West Orange man to be named to high school hall of fame

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Robert M. Hoatson, a 35-year resident of West Orange, will be inducted into the Essex Catholic High School Hall of Fame on Nov. 20. From 1966 to 1970, Hoatson was a student at Essex Catholic High School in Newark, an Archdiocese of Newark high school operated by the Irish Christian Brothers. He was very involved in the school, having participated in the Debate and Speech Team, the Drama Club, the school choir, the freshman basketball team and the golf team. He also was the student trainer for the football and basketball teams and manager of several other athletic teams. 

At commencement exercises at Symphony Hall in Newark in 1970, where 595 seniors graduated, Hoatson was presented with the school’s most prestigious award: the Most Outstanding Senior Award. A few months later, he entered the Irish Christian Brothers at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., and began a 23-year career as a religious brother. He resigned from the Irish Christian Brothers in 1994.

Hoatson was an elementary school teacher in East Harlem, a high school teacher in Boston and Central Harlem, and a university administrator at St. John’s University in Jamaica, N.Y. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from Iona College, a master’s degree from Manhattan College in English, and a Ph.D. from Fordham University in church and non-public school leadership. 

After receiving his doctoral degree, Hoatson became the assistant to the president of the William H. Sadlier Publishing Co. in Manhattan, where he wrote religion textbooks and prepared a program in religious education for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He toured the United States giving talks about religious and urban education, and his founding of Catholic Urban Educators of America led to organizing conferences for Catholic inner-city school principals and teachers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

In 1989, Hoatson became principal of Sacred Heart High School in Yonkers, N.Y., and in 1990 was named Educator of the Year by the Association of Teachers of New York City. He was promoted in 1992 as director of Total Parish Education at Sacred Heart Parish, placing him in charge of the parish high school, elementary school and religious education program until 1994. He also served for three years as a member of the New York State Examinations Review Board, writing, reviewing and approving all Regents examinations.

In 1994, Hoatson was accepted as a priest candidate at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University. He was ordained a deacon in 1996 and a priest in 1997. His first priestly assignment was at St. Andrew’s Parish in Bayonne from 1997 to 1998. His next assignment was at Holy Trinity Parish in Hackensack from 1998 to 2001, where he was not only the full-time associate pastor but also principal of the parish school, where he increased the enrollment from approximately 175 students to more than 300 students. 

At Holy Trinity School, Hoatson started two pre-K classes and rented part of the school building to a program for autistic children. He also started an annual parish and school carnival, which continues to this day. He was the parish’s youth minister, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults director, Scout moderator, and chaplain of the Hackensack Fire Department.

In 2001, Bishop Paul Bootkoski assigned Hoatson as director of schools at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Newark. The parish had two schools, an elementary and high school.

On May 20, 2003, he testified before the New York State Legislature and called for the resignation of any and all bishops who covered up clergy sexual abuse. Three days later, he was called into the office of Archbishop John Myers and fired as director at Our Lady of Good Counsel Schools. 

Hoatson became an activist in the clergy sexual abuse movement because he was sexually abused by several persons over the course of his life, including Irish Christian Brothers and his parish priest. He also was propositioned for sex by a seminarian at Immaculate Conception Seminary in South Orange. Facing Church opposition to his desire to assist victims of sexual abuse and their families, Hoatson founded a nonprofit agency called Road to Recovery. It is in its 17th year of existence and has helped more than 5,000 victims and their family members.

Hoatson voluntarily left the priesthood in 2011 and continued his work with Road to Recovery. In 2019, two members of the alumni association of Essex Catholic High School, treasurer Bill Vantuono, ’77, and Hall of Famer Phil Nufrio, ’69, informed Hoatson that he had been selected for induction in the Essex Catholic Hall of Fame. This followed the decision of the board of directors to nullify the Hall of Fame inductions of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Father John Laferrera, both of whom, according to the Catholic Church, have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children.

Vantuono and Nufrio emphasized that Hoatson is a most deserving candidate for the Hall of Fame because of his yeoman work helping victims of sexual abuse and their families.