• September 1, 2015

Nun Is Arrested for Allegedly Stealing $1.2-Million From Iona College

Iona College Fires 2 Employees After Discovering $800,000 Fraud 1


The main campus of Iona College is located in New Rochelle, N.Y.

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The main campus of Iona College is located in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Sister Marie E. Thornton, a former vice president of finance for Iona College and a nun, was arrested on Thursday on charges of embezzling more than $1.2-million from the Roman Catholic college over the course of 10 years.

Federal prosecutors collaborated with the Department of Education in bringing the charges, which were announced by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan in a news release issued Thursday evening. According to the release, Sister Thornton surrendered Thursday morning and was presented in federal court in Manhattan. It was not immediately known how she will plead.

According to the news release, Sister Thornton allegedly diverted college funds for her own use by turning in false vendor invoices for reimbursement and submitting credit-card bills for personal expenses to the college.

Iona College, in a statement issued Thursday evening, disputed the size of the theft, calling the $1.2-million figure "significantly inaccurate."

The college, located in New Rochelle, N.Y., had previously disclosed that it had fired an unidentified employee for misappropriating approximately $80,000 a year over a decade. Another employee thought to have been involved in covering up the fraud was also fired.

In its statement on Thursday, Iona said that it had taken immediate action after discovering a year and a half ago that an employee had misappropriated funds, and that it had conducted a follow-up investigation and put preventive procedures in place. The college also said it had recovered most of the missing money but declined to comment further.

Sister Thornton's arrest was first reported on Talk of the Sound, a New Rochelle blog.

Sister Thornton served as Iona's vice president for finance and administration for roughly a decade, and she previously was assistant to the president for five years, according to the college's financial documents. She holds a doctorate in educational administration from Fordham University and previously spent time as a teacher, a principal, and a deputy school superintendent.

Paul Fain contributed to this report.


1. interface - December 10, 2010 at 08:45 am

She must have had some expensive habits.

2. wbr80 - December 10, 2010 at 08:54 am

^ I laughed so hard my morning coffee came flying out of my mouth and stained my pants.

3. wvcurmudgeon - December 10, 2010 at 09:14 am

1. Good comment number 2
2. Number 3 made me smile
3. Twelve years of catholic school down the drain. The sister marie in question must have never had the Sister Rita Marie or Sister Victorine that I had. I remember getting sternly lectured to by one of them because $1.50 came up missing from the "pagan baby" collection. She was very disappointed in us. Her face turned red - but she never raised her voice. I think half of the class was crying by the time she was done. None of us would ever think of stealing after that. (elementary school). I just can't imagine a nun stealing!

4. pedrolorenzomartinez - December 10, 2010 at 09:47 am

I am sure that she contributed to the Poors' box.

5. dereklambert - December 10, 2010 at 09:57 am

Interface; you are my hero.

Peace be with you.


6. fiu_dor - December 10, 2010 at 09:59 am

Very naughty habits, indeed. Whatever happened to "Thou shalt not steal"?

7. greeneyeshade - December 10, 2010 at 10:21 am

My eighth grade teacher, Sister E., would have given her a good, finger-pointing lecture--one that always included a squinty-eyed, "You bold thing!!"

8. greeneyeshade - December 10, 2010 at 10:30 am

Oh by the way Brother president (and more importantly, trustees), time to exercise some sound fiduciary oversight and hire an internal auditor. And make sure s/he reports directly to the board. This case exemplifies why institutions should shield their internal auditors from situations where management is tempted to override a necessary reporting channel.

Had the auditor reported to this sister who was vice president of fianance and administration (as is the case at many institutions), how likely would it have been that the fraud would have come to light any sooner than it did?

9. tappat - December 10, 2010 at 10:41 am

At my childhood school years and years ago, Sister Delores (or, perhaps it was Dolores) would have brought the offender to the front of the class, stripped her naked, and bathed her in the cleansing waters of the municipal tap, at least that's what Sister Delores did to my brother. Oh, but my brother had gotten dirty on the playground at recess. Hum. Don't remember any stealing of lucre going on. I remember profanity being expressed, and Sister Delores would put the offending head into the toilet. She felt there needed to be some sort of connection between the offense and the purifying punishment. Don't know what she would do for stealing lucre.

10. shariyat5 - December 10, 2010 at 10:53 am

Wow academics ,religion and corruption - all in one shot. What a great novel. Too bad I didnt write so I could quit teaching community college English.It's what Ive been saying for years. Half these adminstrators are crooks. Sorry folks but it's true.

11. debratownsend - December 10, 2010 at 11:02 am

I was just looking over salaries of presidents and top officials at Catholic universities and noticing that many priests were paid well, sometimes up into the $300's, but the nuns were paid around $20-$30,000. Not condoning theft -- but we should also look at the inequities perpetuated by the Church.

12. jeff1 - December 10, 2010 at 12:20 pm

This is disgraceful obviously . . . worse so because she was a nun. Shame on the board and the president and others, including the faculty, who should have been more attentive to this little detail. Iona's budget can't possibly be that large that this was easily missed!

13. sicetnon - December 10, 2010 at 01:29 pm

Whatever nuns are paid, it doesn't go to them personally. They are members of religious orders and have taken vows of personal poverty. Their salaries (minus pocket money) go to their orders, which, house, clothe and feed them. Priests, unless they too are members of religious orders, are self supporting and,while they are often provided with housing, must live on their earnings.
Avoid PC until you know the facts.

14. goodeyes - December 10, 2010 at 01:36 pm

It is a great example of why internal audits of the higher ups are necessary as their employees often are too scared to say anything.

15. blesstayo - December 10, 2010 at 01:56 pm

sicetnon, point well taken.
Did Sister Marie give the $1.2m to her religious orders? How come her members of religious orders did not know for 10 years that she was not living in poverty? Might it be that she was donating the money to others and the poor? I encourage Sister Marie to speak out.

On a lighter note, my old mom always urge us to be careful of today's religious leaders and priests because "everyone is looking for something to eat". Of course, we are always reminded to be as wise as the serpent! But, it could be that Sister Marie was tempted beyond what she could cope with, perhaps because she was not praying without ceasing.

16. mmcknight - December 10, 2010 at 03:15 pm

Good point, sicetnon... but the matter of inequity still exists. Why is that women must take a vow of poverty in order to serve the Lord, but men, who have the option of becoming priests, must not? (Not that I in any way condone Sister Marie's actions, obviously.)

17. sicetnon - December 10, 2010 at 03:28 pm

You missed my comment about men in religious orders (such as Jesuits) who are also bound by a vow of poverty. Secular priests (such as parish priests) do not take vows of poverty and thus can retain personal property, like salaries. Women who become nuns are not discriminated against, it's the life they chose. Being a nun or sister isn't the only form of lay ministry a woman can practice, many nuns have left their orders to pursue a religious life without being bound by a rule and they may keep what they earn. But priests are not automatically allowed to keep thier incomes, it depends on whether they are diocesan (secular) or regular (followers of a rule, like Franciscans, Redemptorists, etc.).
The issue of women priests is another matter althogether, the justification for which you may accept or not.

18. drfunz - December 10, 2010 at 03:44 pm

This is a tragedy all around: for the university, for the Sister's Order, for religious people in general and for the Sister who stole the money.

If the Sister did this, she clearly has problems, even if she was giving the money to good cause. Most Sisters live simply. They do not own cars or houses, usually have a modest wardrobe, and what they do have in their possession is often owned by their community and can be "redirected" at any time to another person/institution/convent. Sometimes they receive gifts from relatives that might seem out of line for the vow of poverty (expensive tech toys, TVs or vacations, for example)and many groups require their members to report the gift to the head of the Order.

Like any segment of the population, religious groups have individuals who will slip up royally sometimes. Just because a person is a Sister or a Priest does not mean they are not subject to the temptations of all humans. The personality flaws are the same, the deprived backgrounds and sometimes the psychological problems are the same as the general population. God calls all types of people into a vocation - not just the perfect ones. Most women who enter religious life today are scrutized carefully before they are allowed in - rounds of interviews, many personality tests, evaluations from psychiatrists and psychologists before entering the convent are part and parcel of the application process to most religious congregations.

19. teacherspaddle - December 11, 2010 at 08:40 am

I'm guessing chastity and obedience aren't her strong suits, either.

20. goxewu - December 11, 2010 at 10:37 am

* "Like any segment of the population, religious groups have individuals who will slip up royally sometimes."

Catholic clergy aren't just "any segment of the population." They get what societal cred they have from a perception of being more moral (more sin-free) than the general population. A nun caught stealing is like a doctor deliberately infecting his patients with diseases. Or (ahem!) men who've taken a vow of chastity buggering little boys.

And stealing $1.2 million over ten years (if, indeed, she did it), is much, much more than a "slip up," even a "royal" one. It's like a decade-long slide, using ski poles to keep up the momentum along the way.

Indeed, if "most women who enter [Catholic] religious life today are scrutized carefully before they are allowed in - rounds of interviews, many personality tests, evaluations from psychiatrists and psychologists before entering the convent are part and parcel of the application process to most religious congregations," then stealing money from a Catholic college has got to be more than a "slip up." It's premeditated, prolonged, conscienceless theft by an individual who's shrewd and deliberate enough to have duped all those psychiatrists and psychologists beforehand.

Again, if she did do it.

21. zeppo - December 11, 2010 at 02:32 pm

If it were for graft and corruption you'd get a really low element in college administration, to paraphrase Preston Sturges.

22. lost_angeleno - December 11, 2010 at 04:10 pm

Lends a whole new meaning to the phrase "not gettin' nun."

23. teacherspaddle - December 12, 2010 at 08:40 am

What does a nun do with nearly a million bucks? Blow it gambling in "frequent trips to Atlantic City." Or at least that's what's come out in today's news. Also this gem:

"Sources say Sister Marie is cloistered at the Sisters for St. Joseph Order, near Philadelphia. Part of its mission statement is 'to raise consciousness about all forms of poverty.'"

Consciousness raised! (as in "I'll call your $850,000 and raise you another 10 grand"!!)

24. drfunz - December 13, 2010 at 05:29 pm


If you had read carefully, you would have noticed that I already said that this particular sister has problems. She is not the norm.

Also, if you notice, I said those entering recently go through psychological exams. This sister is 62 - chances are there were fewer safeguards when she entered.

Secondly, Sisters do not need "societal cred", as you put it. If society wants to place "cred" on someone, that is society's issue. Most people who enter religious life are not there for the "cred". They enter because they love God and want to serve others. Most do not use their "cred" to get anything for themselves. I bet you cannot find a single religious person who believes her life is less "sinful" or "more sinless" or "more moral" than any other person's life. The public wants to believe religious life is a "higher calling". I hardly think you will find a modern religious sister these days who would tell you that she has a "higher calling" than a married person or a single person, or that a religious vocation is better than another vocation to married or single life.

25. dennise1 - December 14, 2010 at 01:32 pm

A Religious person should portray a life that is

a) Less sinful
b) More sinless
c) More Moral

than all of the non religious people like me out there.

Yes, I believe a religious life is a "higher calling"

Have I been mislead all these years?

26. drfunz - December 16, 2010 at 11:20 am


You have not been mislead. "Mislead" implies that someone was leading you to believe these things. No one led you to belive this idea. When a religious studies to beomce a religious, they do not learn that they have a "higher calling". They learn that they should strive every day to do their best to love and serve others. And sometimes they fail. Just like every married couple who promises to be faithful. A married couple who fails to love his or her spouse has failed just much as a religious who does not love and serve others. Becoming a sister, nun or brother does confer any special powers or abilities to be superhuman. If people want to believe that, go ahead.

What this accused Sister did is no more wrong in God's eyes Beacuse she is a sister than if a lay person embezzled money. That is what moral theology will tell you.

27. rpaincor - December 16, 2010 at 02:58 pm

Someone smart said that as soon as people find out they can vote themselves a raise, they become corrupt. I am not shocked by anything people will do to get money, Nun or not, it just is what it is, "voting" for a raise.

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