The Double Life of John Leary

The New College founder is promoted as a visionary. The college should openly admit the Jesuit priest was a pedophile.

After a couple of years, Leary returned to New College. Having the old president and founder come back as an employee was awkward, however, and it just didn't work out, was how one New College teacher described it to me.

New College pressed on without their founder, seemingly forever in a battle against scandal, debilitating ideological or labor strife, financial crisis, or some combination of these. Hamilton, Henry, and Gabel somehow kept the institution afloat, gradually replacing Leary's original hires, until today they and Kushner are the sole remnants of the old guard, who were hired during the 1970s when Leary was still at the school.

With New College behind him, Leary set out to start another experimental education program, this time in Reno.

Rev. John Leary, the captivating teacher with the penetrating eyes.
art credit Here
Rev. John Leary, the captivating teacher with the penetrating eyes.
The school at 777 Valencia that uses the Leary legend as a recruiting tool.
Paul Trapani
The school at 777 Valencia that uses the Leary legend as a recruiting tool.

In 1980, with the help of the gambling magnate who brought Keno to America, and with a trustee of a Reno-area boy's club, and other Reno business leaders, Leary founded what was to be an even purer culmination of his progressive education ideas in Nevada called Old College. Once again, he kicked his charisma, and fundraising prowess, into high gear.

"He was very good at befriending people," recalls Manasia, who served as admissions director at Old College.

Among the new friends was Reno businessman Paul Havas, currently owner of the Havas Subaru car dealership.

"The New College experience in California carried with it a great reputation, and we tried to replicate it in Nevada," recalled Havas, who served on the Old College board of trustees.

The school raised millions of dollars, got a major building, held classes, gave out degrees, and was chugging along when, in 1985, the board of trustees held an urgent meeting in which an unopposed vote was called to ask Leary to leave.

Warren Nelson, the Keno pioneer who owned the Club Cal Neva and chaired the board of trustees, recalled the day of Leary's ouster. Warren dodged the question when Jebbie author Van Hollebeke asked the reason behind Leary's ouster.

"We had a meeting. Someone called for a vote and moved that Leary be asked to resign, immediately," Van Hollebeke cited Warren as saying. "Every man voted 'Aye.'"

The publicly stated rationale for Leary's departure was the same as it had been at Gonzaga University: "health reasons."

I know of no evidence, however, that Leary was forced out of Old College for the same reasons he left Gonzaga.

Havas told me he did not recall Leary's firing from Old College, nor the reasons behind it. Other trustees from that time did not return calls requesting an interview.

I asked Van Hollebeke, who was personally close to Leary and interviewed him extensively for her self-published book, if she'd talk to me about her research. Her writing seemed to insinuate that she wondered why Leary kept leaving town without explanation.

She said she'd rather not talk to me, instead e-mailing a statement.

"All who loved Jack Leary, his friends and family, are feeling drenched in shame right now," she wrote. "He never told me about his tormenting flaw, even though I asked him many times why he left Gonzaga so abruptly. I knew he was hiding something. But I guess he knew I wouldn't be able to handle knowing what it was."

Either that, or he knew he wouldn't be able to handle the abrupt lifestyle change that accompanies being exposed as a child molester.

New College, however, needn't fear such peril. Seeking out alumni who had contact with Leary, with the intent of ferreting out additional victims, wouldn't harm the college's reputation. It would enhance it because anything less is irresponsible and inhumane.

"The idea is to encourage witnesses, and to encourage victims to get help," said Clohessy, the national director of the abuse victims advocacy group SNAP. "We view abuse as like a cancer. If you're to have real chance of recovering from cancer, you have to dig in and root it all out."

Modifying the Jack Leary myth, from the uplifting yet bogus account of pure human triumph to a tale about the twisted pied piper of experimental academia, likewise wouldn't dull the allure of his greatest achievement, New College.

In my view, it would make the place more interesting and true to itself.

For a temple of inquiry such as the one at 777 Valencia St., could that be such a bad thing?

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