Rolling Prairie, Ind. -- An embattled, conservative Roman Catholic religious order has enrolled 18 seventh- and eighth-graders in its newly opened third U.S. boarding school for boys interested in the priesthood.
The Legionaries of Christ said the minor seminary, called Sacred Heart Apostolic School and located on a 51-acre campus 20 miles west of South Bend, plans to add a grade level each year with an ultimate goal of 100 to 120 students, order spokesman Jay Dunlap said.
The order's Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, N.H., draws several students from the Midwest, Dunlap said. That 23-year-old school enrolls 140 students in grades seven through 12. The order also operates schools in Colfax, Calif., and Cornwall, Ontario.
"We've started a school here because our school in New Hampshire is bursting at the seams," Dunlap said.
The Legionaries of Christ, which claims a membership of 65,000 people, including about 600 priests in 18 countries, was founded in 1941 by a Mexican priest, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado.
Maciel stepped down earlier this year as general director of the order, shortly after the Hartford (Conn.) Courant and the National Catholic Reporter, an independent newsweekly, reported that the Vatican had reopened an investigation into allegations that Maciel sexually abused seminarians. Maciel and the order have vigorously denied the allegations.
Gary Bishop Dale Melczek, whose diocese includes the LaPorte County school, gave the order permission to open the school, but not to operate programs, raise money or recruit future seminarians in diocese parishes, said his spokesman, the Rev. Brian Chadwick.
The Rev. Richard McBrien, a liberal theologian at the University of Notre Dame, urged Melczek to make sure the order limits itself to the school.
"My advice to him is to be careful," McBrien said. "Keep a watch over them because these types of groups try to push the envelope and expand their influence in the diocese."
The Legionaries enjoyed strong support from Pope John Paul II, who last November gave the order the authority to operate an institute for visiting Catholics in Jerusalem that includes a church, a conference center and a hotel.
However, the order has been criticized by former seminarians and others for being too rigid, secretive and competitive with other officials within the church. Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis last year barred the order from working in the archdiocese and prohibited its associated lay movement, Regnum Christi, from using archdiocesan property. The Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, enacted a similar ban in 2002.
The boarding school is on a site where the Notre Dame-based Holy Cross Brothers in 1932 opened a novitiate, the first part of formation in joining their religious congregation. They converted it to LeMans Academy in 1968 and sold the property last year.