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Daughters of St. Paul replaces local leader

Religious order had sued O’Malley

Sister Margaret Timothy Sato, at left in this photo from March, has been replaced as the leader of the Daughters of St. Paul, which has its provincial headquarters in Jamaica Plain. Sister Margaret Timothy Sato, at left in this photo from March, has been replaced as the leader of the Daughters of St. Paul, which has its provincial headquarters in Jamaica Plain. (Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe)
By Lisa Wangsness
Globe Staff / May 27, 2011

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The international head of the Daughters of St. Paul has replaced the leader of the order’s US province, which last year filed a highly unusual lawsuit against Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley over pension issues.

The successor to Sister Margaret Timothy Sato arrived at the Daughters’ provincial headquarters in Jamaica Plain shortly after the order’s superior general, Sister M. Antonieta Bruscato, flew to Boston from Rome and met with O’Malley in the rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End.

In that meeting, the cardinal and Bruscato expressed dismay that the Daughters’ US province had taken the extraordinary step of suing O’Malley and other trustees of a church-run pension fund in court rather than resolving their differences in a more amicable way, according to a source with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak about the conversation.

The two sides in the lawsuit revealed this week that they had reached an agreement earlier this month, prior to Bruscato’s visit, that ended the court battle and gave the Daughters the control they had sought over pension funds invested with the Archdiocese of Boston.

Richard Nicotra, a Staten Island hotelier who is a significant benefactor of the Daughters, said in an interview with the Globe Monday that Sato and other nuns were deeply distraught about the leadership change. He said they told him that the cardinal had called Bruscato in Rome and told her that he was embarrassed by the lawsuit. As a result, Nicotra said the nuns told him, Bruscato came to Boston and ousted Sato.

“What the nuns in Boston were so upset about was that she didn’t have their back,’’ he said.

The US province’s new superior, Sister Mary Leonora Wilson, disputed that version of events. In an interview Wednesday, Wilson said that Bruscato had decided shortly after Easter not to reappoint Sato when her first three-year term expired this spring and that she had notified both nuns well in advance.

Wilson said it is common for provincial superiors to serve only a single term.

“We never ask reasons,’’ Wilson said. “This is such a normal procedure. It’s done each time. At the end of my three years, it will be the same thing.’’

A spokesman for the archdiocese said O’Malley — who is also a member of a religious order, the Capuchin Friars — would never interfere with any order’s internal leadership decisions.

“He did not insert himself or voice his opinion about Sister Timothy’s assignment,’’ said Terrence C. Donilon, the archdiocesan spokesman. “It’s not his style, and it’s not what he would do.’’

Donilon said O’Malley feels a particular bond with the Daughters and strongly supports their mission of communicating the Gospel. O’Malley holds a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature and converses with Bruscato, who is from Brazil, in her native language.

The cardinal wrote a book last year in Portuguese, “Anel e Sandálias’’ (“Ring and Sandals’’). The book was published by the Daughters’ publishing company, Pauline Books and Media, and O’Malley donated the rights so that the order could reap profits from its sale.

Sato did not return a request for an interview made in a phone call Wednesday to the Daughters’ convent. Someone who answered the phone there yesterday said she would be away until June 2.

Neither Bruscato nor the order’s headquarters in Rome replied to the Globe’s e-mails seeking comment.

In the lawsuit the Daughters filed last December, the nuns asserted that they had been trying for years to extricate investments they had made in a church-run pension plan on behalf of the order’s Boston lay employees. The nuns wanted to withdraw the funds from the pension plan, which also contains investments on behalf of archdiocesan employees and workers for dozens of other Catholic entities, so that they could run a single pension fund for all of their US lay workers.

The Daughters said that the archdiocese dragged its feet on returning their money and could not produce a full accounting of their share of the fund, which took a significant hit in the stock market crash in 2008 and is now underfunded.

The archdiocese denied those assertions, saying it had maintained accurate records and had been on the verge of turning over the order’s investments last December when the nuns sued.

The Daughters were seeking nearly $1.4 million, based on their estimates of what their investments were worth in 2007, before the economic downturn. The parties did not disclose the terms of the settlement in a joint statement they issued announcing the resolution earlier this week, but they said it would allow the Daughters to withdraw their assets and run their own fund for their lay employees.

Nicotra said he was deeply concerned about Sato’s removal, both because of his friendship with her and the other nuns and because of his admiration for Sato’s business acumen. She holds a master’s degree in nonprofit management from the University of Notre Dame.

Nicotra said he helps the Daughters raise money each year by hosting a Christmas benefit concert at one of his hotels on Staten Island. The Daughters, who are skilled musicians, perform holiday music, and the event typically attracts 600 to 700 people.

Sato was born in Hawaii to Filipino immigrants and entered the convent while still in high school, according to a profile published in the Hawaii Catholic Herald in July 2008, shortly after Sato was appointed provincial leader.

She completed high school in Boston and studied business and music at Emmanuel College in Boston, the profile said.

“Sister Tim is a good person and a good financial leader,’’ Nicotra said.

Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lwangsness@globe.com.