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Who is John Patrick Holian? NY White headmaster makes Black boy, 11, kneel, says it's 'African way' to apologize

'Is he generalizing that everyone who is Black is African? That’s when I realized something is not right with this situation,' said the boy's mother
John Patrick Holian has been put on temporary leave while the school investigates (Facebook)
John Patrick Holian has been put on temporary leave while the school investigates (Facebook)

LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK: A White Long Island Catholic school headmaster forced an 11-year-old Black student to apologize to a teacher while kneeling down, terming it as the “African way” to say sorry.

The mother of the student, Trisha Paul, a Haitian-American, says it was disturbing when she got to know about the racist punishment of her sixth-grade son at the hands of St Martin de Porres Marianist school headmaster John Patrick Holian. She revealed that she was even more shocked when the headmaster told her that he had learned the approach from a Nigerian father who said it was an “African way” of apologizing.


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“Once he started mentioning this African family, that’s when it just clicked,” said Paul. “Like, this is not normal procedure. I felt there was no relevance at all. Is he generalizing that everyone who is Black is African? That’s when I realized something is not right with this situation.” 

Paul stated that her son is still trying to recover from the mortifying event and the family fears if he was treated more harshly because of his race. The normally outgoing middle-schooler has been “really reserved” since the February incident, Paul said. “My son was humiliated, hurt, embarrassed, sad and confused,” Paul explained. “He reads about things happening because of your skin color. To experience it... he’s just trying to process it in his 11-year-old brain.”

Holian replied to the comments, saying: “We love our students here,” and stated that the “vast majority” are students of color. The school officials have sent a letter to parents, saying Holian has been put on temporary leave while the school investigates. “I want to assure you that St. Martin’s neither condones nor accepts the actions of our headmaster,” wrote acting headmaster James Conway in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The News. “The incident does not reflect our long, established values or the established protocols regarding student related issues.”

Paul enrolled her son, Trayson, in the expensive $15,000-a-year Catholic school last October with high hopes. “I did my research,” said Paul, who works in administration for a hospital. “I placed him where I thought he was in a safe, a warm and loving environment where I thought he would learn.”

Things were going according to plan until February 25, when Trayson finished early with his reading and took out another assignment to get a headstart, according to his mom. Paul described the incident, saying that Trayson's English teacher confronted him about working on the wrong assignment, after which she ripped up the paper, and marched him to Holian’s office. The headmaster then told the boy to get on his knees and say sorry.

When the boy told this to her mother, she was shocked and called up the headmaster to ask if the White students are asked to do the same. To which Holian replied saying that he learned it from a student's father, who was Nigerian. “It was a situation where your son was really disrespectful and rude to a teacher in front of the other students,” Holian told Paul. “The whole idea is for your son to see he can’t speak to women that way.” “If I had said to him ‘apologize and get back to class’… it would’ve meant nothing,” Holian continued. “So it was changing the way you say ‘I apologize.’”

“I have six kids, and four boys. And if one of them is really acting rude and arrogant... I will say at times, ‘get on your knees and apologize,’” Holian told Paul. “I was speaking to your son as I would my own son. I’m sorry if you’re upset,” Holian added. “It wasn’t a thought-out situation.” Paul said that Holian’s apology was too little too late.

“He showed no remorse until he realized how it’s impacted my son,” Paul said. “He’s going to therapy. He’s been very reserved and humiliated.” Trayson has been hesitant to resume in-person classes, Paul added, and tries to “stay away from the headmaster and not speak to the teacher if need be.”