At his Catholic high school, he seemed to have everything going for him: decent grades, lots of friends and a real shot at winning the state wrestling championship in his weight class.
But during his senior year at Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, he started skipping school and flunking classes. And he quit the wrestling team.
All to avoid one man: Marist Brother Ken Ward, the school’s dean of students.
“I would drive from Aventura to Pace, but I couldn’t be there because of him, so I would turn around,” said the former student, now 27. “I was so embarrassed inside because I let him touch me.”
Ward, who was in charge of discipline at the Archdiocese of Miami school, would regularly summon him on the public-address system to his office and instruct him to undress, according to the former Pace student’s lawsuit, which was filed this month against Ward and the archdiocese. As a ruse, he said, the dean would accuse him of using steroids so he could inspect his muscular body, with the office blinds shut so no one else could see.
“The worst thing that happened to me was, he came up behind me and grabbed my body and grabbed my genitals,” the man, identified as “John Doe D” in his suit, told the Miami Herald. “Afterward, I told him I would call 911. I was more scared it would get out to the rest of the school. I went to my car and cried.”
That was a decade ago. Now, the former Pace student, an only child whose education was paid for by a concerned aunt, managed to graduate with his class in 2004. After attending community colleges, he bounced around as a sports radio journalist for several years and also spent time in Costa Rica to escape South Florida.
But an addiction to drugs eventually overwhelmed his life, leading to an arrest for cocaine possession last year. “The drugs helped me forget all those bad memories,” he said.
A diversionary program in Broward County drug court helped him go straight and get therapy. Still, he can’t erase Ward from his memory, he says. “I would just like some justice, so I could smile again,” he said.
Reached by a Miami Herald reporter, the 56-year-old Ward hung up his cellphone when asked about the sex-abuse allegations. His defense attorney, William Norris, did not return emails and telephone calls to his Miami office.
A spokeswoman for the archdiocese, Mary Ross Agosta, declined to comment because she had not seen the lawsuit.
But she noted in response to a previous suit filed against Ward that he was not an ordained priest and was assigned to Pace by the Marist Brothers, a New Jersey-based religious order that provides faculty members to Catholic schools around the country.
Ward, who took his vows as a Marist Brother in 1984 and taught for years at Catholic schools in the Northeast, later worked as the dean of students at the coed Pace high school from 2000 to 2006. In 2006, he transferred as an assistant principal/academic dean to the all-boys Christopher Columbus High School in West Miami-Dade, a Catholic school owned by the Marist Brothers.
It was a “routine transfer,” Marist Brother Roy George told the Herald.
Ward left Columbus, as well as the Marist Brothers, in 2008 of “his own accord,” George said. Ward changed careers and studied to become a registered nurse, obtaining his state license in 2012. He now works at Fort Lauderdale Hospital, a psychiatric facility for adults and adolescents on East Las Olas Boulevard.