More than 16 months after Henry Eichman was arrested for the sexual abuse of multiple children, the Brunswick parochial school where he taught is trying to put the episode behind it.

Eichman, who was sentenced Jan. 3 for abusing eight children in Sagadahoc County, was arrested in September 2016 and charged with abusing children at his home in Topsham, where he had started a theater group. He was subsequently charged with abusing one child at St. John’s Catholic School, where he worked as a drama teacher and helped with an after-school day care program.

Eichman was sentenced to 10 years in prison on 10 counts, including nine felonies. But the start last month of his prison term doesn’t signal the end of the impact his actions have had in two midcoast communities. At St. John’s, a new administration has pledged to enforce policies to protect children. And although no charges were ever filed because of contact Eichman had with children at his Midcoast Youth Theater in Topsham, the drama group points to its policy that no adult is ever alone with a child involved in a theater activity as a shield against abuse.

A similar policy existed at St. John’s, but details of how the abuse occurred were not spelled out in the court documents. The principal at the time of the abuse resigned in December 2016. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which oversees the Catholic school, would not comment on whether the departure had anything to do with the scandal. However, the pastor of the parish, which also plays a role in administration of the school, said the principal felt some held her responsible. She ultimately resigned a few months after Eichman’s arrest in September 2016, saying she was leaving to care for her mother in New Hampshire.

A new principal, Tim Forti, has insisted that the policy will be followed under his watch.

“I’ve made a promise to the families that this will not happen again,” said Forti, who started at St. John’s in July.

SOBERING EFFECT AT ST. JOHN’S

Eichman, 57, entered a plea Jan. 3 in which he didn’t admit guilt but conceded that rosecutors had enough evidence to get a conviction. Charges came about a month after the parent of one of the children he sexually abused reported him to police in Topsham. The cases, one in Sagadahoc County and one in Cumberland County, were eventually combined before being adjudicated in Sagadahoc County Superior Court.

Prosecutors said Eichman abused children that he met through family connections in his home. Some of those children became involved in his theater group. Investigators never questioned theater officials while they developed the case against Eichman – proof, the theater officials say, that Eichman hadn’t abused any of the children whom he came into contact with there.

“This wasn’t his playpen,” said Judith Meyer, who chaired the board of the youth theater.

At St. John’s, the revelations that a teacher had been convicted of sex abuse charges has had a sobering effect. Although a background check had been performed on Eichman prior to his hiring and during his employment, it came back clean, said diocese officials, because Eichman had never been accused of sexual abuse before his arrest.

Faculty and parents contacted by the Maine Sunday Telegram declined to comment. Victim impact statements filed in court have been redacted to remove any information that could identify the victims or their families.

SERIES OF LEADERSHIP CHANGES

But the Rev. Tom Murphy, pastor of the parish that includes the school, said Eichman’s arrest added to a period of upheaval for the school.

He said a majority of the parents of the students in the school are non-Catholics and view it as a private school, rather than a parochial school, and have competing desires for how much the school should invest in various facilities and programs. An advisory parent board had just been disbanded in 2016, Murphy said.

The school has since had two interim principals before Forti was chosen as a permanent replacement, Murphy said. It’s also working toward reinstating the advisory board, he said, with a focus on members who can help with fundraising and promotion of the school.

“I pulled the plug on it with a view to structure it better and reform it,” Murphy said of the advisory panel.

St. John’s is now trying to focus on the future, Murphy said, with the goal of increasing financial support and boosting enrollment. Fewer than 100 students currently attend the K-8 school, he said.

The school is also in the midst of a $4.7 million expansion, building an events center and gymnasium, which Murphy said has been sorely missed. Older students, in particular, often opt to move into public schools because they offer more athletic programs, he said.

With new facilities, a new principal and a new parent advisory board, Murphy said, he’s hopeful that St. John’s can get a fresh start now that Eichman is sentenced and in prison.

“We need to clear the air and get a clean slate,” he said.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]