AURORA | One of the faculty advisers who was fired after a pro-choice opinion piece was published in the Regis Jesuit High School student magazine said she was fired without cause and was defamed by the archdiocese.
Maria Lynch, a former journalism teacher and faculty adviser for Elevate student magazine, was fired along with the publication’s other adviser after a pro-choice opinion piece was published in the winter edition. The magazine’s own policies prohibited faculty from having the final say over what was printed, and Regis Jesuit administrators declined to say why specifically the advisers were fired.
On Wednesday, Lynch provided the Sentinel with documents of written communication between her and Regis Jesuit administrators regarding the situation.
Shortly after the winter edition of the magazine was published, Principal Jimmy Tricco emailed Lynch and adviser Nicole Arduini asking about the magazine’s editorial policies, saying he appreciated the student’s perspective.
“Provocative piece for sure, which makes for good conversation,” he said.
Six days later, however, Lynch said she was abruptly fired by the administrators, and that only one attempt was made to reach her by phone several hours before she was terminated in an email.
“Effective immediately, your employment is being terminated for cause including but not limited to your poor judgment, personal misconduct on the premises that caused scandal and seriously damaged the reputation of the school, and for not supporting the mission and faith dimensions of Regis Jesuit High School,” a Dec. 22 email from the school’s human resources director said.
In a Jan. 6 email to the principal and director of human resources, Lynch said that the school had not provided any basis for those claims or proof that she violated the terms of her employment agreement.
In the email to the Sentinel, she said that she is “vocally pro-life” and disputed the implication that her personal beliefs had anything to do with the op-ed being published. The article was written by a journalism student and submitted to the student editorial board, which according to the magazine’s own policies has final say over what gets published.
In a December email to the Regis Jesuit community, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila said he was “deeply troubled” that the editorial had been published, and said that Catholic schools must be fully committed to the pro-life mission.
“As such, faculty and staff of Catholic schools must be pro-life,” he said. “They must also take to heart the mission to guide and form young men and women in the fullness of truth, not their personal political preferences or agendas.”
In an email, Lynch described this characterization by the bishop as “incredibly hurtful and defamatory.”
She said she reached out to the archdiocese by email earlier this week asking if she could discuss the situation. On Wednesday, she said she received a reply saying that Aquila is not able to meet with her but that she could share her concerns in writing.
Regis Jesuit is an independent school, and therefore is not directly controlled by the diocese. However, the Denver Archdiocese still has the ability to exert significant influence over it, and the archbishop has the power to revoke its status as a Catholic school.
Former and current students as well as outside observers the Sentinel spoke to all said they believed that pressure from the Archdiocese played a significant role in the school’s strong negative response to the article.
Two former students cited an incident several years ago when Aquila came to the school to preside at a Mass as an example of the diocese’s influence. Though the school already had a dress code for Mass, during his visit Aquila expressed displeasure with how some of the female students were dressed. Almost immediately after, the students said the dress code was revised to be stricter.
A guest opinion column in the Denver Post by former Elevate editor-in-chiefs Madeline Proctor and Sophia Marcinek noted that the school had previously allowed op-eds mentioning abortion, including one praising Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and believes censorship is being driven by fear of conflict with the diocese.
“Aquila dictated that Catholic schools must be ‘unabashedly defending’ the anti-abortion movement ‘no matter what the cost.’ In this case, the cost was two beloved teachers, Nicole Arduini and Maria Lynch, who were fired for allowing the article to be published,” they wrote.
Diocesan spokesperson Mark Haas told the Sentinel that the situation and subsequent decisions were handled exclusively by the Regis leadership team.
“As mentioned in the Archbishop’s letter, enough people reached out to him and the archdiocese who were concerned about the situation that he felt compelled to respond,” Haas said in an email. “No where in the letter does the Archbishop mention any specific Regis employee, but instead he speaks generally about the expectations he and Catholic parents have when they choose to send their children to a Catholic institution.”
Lynch also shared correspondence between her and Regis Jesuit detailing disagreement over her separation agreement. Lynch proposed changes to the original agreement requiring Regis Jesuit to state that she was terminated without cause, that she is still eligible for rehire in the diocese and allowing her to make a public statement about what happened.
The school rejected those requests, and Lynch said that subsequently it has also rejected a proposal for a mutual release. The Sentinel asked Lynch if she is considering taking legal action.
“To answer your question and reiterate what I told Principal Tricco and Katherine Fay in my initial reply, because of my love for the Church and the students and faculty at Regis Jesuit, I prefer to avoid litigation of my legal claims,” Lynch responded. “But I also know that what has been said about me is blatantly untrue and offensive.”
She also said she has been advised by legal counsel that the school’s actions were “a clear breach” of her employment agreement.
In response to an inquiry, a Regis Jesuit spokesperson reiterated that the administration does not discuss personnel matters.
The firing of the two teachers has caused a stir among current and former Regis Jesuit students. Annika Mayers, a college sophomore who graduated from Regis Jesuit in 2019, said she was upset when she heard about what happened.
She believes that the decision was short-sighted, and worries that censoring students could set them up for failure once they leave the private school environment and have to assert their beliefs.
“I think it’s going to make students a lot more timid to speak their mind,” she said.
Other student journalists have also shared their support for Elevate. The Grandview Chronicle, student newspaper of Grandview High School, published an opinion column from editor Will Inzana speaking out against censorship.
“We at the Grandview Chronicle recognize the importance of freedom of speech, especially in student journalism,” he said. “At Grandview, we are allowed to publish our stories without fear of censorship. We will always stand by our fellow student journalists and advocate for their rights.”
Jack Kennedy, who was director of the Colorado Student Media Association for 10 years through 2020, said that in his experience Regis Jesuit had a tradition of supporting student free expression.
He isn’t sure how this will affect the school going forward. Some potential teachers and families will likely be repelled, while for others it could be a selling point.
“I think there’s a whole lot of adults in our community, and I hate to say it, who would prefer students don’t speak up,” he said.