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Police Dig up Records Priest Ordered Buried

Police Dig up Records Priest Ordered Buried

By Robert A. Erlandson and Joe Nawrozki
The Baltimore Sun
August 10, 1994
From the link:

Father A. Joseph Maskell

Father A. Joseph Maskell

Baltimore City detectives investigating sex abuse allegations against a Roman Catholic priest dug up a van load of confidential records yesterday the priest had ordered buried four years ago in Brooklyn’s Holy Cross Cemetery.

City police were accompanied by the two Baltimore County homicide detectives assigned to the revived investigation of the unsolved 1969 slaying of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik.

A high-ranking county police official said investigators were there because the name of the priest — the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell — had come up during their probe of the 25-year-old crime. Father Maskell and Sister Catherine were both on the faculty of the all-girls Archbishop Keough High School in Southwest Baltimore in the late 1960s.

Father Maskell, 55, stepped down as pastor of St. Augustine’s Church in Elkridge on July 31 amid allegations that he had sexually abused students at Keough during his tenure as chaplain and counselor from 1967 to 1975.

In interviews with the police and The Sun, Father Maskell has denied all allegations that he abused former students or had any knowledge of the slaying of Sister Catherine.

The papers exhumed yesterday were buried in the cemetery in 1990 at the direction of Father Maskell, who was then pastor of Holy Cross Parish in South Baltimore, according to two sources familiar with the burial. They included what appeared to be psychological test evaluations and canceled checks.

The city officers, who are investigating the sex abuse allegations and had obtained a search warrant, were accompanied by two Baltimore County homicide detectives.

“Our interest in being there was not the allegations of sex abuse,” said Capt. Rustin E. Price, commander of the county homicide unit. “We were there because of the Cesnik murder investigation. . . . Father Maskell’s name has come up in our investigation.”

Sister Catherine Cesnik

Sister Catherine Cesnik

Baltimore Assistant State’s Attorney Sharon A. H. May, head of the city’s Sex Abuse Unit, directed yesterday’s excavation but declined to comment on the operation. William D. Blaul, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said the archdiocese was aware of the excavation and is cooperating with city authorities. The archdiocese owns the cemetery, which is managed by Holy Cross, he said. Father Maskell’s attorney, J. Michael Lehane, said he could not comment on the search.

After Father Maskell’s departure from St. Augustine’s, officials told parishioners that he had requested leave to seek inpatient therapy for anxiety and stress brought on by “the prospect of civil litigation and a criminal investigation.”

The archdiocese said yesterday that the Rev. Gerard J. Bowen of Holy Trinity Church in Glen. Burnie has been appointed administrator of St. Augustine’s in Father Maskell’s place.

Soggy records

Eleven police officers arrived at the cemetery shortly after 7 a.m. yesterday. After a backhoe operator dug out the top layers of earth, officers dug down to the stacks of papers with shovels. From the pit, which was about 12 feet square and 10 feet deep, they spread the soggy records on the ground. After sifting through them, investigators placed selected documents in black plastic trash bags.

Detective Donna Askew, who is leading the police investigation, declined to identify the records piled into the city-owned van but said, “We took what we needed after I looked them over based on the information we’ve developed.”

The pit is located in a remote section of the cemetery, surrounded by woods and undergrowth, where excess earth and old flowers are dumped. Police were led to the spot by a former cemetery employee who said he was ordered to dig the pit at Father Maskell’s direction.

Ex-worker recalls event

The former employee, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said he was called by the cemetery supervisor in July 1990 and ordered to dig a pit 12 feet square and 13 feet deep.

“I could have buried a backhoe in there. I was told, ‘Don’t ask why,’ ” the man said.

That afternoon, he said, a pickup truck, driven by a man he believed to be a relative of Father Maskell, arrived packed with boxes of documents. He said he and the driver threw the papers into the pit; then the driver returned to the Holy Cross rectory in the 100 block of E. West St. for two more loads. While he was waiting between loads, the former employee told The Sun in March, he examined some of the papers, which appeared to be psychological evaluation sheets of men and women. He said he did not note any details, however.

When they were through, the former employee said, he was ordered to backfill the pit and seed it so that it couldn’t be found. The man said he kept the location in his head until he became aware of the investigation of Father Maskell. Then he sketched a map, which he placed in a safe deposit box of a local bank.

A source close to Father Maskell, who also spoke under condition of anonymity, denied that there was anything “sinister” about the buried documents. He said the priest and a psychologist used a federal grant to set up a psychological testing center in 1975 and that Father Maskell took the records to Holy Cross with him in 1985. Because of a ban on open burning, the priest decided to dispose of them by burial at the cemetery, the source said.

The link between the allegations of sex abuse against Father Maskell and the slaying of Sister Catherine was forged this spring by one of the women who alleged that Father Maskell had abused her while she was a student at Keough.

Nun disappears

The woman told her attorneys, police and The Sun that she had told Sister Catherine about the abuse at the end of the 1969 school term.

Shortly afterward, Sister Catherine left the Sisters of Notre Dame Convent and her position at Keough to teach in Baltimore City schools.

The nun disappeared Nov. 7, 1969, after she left on an evening shopping trip from her residence at the Carriage House Apartments on North Bend Road in Southwest Baltimore.

Police conducted an intensive search but turned up nothing until Jan. 3, 1970, when two hunters stumbled upon the partially clothed body on a frozen field in Lansdowne. An autopsy showed that she had died from a blow to the head.

But the former Keough student said that Father Maskell drove her in his car to the body of Sister Catherine before it was discovered and told her that she was responsible for the nun’s death because she had told Sister Catherine about the alleged sexual abuse. After a silence of more than 20 years, the woman first brought her allegations of sexual abuse to the Archdiocese in 1992, while Father Maskell was still pastor at Holy Cross.

Father Anthony Joseph Maskell Priest at once defended, excoriated

Father Anthony Joseph Maskell Priest at once defended, excoriated

August 03, 1994|By Robert A. Erlandson and Joe Nawrozki | Robert A. Erlandson and Joe Nawrozki,Sun Staff Writers
Father A. Joseph Maskell

Father A. Joseph Maskell


t was a painful moment for a man of his calling.

“I was in shock,” the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell declared. “I never had sex with a kid.”

That was in May, and Father Maskell, pastor of St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Elkridge, was describing his reaction to the first in a series of allegations that he had sexually abused students while he was a chaplain and counselor at Archbishop Keough High School more than two decades ago.

“It is absolutely untrue,” he repeated over and over again in an interview with The Sun in his sparsely furnished rectory office.

Sunday, however, archdiocesan officials told surprised parishioners that Father Maskell had left his parish to seek therapy for stress and anxiety as the allegations of sex abuse mounted, a civil suit loomed, and the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office intensified a criminal investigation of the matter.

Those who know Father Maskell in different settings offer conflicting views of the 55-year-old cleric. He is capable of inspiring great loyalty, among parishioners as well as among the police, military officers and politicians he befriended over the years.

But the first allegations of sexual abuse in 1992 brought whispers of a possible darker side. Last week, the voices grew louder, as those who say they were abused painted a picture of a crafty manipulator who used his priestly authority and knowledge of psychology to ensnare troubled girls who were unlikely to talk.

Father Maskell grew up in northeast Baltimore and graduated from Calvert Hall College. He trained at St. Mary’s Seminary in Roland Park and was ordained in 1965. Besides teaching at Keough, he has held posts in several local parishes — Sacred Heart of Mary, St. Clement, Our Lady of Victory, Annunciation and Holy Cross. In 1972 he earned a master’s degree in school psychology from Towson State University and then a certificate of advanced study in counseling from the Johns Hopkins University.

In addition to his pastoral and teaching duties, Father Maskell has served as chaplain for two police agencies — the Maryland State Police and Baltimore County police — as well as for the Maryland National Guard and, more recently, for the Air National Guard, where he held the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Yesterday, however, Father Maskell resigned from the Air Guard and was assigned to the Inactive Ready Reserve, according to Capt. Hunt Kerrigan, the guard’s public information officer. The priest had been senior chaplain of the 135th Air Transport Group, based at Martin State Airport.

He was also dropped yesterday from the advisory board of Operation Challenge, a guard-sponsored program for high school dropouts at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Father Maskell delivered the invocation at the program’s graduation ceremony two weeks ago.

Father Maskell’s friends from his police and military posts describe him as a well-liked priest and a gregarious man who enjoyed competitive shooting and fishing.

Capt. James L. Scannell, a retired Baltimore County police precinct commander, called the priest “a rugged guy, very outgoing. He baptized my grandchildren. My children liked him. If he had been that weird, it would have come out. He was around police a lot, riding along, he rode with me. Police would have noticed; bells would have gone off. Nothing did.”

Baltimore City Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi of the 6th District said he has known Father Maskell for a decade and served as a lay reader and Eucharistic minister for him. “I think he’s fine, nothing less than a priest’s priest,” the councilman said.

Mr. DiBlasi said he talked with Father Maskell after the first former student accused him of abuse in 1992, an allegation the archdiocese says was investigated but never confirmed.

“He said he had an accuser, but he said he knew nothing about it,” Mr. DiBlasi said. “I know him to be genuinely wholesome, and he would do nothing to detract from his priestly duties.”

The Rev. Robert G. Hawkins, pastor of St. Rita’s Roman Catholic church in Dundalk, has known Father Maskell for 34 years. They attended St. Mary’s Seminary together and would frequently go target shooting with pistols.

“Father Maskell is a good friend,” Father Hawkins said. “He is a fine priest, intelligent and a hard worker. Any charges against him are absurd. He’s a fine man.”

Attilia Marasa, who worked in the Keough office during Father Maskell’s tenure there, dismissed the allegations out of hand.

“I think Father Maskell’s above reproach, an upstanding priest. All this crap that’s coming out about priests is just to get money from the Catholic Church,” she said.

“If it had happened to me it would have been reported at once, you can bet your bippy on that,” she added. “I would have gone right away to the archdiocese, don’t wait 25 years. The girls should have told their parents right away and gotten a lawyer and reported to the archdiocese.”



45 Years after Their Inspiring Teacher Was Murdered, Former Keough High Students Are Still Asking Why

By Tom Nugent
From the link:

Sister Catherine Cesnik

Sister Catherine Cesnik

When Gemma Hoskins was a student at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School back in the late 1960s, she had an English teacher who was “bigger than life” and possessed “a gentle and loving heart.”

That wonderful teacher became a role model for Hoskins, as well as “a symbol of integrity, honesty and strength.”

Indeed, the Keough High student was so inspired by the School Sisters of Notre Dame nun that she went on to become a teacher herself.

During a 36-year career in which she taught at elementary and middle schools in Harford and Baltimore Counties,  Hoskins relied on the lessons she’d learned from her teacher at Keough.  Fiercely determined and deeply passionate about her own vocation as a teacher, she set the highest standards for herself.

Nobody was surprised when Gemma Hoskins – while teaching fifth-graders at Jarrettsville Elementary – was named the 1992 Maryland Teacher of the Year.

Asked later how she developed the skills and attributes required for excellence in teaching,  Hoskins credited her former teacher, “Sister Cathy” – 26-year-old Catherine Ann Cesnik of Pittsburgh, Pa. Said Hoskins: “Those traits [of hers] I have tried to exemplify, no matter what the situation.”

But Sister Cathy also taught Hoskins a lesson about tragedy.

That lesson began in earnest when the gentle nun with the bright smile and the boundless energy was brutally murdered during Gemma’s senior year.

The nun’s mutilated body was found more than 44 years ago – January 3, 1970 – on a garbage dump in Lansdowne, a few miles south of Baltimore.

The case has never been solved.

For nearly half a century, Hoskins and many of her fellow Keough alumni have been wondering why Cathy Cesnik met with such a terrible fate.  They’ve also been deeply troubled by numerous allegations that have emerged over the years . . . allegations of widespread sexual abuse at their school which were enumerated in a $40 million, 1990s Baltimore sex-abuse lawsuit and have been frequently reported in the news media.

The carefully documented reports by more than a dozen former Keough students paint a dark picture of rampant sexual abuse at Sister Cathy’s southwest Baltimore Catholic high school – abuse that she reportedly tried to confront and expose during the days right before her mysterious death. Indeed, in recent days, two different witnesses have reported that they visited the nun’s apartment the day before she died . . . and begged her to help stop the sexual abuse.  They say she told them she was about to “go public” with her information about the abuse – and then vanished less than 24 hours later.

In an effort to better understand what happened to their beloved teacher, who died after suffering severe head injuries and is buried in a Pittsburgh hillside cemetery, several Keough graduates recently formed a social networking group devoted to learning as much as possible about her unsolved murder.

After creating a Facebook page – “Justice for Catherine Cesnik and Joyce Malecki” (a second Lansdowne murder victim, her killer also never found, who died four days after the nun and who has recently been linked to the same confirmed priest-abuser who reportedly injured at least 20 Keough students during that era), the social activists say they’re hoping to uncover the truth about both of the murders.

Said Gemma Hoskins, while describing the Keough group’s urgent mission: “Cathy was once there for many people and did the right thing.

“Now we all need to try to do the right thing for her.”

Memories of Sister Cathy

After nearly 45 years of hoping that Sister Cathy’s murder would eventually be solved, many of the Keough grads who recently created the “Justice for Sister Cathy and Joyce Malecki” coalition fear they’re running out of time.

“Sister Cathy’s murder has always haunted me,” said Abbie Schaub, a retired nurse and 1970 Keough grad.  “They describe her killing as a ‘cold case,’ but it’s never felt cold to me.”

Another 1970 graduate, retired Maryland Human Services Administrator Mary Jo Woods, said that “Sister Cathy was a wonderful teacher who taught us how to think for ourselves.  She wrote a lovely play about young girls who are growing up, called ‘Lollipops to Roses.’  She often stayed after school with me to make sure I got caught up.”

Mary Spence, a retired Johns Hopkins Hospital RN, said, “I want to see this case solved, because there are so many people that were affected by it.  They need to be able to put it behind them and move on.”

Like her classmates, retired Baltimore-area bookstore manager Susan M. Getka said she was deeply touched by the killing of Sister Cathy.  Getka recently wrote a poem about her death, titled “The Pen in the Palm of her Hand.”

. . . God, her head ached now.
What hit her?

A fist, a stone, a hammer?
Fragile bones shattered – flying
a mystery exploding – solved . . .

Her faint thread of consciousness
seconds longer
Enough time to see the pen
to feel her hand touch the grass &
find the tree root.
Her hand rested on it
Her Spirit now in God’s Embrace


Said Getka, “I think Sister Cathy would want her students to speak up about what happened, and to try and help young women who are still being abused today.”


While declining to comment on the unsolved murders of Sister Cathy Cesnik and Joyce Malecki, an FBI spokesperson said that “If anybody has any information about [these cases], they need to call the Baltimore County Police Department cold case unit [at 410-887-3943].

To read the Baltimore County Police Department Unsolved Case Squad report on Sister Cathy Cesnik’s murder: