The Rev. John P. Smyth, who was once one of the Chicago area’s best-known and most-respected priests but saw the Catholic church’s Maryville Academy for troubled kids, which he led for decades, come under intense scrutiny in the early 2000s over violence and suicides involving children, has died.
“Father John Smyth passed away last night at Loyola University hospital,” Anne Maselli, a spokeswoman for the Archdicese of Chicago, said Wednesday.
His death at 84 comes three months after the Archdiocese of Chicago made the bombshell announcement that he had been removed from ministry and accused of sexual abuse of minors in “the 2002-2003 time period” while at Maryville.
“It’s sexual abuse of minors” being alleged, Maselli said in January, declining to say how many children the allegations involved or whether they had been living at Maryville.
Rev. Smyth was retired. But until recently he’d still been living in the rectory of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, on the grounds of Maryville, which houses and treats children with emotional and medical needs at that and several other Chicago-area sites.
Rev. Smyth was superintendent of Maryville from September 1970 to Dec. 1, 2003, and, before that, assistant superintendent since July 1962. He was renowned for being able to raise money from the power elite to help fund the facility.
But in the early 2000s he came under intense scrutiny, with child-welfare workers alarmed by violence and suicides involving kids at Maryville.
Those allegations were the subject of a Chicago Sun-Times investigation in 2002. The first of those stories, published in September 2002, reported: “Maryville Academy’s City of Youth — Illinois’ biggest haven for abused and abandoned children — is ‘dangerous,’ and key group homes are ‘in a state of crisis,’ according to government reports obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.”
There also was an FBI investigation that looked into Medicaid fraud — Maryville got millions of dollars in government funding. No one was ever charged as a result of that investigation.
Maryville had been started more than a century ago to help care for the orphans of the Great Chicago Fire.
Amid the turmoil more than a decade ago, Rev. Smyth resigned, and Maryville’s residential program was shut down. It later reopened and now, at that and other facilities, houses around 100 children, including kids who have been physically and sexually abused.
Rev. Smyth left Maryville’s board in late 2004.
He later was hired as president of Notre Dame College Prep, an all-boys high school in Niles. He was president of Notre Dame from July 2007 to April 2014.
He resigned from that post amid conflicts with the school’s board.
Rev. Smyth went to college at the University of Notre Dame, where he was a standout basketball player and was chosen in the third round of the 1957 National Basketball Association draft by the St. Louis Hawks. But, according to a biography of Smyth, he “elected to forgo a professional basketball career and entered the seminary instead.”
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