SANTA ANA, Calif.—Mater Dei High School president Father Walter E. Jenkins will not return to the coed Catholic campus when classes resume after the winter break, ending his tenure after less than six months.
His resignation comes just as attorneys for a Sacramento law firm prepare to begin interviewing students and staff for an investigation into alleged hazing by players on the school’s vaunted football team, but officials said Jenkins’s decision was not connected to the pending interrogations.
Jenkins, who has extensive leadership experience in secondary education, was Mater Dei’s third president in two years. He was previously president of Holy Cross High School in Queens, New York.
Diocese of Orange superintendent of schools Erin C.O. Barisano sent a letter to parents dated Jan. 1 explaining Jenkins was not fired but was instead returning to the Holy Cross order in South Bend, Ind., where he will “take on a new assignment,” the Orange County Register reported Saturday.
“There is no connection between the litigation and his departure from the school and to make such a connection is deeply unfair to Father Jenkins who served Mater Dei well during his tenure,” Barisano wrote.
Mater Dei’s football team was undefeated in 2021, and the program has three alumni who have gone on to win the Heisman Trophy, including the most recent winner Bryce Young, who is now at the University of Alabama.
A lawsuit filed in November by the parents of a former football player accused the school and Catholic Diocese of Orange of trying to cover up a February locker room fight in which the player suffered a traumatic brain injury.
A court filing alleged head football coach Bruce Rollinson told the injured player’s father the day after the fight, “If I had a hundred dollars for every time these kids played ‘Bodies or Slappies,’ I’d be a millionaire.”
The lawsuit also resulted in demands for Rollinson and Principal Frances Clare to be fired, the Orange County Register reported.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer reviewed a Santa Ana police report recommending the larger player who struck the smaller player be prosecuted for felony battery. He concluded in a Nov. 30 press release that “Neither player involved in this fight was made to participate against their will … there is not a single shred of evidence to show this was anything other than a mutual combat situation with two willing participants who traded blow for blow, including repeated punches to each other’s heads.”
Spitzer indicated, however, that he was willing to review additional information about the fight and any other incidents of potential hazing in schools.
In her letter, Barisano said the leadership of Mater Dei would work closely with the Diocese of Orange Department of Catholic Schools until a new president is named.
“Be assured that I will communicate very shortly on plans for your new president,” she told parents.