CHICAGO (CBS) — Father John Smyth, the priest who built Maryville Academy into a nationally-known facility for orphaned and troubled children, died at age 84.
Smyth was removed from ministry four months ago after sexual misconduct allegations, but was beloved by many Maryville graduates.
CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley has more on his life, legacy and the ongoing misconduct investigation.
As head of Maryville Academy, Father John Smyth loomed larger than life, and not only because he stood 6 feet 5 inches.
“There is just no words for this man. He’s on a pedestal by himself,” said Maryville graduate Angelo Bernar.
“You just knew there was confidence in him and you felt safe,” added Maryville graduate Joanie McNamara.
Smyth was an All-American on Notre Dame’s 1957 basketball team, drafted by the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks.
“I knew I could maybe play three, four, five years. And then what? I wanted to do something different with my life,” Smyth said.
And so he did. Smyth became a priest, and in 1962, was assigned to Maryville. He turned around a dilapidated orphanage in Des Plaines that was already slated to close.
“The children that come here really blossom. We work with them because they know we won’t give up on them,” Smyth said.
He raised millions to expand and improve the campus and services. But in 2002, DCFS stopped placing children there, citing poor oversight and inadequate treatment.
After 43 years, Smyth was forced out. He later served seven years as president of Notre Dame High School in Niles.
Just four months ago, with Smyth already ailing, he was accused of sexual misconduct dating from the years 2002 and 2003. The archdiocese removed him from active ministry — accusations loyal Maryville alums rejected.
“It hasn’t been found that it’s true and I don’t believe it’s true,” McNamara said.
Still, they’re wounded by Symth’s death under a cloud of suspicion.
“I know he’s up there. And if he’s not, I quit,” said Bernar.
A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Family Services confirmed a probe into the allegations against Father Smyth will continue. No timetable as to when that investigation is expected to conclude.