Joseph “Jay” Brennan, principal of the all-male Catholic prep school Bishop Hendricken High School, was unceremoniously “retired” in January 2018 after being caught on video using racist epithets. It seemed like an open-and-shut case of just desserts. But what if the Warwick, Rhode Island educator, while undeniably wrong, was set up by an even more malicious malefactor?
Brennan, an alum who spent his entire career at the school as a cross country coach, social studies teacher, guidance counselor, and finally principal, was a pillar in an educational community recognized as a bastion of excellence in New England. Hendricken repeatedly wins sports championships, produces students with the best grades and is known as the place to score the best Schedule 1 narcotics.
It occupies a strange midway point between the upper echelon schools like Newport’s St. George’s School, known for molding a slew of Astors and Bushes, and adequate suburban public schools. Parents send their sons to Hendricken in order to make sure that Junior can make it into a premium college, even if their mighty scion is little more than a monosyllabic jock who needs to be reminded daily how to tie his shoes.
There is, of course, a disturbing underbelly to all of this. All-male prep schools are natural incubators for sadomasochistic homoeroticism and misogyny. When you pen a thousand teen-aged boys into an enclosed area with no peer p*&$y in sight, shit gets weird instantly. When it is refracted through a lens of ultra-conservative Catholicism that claims that the Kennedys are a bunch of baby-murdering heathens, it’s hard to avoid the fascistic undertones of the pedagogy.
This is not to say every teacher could double as a concentration camp guard in a 1970s Italian grindhouse film. A few educators were likely shaped by the Liberation Theology currents of the Berrigan Brothers and Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement. But Hendricken exists in the Diocese of Providence and Bishop Thomas Tobin is a right wing ideologue who constantly claims to be holier than Pope Francis, meaning sane teachers operate under the radar.
Things may have improved in the 16 years since I graduated. But the nondiscrimination statement reads, “Bishop Hendricken High School does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, handicap, or national origin,” which leaves out quite a lot of people who don’t deserve having their existing marginalization and bullying being tacitly endorsed by school administrators.
One stellar example of this nuttiness is David “The Rabbi” Marsocci, who taught religion classes at the school until being fired in May 2017 after 23 years of employment. The man is undeniably a genius — he taught himself multiple Bronze Age languages — but also a maniac. When I was his student in 2002 to 2003, he said in class that there was a causal link between homosexuality and pedophilia, which messed my head up for the next 20 years. He also spent a disturbing amount of time claiming that the pedophile revelations rocking the Church were a result of institutional “anti-Catholic” bias.
Marsocci was canned because of an utterly bizarre episode of workplace harassment. After one of his co-workers, another longtime employee and an exceptional educator, came out of the closet, Marsocci waged a shameless crusade to get this person fired. In pursuit of this mission, he accused his colleague of inappropriate use of a school computer terminal for daring to visit a queer dating site. He sunk as low as claiming the educator had endangered students. He even created a faux-outraged whistleblower website, Hawk Outsider Network, which is a monument to narcissism and self-hating homoeroticism.
All this was possible because Hendricken, as a religious school, has a legal exemption regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and discriminating against other things judged “immoral” for a Catholic educator. If a teacher gets pregnant outside marriage, they can be fired. Don’t even bother asking about getting an abortion. Marsocci claimed that the sexual identity of his colleague was unacceptable and that the school was violating Catholic Church teachings by employing this person.
Here’s the dumb bigot’s half-assed undercover videos of him pestering administrators Jay Brennan and Vincent Mancuso about the matter. Anyone who ever had Marsocci in class will instantly recognize the nitwit goomba’s voice. (My mother is half-Italian and so identifying scumbag guidos is a task I am entitled to.)
The school canned Marsocci following this bizarre fixation-cum-fetish exhibition. In a typical Italian prima donna exit, he blew his stack and revealed years of secret recordings that he had made of his conversations with employers and coworkers. Rhode Island wiretap laws allow for a recording if only one participant consents, meaning that none of these electronic records were technically illegal. But their existence demonstrated a truly insane workplace pressure cooker.
Marsocci waited for a key moment to have his revenge. Jay Brennan, who had dutifully shown his weirdo ass the door, was given a national award at the Obama White House in 2016 and was sailing towards an admirable retirement.
That, naturally, was the moment Marsocci struck by anonymously leaking to the media the offending video of his old boss making a racist joke. Owing to the sensational metier and lack of skepticism on the part of local broadcasters, this snowballed into a scandal that manipulated the Providence NAACP, whose president, Jim Vincent, quite reasonably condemned Brennan.
To be clear, this in no way exonerates Brennan. Catholic schools in the Deep North have functioned for decades as “separate and not even trying to be equal,” and Rhode Island has one of the lowest public school enrollment rates in the nation as a result. The homo and transphobia is thick enough to cut with a knife, and these people should be horsewhipped for creating such a workplace environment. Anyone who believes that helping young people internalize prejudices claiming they are “disordered” because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is not worthy of the title educator. Brennan quite obviously opposed Marsocci’s homophobic obsession, which is commendable.
However, he also allowed his school to have such homophobic employment laws in the first place. There will be a Ben and Jerry’s in hell before Hendricken High School allows for same-sex love and sodomy. That’s satanically wrong. Jay Brennan is a nice guy, he was always good to me despite my being an extremely precocious closet case, but he’s not an ally of my community. It hurts when you realize that people segregate themselves away from the rest of humanity in the name of these prejudices and saying goodbye to them is necessary for survival.
Even if I like him, anyone that says queerness is sinful or disordered is not trustworthy or safe around queer youth. And since they are teaching non-queer kids to be bigots, how safe are they actually around any kids?
Hendricken will never publicly acknowledge and apologize to all its queer students for inspiring in its hallowed halls bullying, alcoholism, self-mutilation, suicidal ideation and, perhaps most despicably, loveless heterosexual marriages entered into with the absurd aspiration to “turn” oneself straight. How many students and alumni need to have their lives made miserable before school administrators acknowledge something my parish priest, a former chaplain at nearby LaSalle Academy, told me a few years after graduation when I came out: There’s nothing wrong with being queer but quite a lot wrong with homophobia.
There is no love lost between me and my alma mater. It takes a long time to get over having drilled into my head for 4 years that my sexual attractions made me a kiddie rapist.
My hope is that a Hendricken student or two will read this and get this message: There’s nothing wrong with being queer, queer love, queer sex, queer families or queer life, excepting of course Ellen DeGeneres. What is wrong is your teachers who say otherwise. If you have a teacher who rails against queers, he or she is probably closeted. When you come out, you will realize that bigots are pathetic, boring wastrels who need to get laid but are afraid to. You’re much braver and bigger than they will ever be, even if you decide, as I did, to stay closeted until after graduation.