Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Morning Star initiates succession strategy; Father Weitensteiner granted leave of absence for health reasons
by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register
(From the July 28, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
In the photo at right are, from left, Bob Durgan, Father Joseph Weitensteiner, Dan Kuhlmann. (IR photo)
A succession strategy has been in the works for some months to find a replacement for Father Joseph Weitensteiner, director of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch. Father Weitensteiner has been involved with the Ranch in one capacity or another for decades; director since 1966, a counselor there in the days before he entered the seminary.
That timetable becomes even more urgent, as Father Weitensteiner made the decision earlier this month to accept his doctor’s recommendation that he take a leave of absence from his duties at the Ranch. He asked the MSBR Board of Directors for permission. According to Bob Durgan, chairman of Morning Star’s Board and a member of that Board since 1978, the Board accepted the physician’s recommendation.
“The question has been asked, When might (Father Weitensteiner) return?” said Durgan. “This is a medical, health-oriented situation. (He’ll return) when he’s feeling better.”
Allegations of physical abuse by Ranch alumni, some dating back decades, some reported anonymously, were published by Spokane’s daily newspaper earlier this year. (“Morning Star Boys’ Ranch director: ‘I vowed ... if anybody went hungry, it would be the adults,’” IR 7/7/05). No doubt the publicity has taken its toll.
Said Father Weitensteiner, “We did the best we could as we knew at the time. And when we knew better, we did better.”
“We’re being judged on a discipline style of 35 years ago,” said Durgan. “But we’re being judged by 2005 standards. It doesn’t seem to add up. It doesn’t fit.”
Acting director Dan Kuhlmann, who has worked at Morning Star since 1974, called it “an unfair comparison, judging a different era’s actions by a present day standard.”
Despite the allegations, response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.
There have been “dozens” of supportive notes, said Father Weitensteiner. “They’ve kept me sane,” he said. A number of messages from alumni have expressed “quite a lot of anger” about the reporting, he said.
Over 1,200 boys have passed through Morning Star’s gates in its nearly five decades of ministry to boys in need.
Despite the negative publicity, “We think we have a good program,” said Durgan. “We need to show that to our donors, to the media.”
One way of doing that, he said, was for the Board to start a search for “an independent, qualified third party to come in and review policies, procedures, programs, operations. If there are any deficiencies, in the operation of Morning Star, we want to know about it.”
The review will include past history and records, said Kuhlmann.
Despite the allegations, service to boys in need continues at Morning Star. “We have served 1,277 boys,” said Durgan. “What we want to ensure is that we have a future in which we can serve the next 1,277 boys who need our help.”
“Our mission today hasn’t changed,” Kuhlmann said. “The mission we had at the beginning was to serve boys in need. We’re committed to that. And we still need the support of the community to carry out that mission, particularly for those families who cannot afford the kind of help that we have been able to provide in the past,” help made possible because of the support of the Spokane community.
Just as education techniques have changed, just as parenting techniques have changed, so have the approaches utilized at Morning Star.
“The needs of our boys have increased over the years,” Kuhlmann said. “As their needs increased, the Ranch has developed new programs to help address those needs.
“We are always looking at how we can do things better, offer better services, to help the ever increasing needs of boys who have no one,” he said.
(Information on Morning Star’s programs and history is available on the Ranch’s web site: http://www.morningstarboysranch.org)