either. (Those were tense times.)
Here is Dr. O’ Donnell’s Letter of 11 February 1987, in its entirety, with my emphasis added :
February 11, 1987
To: The Board of Christendom College
From: Dr. Timothy T. O’Donnell Professor, Christendom College
On the 9th of November, 1986, at a meeting in my home between Dr. Damian Fedoryka and Mr. Robert Hickson, I served as a mediator (Mr. Raymund O’Herron being also present) to help resolve certain differences between Dr. Fedoryka and Mr. Hickson.
At the request of Mr. Raymund O’Herron, I hereby attest to the following:
1) Dr. Fedoryka stated that he had no recollection of rebuking Mr. Hickson concerning the matter of Mr. Richard Seelbach.
2) Dr. Fedoryka stated his desire to drop the past and submit any future disciplinary action for judgment to arbitration by Mr. Cuddeback and me.
3) Dr. Fedoryka said he thought this was necessary despite Mr. Hickson’s objections.
4) Mr. O’Herron said that Mr. Cuddeback could not take this role in any future disciplinary matter due to his position on the board.
5) Dr. Fedoryka said that he thought this action was necessary because he could not be objective concerning Mr. Hickson’s case.
6) Mr. O’Herron said that Mr. Hickson’s approval in this matter was not necessary since Dr. Fedoryka could do this in his capacity as President.
7) Mr. Hickson said he wanted to discuss the memoranda exchanged prior to the meeting. Dr. Fedoryka said he did not wish to discuss it; Dr. Fedoryka said he would not use any of the earlier material in any future case againt Mr. Hickson.
Furthermore, I would like to offer the following reflections:
I think Mr. Hickson is one of the finest teachers at Christendom College. He possesses a depth and breadth of knowledge which has enriched many students during the past seven years at the College. Through his profound knowledge and love of Catholic literature and Latin, the language of Holy Mother Church, he has given many of our students a deep love and understanding of what G. K. Chesterton calls “the Catholic thing”.
I must say that I was deeply disturbed by the timing of these two decisions: 1) Mr. Hickson’s removal as Chairman of the English Department two days before Christmas; and 2) Mr. Hickson’s notification of the non-renewal of his contract two weeks into a new semester.
The first decision showed little regard for a Christian man, and his family (who have contributed so much to the life of the college), preparing to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. The second decision (non-renewal of contract) has had a devasting impact on the administration, faculty, staff and student body, not to mention Mr. Hickson and his family.
Furthermore, I wish to attest to the fact that Mr. Hickson, under the spiritual guidance of Fr. John Hardon, SJ had withdrawn his appeal to the board concerning his removal from the chairmanship and was ready to submit to the new chairman, Dr. Rice, in all sincerity.
As one who has tried to serve as a mediator, I believe the decision not to renew Mr. Hickson’s contract to be a profoundly tragic one. I strongly believe that had,there been more charity, magnanimity and humilty on both sides, this present tragedy could have been avoided.
Just now I had to tell my wife again that I have no recollection of reading this Letter myself before the 21 February Appeal; and I know that Mr. O’ Herron and I did not read it aloud at the Appeal. Nor did we even summarize aloud that very specific and lucid 11 February Letter of Dr. O’ Donnell.
This revealed reality and the possibly concealed manipulations were, I regret to say, only the beginning of several other travesties and prevarications and sophistries, which I would certainly now prefer to present in detail. But, in this written format, that would be utterly infeasible. And so, I must now abbreviate somewhat and still closely paraphrase some of the conversational words and visible actions at and around the Appeal, hoping, thereby, that I can still present the actuality of what transpired. Some additional Oral History now would be a worthy supplement to give, if we could find some reliable recording equipment and some truth-seeking persons would still ask the candid questions and then attentively listen to, and enduringly preserve, the candid answers. (It may still come to pass.)
On Friday, 20 February 1987, one day after our discouraging (if not partly perfidious) encounter with Dr. O’Donnell — and the day before he would himself disloyally go out of town for the weekend — I submitted myself to a candid Fraternal Correction from my peers and colleagues at the College, even from a reluctant Damian Fedoryka, who assured me that he was not my peer nor my colleague, but my superior! (You get the picture.) I also promised to remain completely silent during and after this candid chastening (or humiliation) and afterwards also I would make no reply. I would only excuse myself and go home that night, driven by my friend, Raymund O’ Herron. This challenging (and potentially purifying) procedure is informally and somewhat humorously known in the Jesuit Order — Father John Hardon again assured me — as “ Saint Stephen’s Ball” — for Saint Stephen was also pummeled with some sharp and dangerous stones, and many of them! The Fraternal Correction was well-attended, at least by the men, but two of the women faculty did not come at all, and never told me why: namely, Dr. Kristin Popik Burns and the delightful (and quite humorous) Dr. Maria Barone (the College’s teacher of French and of Italian, even in the temporary Honors Program.)
Father Hardon, S.J. was a little worried that I would submit myself to such a stern fraternal correction the night before my Appeal in Alexandria a hundred miles away; and he even telephoned me at home after I had, with Ray O’ Herron driving, returned home in good spirits from that purifying and enlightening Friday-evening Correctio Fraterna.
It is not the time to say more, but I wish I could. For, another telephone call was soon to be made to me that same night — after Father Hardon’s personal call. Believe it or not, the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Chris Cuddeback himself — with his daughter Mary also on the phone — called me at home to give me a report and then to tell me their plan and what I, consequently, was to do — what I must do — on the next day just before the Board’s scheduled Intermission at the actual Appeal in Alexandria, Virginia at Saint Mary’s Church.
It was hard for all of us in the country kitchen of our Old Farmhouse together that night to believe what was then happening and to consider, even more so afterwards, the implications of this personal and authoritative and quite directive call. It was so very encouraging, but, I regret to say, it turned out to be in vain. Nequiquam!
For, the next day, Mr. Cuddeback himself, in his sudden physical and mental fatigue during the Appeal, was unable to do what he had just promised us that he would reliably do during the Intermission. For, that Friday night he told us that he had received and gathered together over one hundred Letters from Christendom College students (current ones and alumni and alumnae) and they were all strongly supportive of me, without there being even one negative letter in the pack. Therefore, we were to be patient and also hopeful, because — during the planned intermediate recess at the Appeal — he himself would introduce all those affirmative and impressive letters of support, and then emphasize the implications, especially as to their drastic contrast to what the College President was claiming and more abstractly alleging.
However, in order to overturn President Fedoryka’s adverse judgment and irreformable decision, according to the just newly established rules (just made up before the Saturday Appeal by the attorney Robert Morey, who was also a new member of the Board from out of North Carolina), Hickson had to gain Three-Fourths of the Vote of the Board. That is to say, nine and a half members out of fourteen total members.
Hickson was then to lose the vote by a 8-to-6 majority, in favor of President Fedoryka, after Mr Christ Cuddeback’s own defection, at the last moment. Even with his vote, the count would have been a little closer — 7 versus 7 — but still not enough for the “required” attainment a “Three Fourth’s Majority.”
Nonetheless, Mr. O’ Herron and I from the first moment of the trial had solemnly sworn on the Bible that all of our testimony to be presented would be truthful. However, by way of embarrassing contrast, Dr. Fedoryka and his own Presenter, Mr. William Marshner, both firmly (and repeatedly) declined to swear on the Bible themselves. (But they think that they have won.)
Moreover, Mr. Christopher Cuddeback went back to his home from the Appeal and told both his wife and his two sons, Matthew and John, that he had voted for Robert Hickson. A deception, a deliberate falsehood. (It was not so.)
Furthermore, Dr. Fedoryka’s sharp words about Hickson as a (defective) teacher during the 21 February 1987 Appeal, and the altogether contrary version of him as presented by his eldest daughter Katrina in her own recent hand-written letter to Robert Hickson — which Hickson then read aloud to the Board (with their prior permission) — were an embarrassing, but representative, example of Damian Fedoryka’s habitual prevarications and incautious self-contradictions. For example, Katrina said that her father thought so much of the high quality and challenge of Hickson’s teaching that he had encouraged his daughter to take every possible course she could take with him during his last semester of teaching Literature and Latin at the College — that is, during the coming spring semester of 1987. Dr. Fedoryka, on the contrary, in contradistinction to his own daughter, strenuously emphasized the poor and grievously substandard quality of all of Hickson’s teaching. (Fedoryka did not say, however, why Warren Carroll among others, to include his own distinguished mother and literary author, Gladys Hasty Carroll, often gratefully attended either Hickson’s Catholic Literature classes or his Latin classes, respectively; as did others on the faculty such as Raymund O’ Herron and Dr. Mariano Castaneira from Argentina.)
It is regrettable to have to report, moreover, what Dr. Fedoryka additionally did when he arrived at home that Saturday evening of 21 February after Hickson’s failed Appeal. The President truculently humiliated his own unknowing daughter for having humiliated her father at Hickson’s Appeal! Another student, named Erin, one of Katrina’s own close and reliable friends, even told my wife Sharon Mahoney Hickson the very next day (and me, too, by Erin’s explicit intention) that the Fedoryka father effectively “savaged” (her words) his own daughter for even having written at all to Hickson her eloquent letter of great dignity and gratitude. (It was one of the finest letters that I have ever received from a student, and I later told Katrina that fact very clearly.)
Although I do not want to say much about how much I (along with Father Vincent Miceli) had earlier helped to convince the College Board to hire Fedoryka in 1985 as the new President — as Dr. Carroll also gratefully acknowledged — I do indeed know how the learned and saintly former Jesuit Father Vincent “Pete” Miceli profoundly changed his mind about the quality of Fedoryka, whom he often called “a linear liar” because of the way he persistently “zigzagged” and manipulated the truth in order to attain his crooked but seemingly straight-line path. Father Miceli himself was to be himself ungratefully dismissed from the Christendom College faculty the year after I was dismissed. That Year came to be known as “the Year of the War of the Prieists” (e.g., Father Mark Pilon, Father Edward Berbusse, Father Miceli, Father Cornelius O’ Brien, Father James Mc Lucas, and a few others, perhaps, such as Father John Hardon himself, whom Pilon himself truly “detested,” as he personally and candidly told me when he once drove me home once to the Old Farmhouse in his own car, on 11 July 1990). Fedoryka could not reasonably or honorably attribute the War of the Priests to Robert Hickson any more, or in any way — although it seems that he may well have tried to do so at times — even after I was gone. (In 1992 itself was there not to be some kind of condign comeuppance?)
Some Added Considerations about the College and Its Leaders, as Seen and Partly Narrated also by Dr. Maike Hickson Herself, after Her Close Reading of the Documents and Her Careful Study of Our Entire Dossier and Our Well-Preserved Set of Historical Files:
How Dr. Fedoryka Came to Be the New President, and the Successor of Dr. Warren Carroll:
In 1984, Dr. Warren Carroll was again looking for a man to replace him as the President of Christendom College. He had previously asked Professor Robert Hickson to become his successor, but Robert Hickson politely declined and insisted that he was neither competent nor interested in becoming an administrator, but, rather, he earnestly preferred to teach and to study and to write, as his mentor Josef Pieper had done and was then himself still reflectively doing, especially in Europe.
By way of refreshing repetition, we should now again recall that, only nine years earlier, in the late summer of August 1975 — after being in Spain with Dr. Pieper himself for the second year in a row — Hickson had been the first person to whom Dr. Carroll and his wife had confided and fully related their own confidential plan to found a Catholic college. And they then also asked him whether he would like to become a professor of language and literature at that newly proposed college. They then formally invited him — and he at once accepted — to become a member of the faculty — the first member of that prospective faculty (aside from Dr. Carroll himself, who was himself a professional historian and teacher of history). Warren then learned of — and later worked with — one of Hickson’s own military commanders in 1967–1968 Vietnam: then-colonel (later Major General) John (“Jack”) Singlaub, the former Chief of MAC-SOG. (Part of Warren Carroll’s strategic and collaborative project — “Resisting Communism in Communist Countries” — dealt especially with Afghanistan, but also riven countries like Angola.)
As it turned out some nine years later, and after Spain, Hickson (in late 1984), was to play a fundamental role in the hiring of Dr. Fedoryka as the new president of the college, replacing Dr. Carroll himself. Dr Fedoryka was suddenly and unexpectedly dropped off, unannounced, at Christendom College in the late afternoon. He was also unexpectedly driven to the College by an ambitious and biased Board Member. That Board Member was himself hoping that his own preferred candidate, Damian Fedoryka, might at least then have an informal interview, at least an initial spontaneous interview intended to promote his candidacy for the Presidency of the College.
After dropping Dr. Fedoryka off alone, without his having any means of private transportation or overnight accommodations, that Board Member quietly departed for home. Only later did we realize that the visiting Fedoryka had no one to retrieve him, and it would be difficult, without a car for him to find a hotel room nearby for the night. Along with a few other members of the Faculty, Hickson thus met him courteously on campus and later asked him whether he needed help; and, after hearing of his plight, with no plans for supper yet, he then invited him to his own home to stay for the night — after first, with the seven children already abed upstairs, having a good homemade supper.
After arriving at his home, Hickson also called the campus and invited Dr. Carroll himself for supper, and thus it happened that the three men spent time talking together, also with Mrs. Hickson then. Dr. Fedoryka presented himself as a Thomist philosopher. He also showed much concern about the problem of rock music on campus and he promised to address it decisively (not “incrementally”) if he were to become the president. At some point, during their supper together in the Dining Room of the Hickson home, Dr. Carroll suddenly and enthusiastically turned to Robert Hickson across the table and said: “Bob, I have just found my successor! But you [Hickson] have to help me to get the sufficient approval of the Board. For, without you I could not do it. They disrespect my judgment too much.”
Fedoryka himself never even later called or wrote a note of gratitude to my civil wife Sharon for her own spontaneous and generous hospitality, can you believe that? However, Robert Hickson explicitly still then decided to support him — as did Father Miceli, at first — because of those very promises he had made to Dr. Carroll and me at my home, and despite his shabby manners and excessive presumption (which I had especially noticed). For, the visitor Fedoryka even took no notice of our seven small children. That is so, and not otherwise. And all-too-poignant now to remember.
The Board, nonetheless, then gradually and somewhat reluctantly accepted Dr. Fedoryka, also due to the support initially given by the robust (and saintly) Father Vincent Peter Miceli. Several of the Board Members — Judge Bill McGraw and Dr. Andy Pepin, for example — said that, only because of Father Miceli’s and my own trust and support, they also came to give their own consent and accept Fedoryka as the new college President and Warren Carroll’s successor.
As it turned out, Dr. Fedoryka did not keep his own promises, and he was not grateful, nor appreciative of the fact, that Robert Hickson also recurrently reminded him of his promises (about Rock Music, about helping there to be a more permeating and deeper Thomist Philosophy, and such, and especially without any vaguely “relativizing” over-subjective Phenomenology). He also came thus to be in conflict with Father Miceli himself, who more than once said to Hickson in private that he considered Fedoryka to be a “dishonest and deceptive man” and, once again, often a “linear liar.”
Parts of the germinating conflict between Robert Hickson and Dr. Fedoryka was that Hickson wished to remove rock music entirely from campus. Together with Father John Hardon, S.J., Hickson had seen the immoral or slothful, at least languid, effects upon the young students, the distraction from study, and even some sensual contacts between students that brought forth pregnancies (and the departure of at least one well-known student, to say no more now).
Additionally, Hickson himself had theological objections toward some parts of the ordinary, non-dogmatic teaching coming from Rome since the Vatican Council, as well as about the problematic translations into English of the Latin liturgical texts. He raised with his students in class, for example, the problematic and ambiguous translation of the Nicene Creed: for example, “And He was born of the Virgin Mary and became Man” — as if He became Man at the Nativity, instead of at the Annunciation: “Et Incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et Homo Factus est.” Especially in such a time as today, where we slaughter our babies in the womb, this is an especially important and fatal distinction, and the manifest error is to be promptly corrected — especially in a mistranslated Creed of the Church. (After many years, that has now finally been done, as of 2015–2016.)
Dr. Fedoryka, by contrast, wanted absolute obedience, however, toward everything in Vatican II and in the subsequent papal teachings, especially those of John Paul II. He wished to suppress an intellectual culture of abiding vitality that would foster open and loyal discourse about matters of moment for the greater common good of the Church, and thus for the sake of truth.
On one occasion, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand came to campus and gave a talk about women in Christianity. After some sixty minutes of her presentation, and since she had not even once mentioned the Blessed Mother in her talk, Robert Hickson politely asked her a question: it was about that apparent omission (not at all mentioning the Blessed Mother), and her own reasons for it, asking her then for her comments. She apparently felt so humiliated by such a polite question that she immediately told Dr. Fedoryka that, and quite forcefully, I later heard, although she never once spoke to me, nor asked to speak to me.
Thus, with his challenging intellectual search for truth and proper proportion, Hickson seemed to appear increasingly to be a problem for Dr. Fedoryka and for others like Dr. James Hitchcock, a Jesuit-educated scholar himself who, when asked, did not even know what the Ratio Studiorum was, i.e., The Jesuit Code of Education. Fedoryka soon took several steps to get Hickson more under control. Hickson, who had founded the Literature Department at Christendom College, was asked to hand over the leadership to Dr. Robert Rice, ostensibly (and partly) because Hickson had not yet completed his doctoral dissertation. Dr. Fedoryka also called new people to the college who were hostile toward Dr. Hickson, such as Dr. Russell Hittinger, who, at the time of the dismissal of Robert Hickson, told a student (Dr. Peter Chojnowski) that he would not receive a letter of recommendation or other form of support from him if that student were in any way to be supportive of Hickson. Hittinger also worked behind Hickson’s back to find a replacement for him, such as Mr. Greg Wolfe, who later came, but soon again left the College, as did Russell Hittinger himself. The loyalty of such men is a touching thing!
It is important to say that Robert Hickson was quite highly esteemed by the students for his academic knowledge and as a teacher. Dr. Thomas Fleming, who more than once visiting the campus, was so impressed about the high respect and affection that Hickson received on campus — and this learned Classicist, Dr. Fleming, has very high and very strict standards himself.
It took just two years after Fedoryka’s arrival as President, until he dismissed Robert Hickson, AFTER already having renewed Hickson’s contract for the new school year, set to begin in September of 1987. The later letter of dismissal therefore said that it was a non-renewal of contract WITHOUT CAUSE. Hickson was just not wanted. Fedoryka even wanted to remove Hickson completely, without his receiving any further payment or restitution; and it was only Mr. Chris Cuddeback, a Board member who legally and morally instructed Dr. Fedoryka that he himself would then be open to a very serious and damaging lawsuit — if he were, after all, to be so shabby and proceed to treat Hickson and his family like that. Hickson had then worked full time since 1980 for the College, giving many extra courses and also starting the basketball program, and doing it without any retirement program. He had the lowest salary, after Dr. Carroll himself, who was childless, and Hickson then had eight children. He was once upon a time often called a “founding faculty member” by Dr. Carroll himself, something that the College later seems to have forgotten or gently “erased” from their living memory. (Perhaps it was only a painful memory. We should consider that.)
In any case, Robert Hickson promptly challenged the dismissal, and there came to be a Board Meeting to adjudicate that purpose. Dr. Fedoryka rapidly approved of the newly made up rules for Hickson’s Appeal at the Board meeting, and, without precedent, Hickson would have had to win three-fourths of the Board members’ votes in order to remain in his position at the College. But, he lost the vote. During that meeting, Hickson had intended to challenge Dr. Fedoryka himself and to show the Board members that he is not reliable and that he actually broke the promises he had given before he was chosen as President (with the decisive support of Robert Hickson) and then during his acquired Presidency. However, Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, who had been at that decisive 9 November 1986 meeting with Fedoryka, as we have earlier mentioned, suddenly told Hickson he would be out of town on that that day of the Appeal. When pressed, he admitted that Dr. Carroll had asked him to leave town in order NOT to give his personal and much-respected testimony to the embarrassing truth, because Dr. Carroll himself feared that the College — his College — would collapse if Robert Hickson were to win his appeal.
During the Board meeting, Hickson and Mr. O’ Herron — who was very supportive of Hickson and defended him — swore solemnly on the Bible before they gave their testimonies. Dr. Fedoryka and Mr. William Marshner — who supported Dr. Fedoryka and presented his case — did NOT swear, repeatedly declined to swear, on the Bible.
Dr. Fedoryka often made dubious statements, such as that Hickson was essentially a bad teacher. In his permitted response, Hickson, during the Board meeting itself, read aloud a letter written by Dr. Fedoryka’s own daughter, Katrina, who praised him highly, even affectionately, as a teacher.
Another sign of Dr. Fedoryka’s lack of honesty and forthrightness is that he had visited Dr. Hickson, on 29 December 1986, together with his daughter Katrina who cherished Robert Hickson as a teacher, in order to give his family and him a birthday gift. But, two weeks later, Hickson to find a copy of his letter of dismissal in his own College mailbox on Campus. The Ways of Duplicity are a touching thing. And especially when men of duplicity also have power (as my teacher, Josef Pieper, knew well.)
Another very troubling sign is also that Dr. Fedoryka, before finally dismissing Hickson, had already dismissed the Director of Finances, Dick Seelbach, and his wife. Mrs. Seelbach had started to ask questions about how Dr. Fedoryka and Dr. and new Dean of Students Hittinger were seemingly misusing certain funds. (As it later turned out, Dr. Fedoryka himself had misused funds that had been specifically given by Paul Weyrich and designated for the Politics Department at the College; Fedoryka had instead used them to buy computers for other College departments and persons. According to Judge Mc Graw himself (a long-standing loyal Board Member), Dr. Fedoryka should have been put in jail for what he had done as President.)
Because of Mrs. Seelbach’s questioning of Dr. Fedoryka, he dismissed her, even though she already was known to have cancer. Due to the stress of this situation, her health quickly deteriorated, and later her husband (a Retired Naval Officer himself) told Dr. Hickson that Dr. Carroll never once reached out to him at, or after, the death of his wife. Important to know is that Mr. Seelbach saved the College at least twice from bankruptcy. After Mr. Seelbach heard, at the time, that his wife had been dismissed, he himself went to Dr. Fedoryka to speak about it and to protest. However, when he came into the office, Dr. Fedoryka handed him his own letter of dismissal. He told him never to come back to campus, otherwise he would not find any good future job. Mr. Seelbach told Robert Hickson at the time of his own dismissal: “Bob, you are next. I heard them talk about you.” Dr. Fedoryka and Dr. Robert Rice, however, had sequentially announced to the faculty that Mr. Seelbach — himself an honorable Naval Officer, a then-retired Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy — had freely resigned from his position. When Robert Hickson doubted and politely challenged Dr. Rice directly, saying that he does not believe that Mr. Seelbach freely left the College, Dr. Rice still insisted upon his official story, even though it was manifestly untrue.
Father Micelli was treated in a similar way. The year after Dr. Hickson’s dismissal, there took place “the war of the priests” as it was called by others. Father Micelli was dismissed by Dr. Fedoryka, and when Father Miceli came back for the graduation of some of his former students — then himself already sick with cancer — he was not even acknowledged, much less honored — neither by Fedoryka nor by Carroll nor by Father O’Brian the Chaplain nor by Father Berbusse, S.J., the Associate Chaplain still — as being present in the audience. Dr. Hickson and a former student of his (Tom Summers) paid special attention to Father Miceli and made sure he was attended to and helped to him to his car in the high heat and high humidity, near the conclusion of the College’s public Graduation ceremony.
Robert Hickson, after he lost his appeal, was given a certain amount of payment for the rest of the school year. However, it was reluctantly given under certain conditions: especially under the explicit condition that he not express “any public criticism of the teachings of the Catholic Church or any rejection of Papal authority,” which is, in itself, if promiscuously misapplied, already a violation of a loyal Catholic’s academic freedom. Not all pastoral teachings, for example, are irreformable.
When, finally, Christendom College removed Dr. Fedoryka from his position as President, in 1992, Dr. O’Donnell and his wife privately told the civil wife of Dr. Hickson, Sharon Mahoney Hickson: “Now we know what Bob went through with Fedoryka.” And Dr. Carroll himself was now very happy to have found Dr. O’Donnell to be the new President of the College, as he told Dr. Hickson in person on campus, when Hickson came to give his own sincere congratulations. Warren was beaming! (We still remember his smile.)
It is to be hoped that the sequence of events, the manners, the principles of action, as described here, will give sufficient evidence that Dr. Fedoryka was himself in need of a deep conversion with regard to his unjust and uncharitable conduct toward Dr. Hickson. Perhaps, in justice, we may add reparation and restitution. (I have reliably heard the Fedoryka himself left Christendom College with a “Golden Parachute,” not as a Pauper. But I do not know, nor do I desire to know, the details.)
Moreover, since this dismissal from Christendom College also brought about the break-up of Hickson’s own family — inasmuch as Sharon Hickson stayed close friends with Dr. O’Donnell, as well as with Dr. Fedoryka, who both were crucial in the dismissal of Robert Hickson — it is especially painful to see how little those men tried to help heal the breaches and the wounds in the Hickson family of eight children. Dr. O’Donnell, especially, never once tried to sit down with both the parents in order to heal the bond. And now he is a member of the Pontifical Council on the Family…. O’Donnell also often had Dr. Hickson’s own children over his house for visits, even though he was (and may still essentially be) an enemy of Dr. Hickson and, in any case, he will still not meet with him in person. Thus, there is very little sign of chivalry and of honor in the conduct of his later life. Additionally, Dr Fedoryka did the same, since he had the Hickson children — after they had left their father — as babysitters in his own home, as did Mr. Marshner. One could say here: “What kind of people are you!?”
Another very troubling sign of the lack of a Catholic spirit is that Dr. Hickson has been essentially removed from the memory in the presented history and heritage of Christendom College, and he is not given the justice and due respect for his extraordinary engagement on behalf of the College, given during the prime years of his life (38–46 years of age), and with a large and growing family. Many students still say how much they have been formed intellectually and morally by him, and even in their manhood. Some of his students who are now priests have attributed to him at different points of their life his greatly influential role with regard to their own vocation to the sacramental priesthood; others still use his academic materials, now that they are often themselves teachers.
Yet, if one looks at Christendom College today, not one word is mentioned. On the contrary, the fact that Dr. O’Donnell invited Mrs. Sharon Hickson (who keeps this name in spite of Dr. Hickson’s request that, since she broke that marriage, she also should give him back his name) to come to Christendom College as an English professor, and that he (O’Donnell) even told the Literature Department that they were to hire her (to some people’s embarrassment — do you believe that? — out of a sense of decency at least). There seems to be a situation where all roads are blocked to any reconciliation, or even a restoration of justice, as in the obligatory restitution of ill-gotten gains. Professor Sharon Hickson (since 2004) has now been Literature Professor there, and she is hailed as one of the people who was “with Christendom College from its beginning” — of course only due to her former husband (whom she has now divorced) who then always had included her, before they had children, in all his important activities, even though she very reluctantly first accompanied him to Spain in June of 1974, where she was first to meet Dr, Warren Carroll.
When Dr. Fedoryka’s wife died a few years ago, it was Mrs. Sharon Hickson who organized the community dinner for the reception after the funeral. When Dr. Fedoryka himself was in the hospital, it was one or more of Dr. Hickson’s daughters who offered their special and generous help. Dr. Fedoryka does not seem to have any sense of decency here himself.
It is hoped that one day this truth will all come out and all the injustice and cunning deviations and untruth will be revealed and removed. A man can take only so much obliquity and duplicity and intimate perfidy. Truth and justice matter. Certainly for a Christian Soldier and West Point Graduate like Dr. Robert Hickson
In the words of the Classicist, Dr. Thomas Fleming, once sent to Dr. James Hitchcock himself, in early 1987, before the 21 February Appeal :
“Bob is a dedicated teacher who has given many years to the college. He is hardworking, deeply learned, and a devoted Catholic. What is more, the students seem to look up to him as something between a mentor and spiritual godfather. I have visited Christendom College several times and have been amazed at the attention bestowed on the Hickson family, whenever they arrive on campus. As a former academic, I am more than a little impressed.”
[Dr. Thomas Fleming, Letter to Dr. James Hitchcock, February 16, 1987. It was written and sent just before Hickson’s Trial and Appeal on 21 February 1987. Hitchcock was to be one of the newly recruited, but only temporarily serving, new members of the Christendom Board in 1987.]
CONCLUSION: SOME OF THE AFTERMATH OF THE DISMISSAL
After I left Christendom, I was never contacted by Warren Carroll or by Anne Carroll again, although they both had become closer friends and teaching colleagues with my civil wife, Sharon Mahoney-Hickson, and also our eight children. Anne Carroll herself later even hired Sharon after she left me, already in 1991–1992 — and just after Sharon also had left Wakefield Country Day School under very unpleasant (and unjust) circumstances — in order to teach in Mrs. Carroll’s own Catholic foundation, Seton High School, and then to have all of my eight children under her tuition as her students. Later, moreover, in 2004, Sharon was hired by Christendom College itself and by Warren Carroll’s own favorite and most favored President, Timothy O’Donnell himself. Sharon had long been (since 1984) a close friend of the entire O’Donnell family, as well as of the Chaplain, Father James Mc Lucas, with whom, with the eight children, she had gone for a week to Duck, North Carolina on the Outer Banks — something that was, in the eyes of the Christendom Chaplain Father Cornelius O’ Brien (and others), not very good, to put it kindly. (Robert Hickson had unknowingly also financed that vacation to the seacoast, as he later was to discover — although he had never permitted it in the first place.) You may well imagine Father John Hardon’s grave, even intense, response when I told him of this ambiguous journey to the seacoast together. (I could say more, and shall do so, if I am asked.)
Anne Carroll herself had once promised over the phone to send to me regularly my own eight children’s grades and specific curriculum of studies while they were her students at her Seton High School — but she never did and she was quite abrupt and impatiently abrasive with me on the telephone. I then never heard from her, nor talked with her again, and I also never knew what had happened — except that someone, it seems, has poisoned the well, as it were.
Moreover, my eight children’s mother, Sharon Mahoney-Hickson, since the years 1991–1992, has never sent to me either any pictures of our children or any grades of my children or what specific things the eight children were studying. Most importantly — but also the hardest perhaps to believe, is this fact: since 1991–1992, I have never received any photograph of my children. Neither individually nor together as a family, not one photograph, except once from my twin daughter, Bridget, who slipped one to me privately, and after my specific request to her. (That fact might be hard to believe, but it is so.)
How does one understand such things? Two professedly Catholic institutions of learning openly hire and highly support a woman who has unmistakably deserted and then, on a technicality, divorced her husband of twenty years (1971–1991) and finally faced no accountability, not even about my Federal Checks. Nor was there any division of our marital property. Another very important part of the Christendom Aftermath was that my civil wife — starting in 1991 — effectively severed our eight children from their own father. Yes, it is so. One may just look at the lived reality of those admittedly difficult years 1991–2017: some 25 years.
On our nineteenth wedding anniversary — 11 July 1990 — Sharon Mahoney-Hickson unexpectedly dropped me off at the Christendom residence of Father Mark Pilon, a teacher still, as well as an assistant Chaplain at Christendom College. For, Sharon asked me to listen to what he importantly had to say to me. Pilon’s first words to me were a shock: “Buddy, you’re lucky your wife is a Catholic. Otherwise she would be out of here.” (When earlier visiting our home at the Old Farmhouse in 1989–1990, Pilon had also subversively said to Sharon: “I’ll bet the children are a lot happier when he [that Robert Hickson] is not around.”) In fairness to Pilon, he had earlier said some very kind things about me as a teacher — also from what he had heard from his own students.
It may be helpful to grasp my rationale and intention here, namely that I only mention a few representative examples of how some of the priests at, or associated with, Christendom have effectively undermined my family and my marriage, to include the serpentine work of Father Cornelius O’ Brien himself, who even told Sharon in 1990 –only two years after I had been dismissed from Christendom — that she did not have to receive me as a woman and wife — a piece of disloyalty behind my back that had a great consequence, as one may imagine. Father O’ Brien never spoke to me a word, much less consulted me, about this momentous matter and his insidious impermissible guidance.
When I later had some very troubling evidence — but also some slight uncertainty — that Father James Mc Lucas (a Christendom Chaplain at the time, around 1992–1995) had possibly and destructively broken the seal in a sacramental confession, I only asked him a question after Mass, and intentionally in the presence of the College President, Dr. O’ Donnell. I asked Mc Lucas, whether a breach might have happened with respect to Dr. Edward Sheridan, M.D. It was, emphatically, only a question. No accusation. But that lead to a great explosion — on many fronts.
One of the consequences was that I was never again to speak to Dr. O’ Donnell’s wife Cathy, nor to any of their children. (I therefore asked him reciprocally to do the same with regard to my own wife and our eight children.) I loyally kept my promise to his request and fervid prohibition; Dr. O’Donnell, however, broke his part of the reciprocal prohibition: he soon was not only close with the rest of my family, but even specifically made Sharon a part of his College Faculty and Administration. When I later tried to Subpoena both President O’ Donnell and Father Mc Lucas himself to Judge Jay Wetsel’s Superior Court, these two men told falsehoods to evade my summons and request. O’Donnell even said that he had not at all been with the Hicksons for many a year and he really knew nothing about them, nor me. Mc Lucas even dared to mock my fatherhood and earnest request by assuring Judge Wetsel that, when he traveled to Duck with my wife and children for a vacation on the seacoast, “both the mother’s and the children’s spiritual needs were not unattended to” (his exact words).
When I had earlier (after 1988) asked Dr. O’ Donnell just how much, in total, he had (around 1991–1992 or so) borrowed (without my permission) from my joint checking account with Sharon, and when, if at all yet, did he then pay it back in full, he flatly refused to give me any specifics or any general accounting. (And he and his wife both come from wealthy families.) For, unbeknownst to me, when I was temporarily separated from Sharon and away from home, he had actually tapped into my family exchequer. Sharon had signed over to him at least one check, to the amount of at least $10,000, and a little more. (The exact amount I do not now recall, although I later saw the check and the record — but his act of having done that to a vulnerable and moderately poor man like myself still shocks me.) I have never — not yet — had any accounting from Timothy O’ Donnell, and this is the man who would not come to my own critical Appeal in 1987, and then give evidence of the truth and, when morally necessary, even against President Damian Fedoryka himself.
After all these years — since 1987, thirty years — Damian Fedoryka himself has had no contact with me. Nor has he taken any initiative to meet or have any discourse, much less made any invitation for me to speak somewhere, even occasionally at Christendom College or in Gaming, Austria — perhaps about strategic military matters. (Nor has Warren Carroll nor Timothy O’Donnell taken such an initiative either). However, once in Gaming, Austria — sometime after 1992 — I saw Damian Fedoryka unexpectedly, and he stared at me intensely, and with coldness: with a certain hard look and squint in his eye. Moreover, he was moving peremptorily about (and strutting along somewhat comically) and also conspicuously wearing (even flaunting) a bright Red Beret. It was his Carlist Red Beret — the kind which the loyal Catholic heroes of Spain wore in combat.
Apt words come now to mind from my beloved mentor, Josef Pieper, whom I first gratefully met in 1974, at San Lorenzo in the Guadarrama Mountains of Spain. About the matter of “injustice and power,” Dr. Pieper once quietly and insightfully wrote:
“I could not suppress the received wisdom that ultimately only one thing can stop the injustice of a person who exercises real power, and that is the justice of the person himself. And also I suggested…the skeptical and realistic question of my teacher Thomas [Saint Thomas Aquinas]: whether…ethically less brave men could be the better soldiers — who need [like those Carlistas of Navarra], first and foremost, a fighting spirit, tenacity, courage, and physical strength.”
(Josef Pieper, Not Yet the Twilight: An Autobiography 1945–1964 [the Original German Title is: Noch Nicht Aller Tage Abend], p. 128 — my emphasis added. My own recent review-essay of this excellent book is entitled “Asking Candid Questions About Fundamental Convictions: Josef Pieper’s Autobiography, 1945–1964” and may conveniently be found here http://catholicism.org/asking-candid-questions-fundamental-convictions-josef-pieper.html)
Such things are also part of the true early history and abiding moral heritage of Christendom College, and they constitute still a vivid living memory for some of us.
We hope that our longer and sincere, more specific narrative has also helped to form — and even to heal — the memory.
As Josef Pieper characterizes a loyal and nourishing, lived Tradition: it also expresses and conveys a reverent and faithful Memoria Corporis, a memory faithful to the truth of the past.
— FINIS —