Pa. Catholic college fires gay professor

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — A Catholic college in Philadelphia says it has fired a part-time professor after learning from a post on his blog that he has been in a same-sex relationship for a decade and a half, which officials called contrary to church teaching.

Chestnut Hill College, a private Catholic school, said the Rev. James St. George was terminated after he made “public statements of his involvement in a gay relationship with another man for the past 15 years.”

St. George. 45, of Lansdale, was hired by the private Catholic school in 2009 to teach Bible studies and other subjects. He was to teach courses in theology and justice as well as world religions beginning Tuesday, March 1.

St. George confirmed to The Philadelphia Inquirer on Saturday that he is gay and recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of his relationship with his partner. He said he was shocked by the termination, which he learned about Feb. 18.

College officials appeared surprised that St. George belonged to a branch of Catholicism not associated with the Vatican that has different views on gay issues. St. George leads St. Miriam Church in Blue Bell, which is affiliated with the Old Catholic Apostolic Church of America, which vows no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and performs commitment ceremonies for gays and lesbians.

Carol Jean Vale, president of Chestnut Hill College, said in a statement Friday night to several news organizations, including the Philadelphia Daily News, that when St. George joined the faculty “he presented himself as Father St. George and openly wore a traditional Catholic priest’s collar.”

Vale said that while St. George “appears to be an ordained pastor … his church allows priests the option to engage in same-sex partnerships.”

St. George denied that he had withheld anything from the college.

“What am I supposed to do?” he asked. “Say, ‘Before we go any further, I’m gay?’ Who says that?”

The college said officials only learned about the matter “after St. George chose to make his private life public information on his blog.”

“While we welcome diversity, it is expected that all members of our college community, regardless of their personal beliefs, respect and uphold our Roman Catholic mission, character and values both in the classroom and in public statements that identify them with our school,” Vale’s statement said. “For this reason, we chose not to offer an additional teaching contract to St. George.”

Jessica Murray, 23, who was one of St. George’s students, told the Inquirer that she was appalled by the firing.

“All you have to do is Google him, you can see that he’s openly gay,” she said. “They can’t claim they didn’t know.”

—  John Wright

Gay professionals find that necessity is mother of reinvention

Mark Shekter – When the recession hit his industry, Mark Shekter used his experience, talents to create new businesses

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

PASTRIES AND TAXES  |  Mark Shekter has reinvented himself during difficult economic times by recreating an old business and beginning new ones. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
PASTRIES AND TAXES | Mark Shekter has reinvented himself during difficult economic times by recreating an old business and beginning new ones. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Mark Shekter’s upscale residential design firm, Graphic+Design+Group, will celebrate 40 years in business in January. Surrealty, his real estate firm, has been selling homes in Oak Lawn and elsewhere for 25 years.

The award-winning home designer has had houses featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead lived in a house Shekter created. So does Nolan Ryan, and Shekter worked with Dave of Dave & Busters and the owner of the Houston Astros on their houses.

Shekter has designed many townhouses in Oak Lawn and he worked with a number of Turtle Creek high-rise condo owners to re-imagine their living spaces.

“They call me ‘The Space Doctor,’” he said. “But now builders can’t get financing and individuals are having a tough time qualifying.”
And, he said, there’s a glut of Oak Lawn townhouses on the market.

“In this down economy, you have to reinvent yourself, either with new ideas or bringing back some of the old ones,” Shekter said.
Developing new businesses is nothing new for Shekter. In the 1980s, during another downturn in the business cycle, he started a travel agency. He also created Lollapalooza, an event and party planning business.

“I love catering parties,” he said.

And so, to try and counteract the drop in the real estate market, Shekter decided to bring back Lollapalooza.

And since doing so, he has planned and catered everything from wedding and commitment ceremonies to Passover seders to dinner parties for two or four.

But Shekter explained that he does more than just cater parties.

“I approach the business like a contractor working with several subcontractors,” he said. “I go to hundreds of different sources to get the best of whatever you’re looking for.”

Along with Lollapalooza, Shekter also recently created Ruthie’s Rugaluch.

Rugaluch are a traditional eastern European European pastry. The name means “little royal twists” in Yiddish. They are thin, cream cheese pastry dough crescents filled with a combination of nuts, cinnamon, sugar, fruit preserves and raisins.

“It’s named after my mother,” Shekter said. “Everyone thinks it’s my mother’s recipe, but it wasn’t. She just liked to eat them.”

His partner in that business is an old friend who used to bake the pastries for the Neiman Marcus catalogue. Last year, he suggested they turn what had become just a hobby into a business.

Shekter said the rugaluch business is labor intensive and expensive.

To maintain his reputation for making his exquisite pastry, he spends quite a bit of money on fresh ingredients.

Minimum orders are $50 plus delivery charge. Orders over $100 include free delivery. The basic price is $19 for a baker’s dozen.

For large events, he said, they’re producing them by the hundreds.

And while catering and baking keep him quite busy, Shekter also created a third business. Two years ago, he helped a couple of his home design clients successfully challenge their property tax assessments.

“I was so successful, I decided this was another business,” he said.

So using his real estate and his design experience, Shekter reinvented himself in still another way: He became a real estate property tax consultant.

Using his knowledge of home design helped him judge whether an appraisal was fair and accurate. In a number of cases he even found inaccurate space measurements.

And his real estate experience helped Shekter access and judge comparative appraisal prices.

This year, Shekter has worked with 24 clients to challenge their tax appraisals. He said he got positive results for 20 of them.

He said that he charges a fee for his service, but only if he’s successful in lowering his client’s tax rate.

While the businesses may sound far-flung and disparate, Shekter said they are all closely related:

Many of his catering customers are people living in houses he designed.

His real estate customers have become his tax appraisal customers.

And his rugaluch customers have turned into kitchen redo clients and even new homebuyers.

“I’m always promoting and marketing,” Shekter said.

To order Ruthie’s Rugaluch, talk about a tax appraisal or design your next multi-million-dollar mansion, contact Mark Shekter at 214-520-8800.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas