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Catholic School Principal Removed By Archdiocese After Telling Students Masks Are Optional, Parents Say

Parents on the Far Southwest Side are protesting the archdiocese's decision to put Queen of Martyrs Principal M. Jacob “Doc” Mathius on administrative leave after he told students the school’s mask mandate was ending.

Queen of Martyrs parents and students protest the removal of Principal M. Jacob “Doc” Mathius in Evergreen Park Feb. 8, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

EVERGREEN PARK — A principal at a Chicago-area Catholic school has been removed from the school for defying the Archdiocese of Chicago by ending the school’s mask mandate, according to school families.

Queen of Martyrs Principal M. Jacob “Doc” Mathius was put on administrative leave by the Archdiocese of Chicago Tuesday, according to parents. His dismissal came after telling school families that masks at the elementary school, which serves many Chicago families, would be optional starting Tuesday, parents said.

Queen of Martyrs Principal M. Jacob “Doc” Mathius

In a letter, Mathius announced the “extremely difficult decision” to end the mandate, saying it was best for students given the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.

“I cannot predict what the future might hold, but … what I can control is relieving the burden of children wearing a covering over their faces, many of whom cannot remember a time when they attended school without doing so,” the letter reads.

Mathius told families in an email that he had been placed on administrative leave by the archdiocese. The Archdiocese of Chicago declined to comment.

More than 100 parents and kids rallied at the school, 3550 W. 103rd St., Tuesday afternoon to protest the principal’s ousting. Students holding signs chanted, “We want Doc!” as drivers traveling down 103rd Street honked their horns.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Queen of Martyrs parents protested the firing of Principal M. Jacob “Doc” Mathius Tuesday.

Anthony Ferenzi, whose two kids went to Queen of Martyrs, said Mathius “voted his conscience.”

“He’s doing what he feels is in the best interest of the kids,” Ferenzi said. “And you’re going to [oust] him for that? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Mary Mullaney, another parent, said she sent her children to school without masks Monday and Tuesday.

“He put his job on the line so that they could have a choice. I believe that everybody has a choice if they want to wear a mask or not,” Mullaney said. “If you want to wear a mask, I support you 100%. If you don’t want to wear a mask, I support that, as well.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Queen of Martyrs parents and students protest the removal of Principal M. Jacob “Doc” Mathius in Evergreen Park Feb. 8, 2022.

Mathius’ decision to end the mask mandate at Queen of Martyrs comes despite the Archdiocese of Chicago vowing to continue the district-wide mandate for now. In his letter, Mathius said he expected “swift retribution” by the archdiocese but that he was doing what was in the best interest of the students and their families.

At the start of the school year, Mathius said he was in favor of coronavirus protocols at Chicago Catholic schools and was “proud to be part of such an endeavor.” But that has changed, he said, as the “social-emotional toll that continuing COVID protocols have taken on many of our students have become more toxic than the COVID virus itself.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Queen of Martyrs students protest the removal of Principal M. Jacob “Doc” Mathius in Evergreen Park Feb. 8, 2022.

School districts statewide have been reconsidering their mask mandate policies following a state judge’s ruling against such mandates in public schools. Private institutions like Catholic schools can still have mask mandates independent of the ruling, but some dioceses in the state have announced the end of their mask requirements, according to the National Catholic Register. 

Catholic schools in Belleville, Rockford and Springfield have announced masks will be optional, the news agency reported. Joliet Catholic schools have moved to a policy of masks required to masks “recommended,” according to CBS2.

Mask requirements and other COVID-19 mitigation efforts remain in place at all archdiocese schools, said spokesperson Susan Thomas.

Students who arrive at school without a mask are offered one. If they refuse the mask, the student is isolated in a separate room and their parents will be called to pick them up, she said. If kids are not picked up, they will remain in the separate room until the end of the school day, Thomas said.

Mathius joined Queen of Martyrs as principal at the start of this school year after spending 43 years at Brother Rice High School, where he was an assistant principal and dean of students.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
People protest the removal of Principal M. Jacob “Doc” Mathius in Evergreen Park Feb. 8, 2022.

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