California nun Mary Margaret Kreuper was sentenced to one year and one day in prison on Monday after she confessed to stealing over $800,000 from a Catholic elementary school in Torrance, Calif. The elderly nun was a former principal of the school and admitted to using the money for gambling and credit card expenses.

Along with her one year in prison, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II ordered that Mary Margaret Kreuper pay back $825,388 in restitution. The California nun originally stole over $835,339 from St. James Catholic School.

“I have sinned, I’ve broken the law and I have no excuses,” Kreuper said via teleconference. “My actions were in violation of my vows, my commandments, the law and, above all, the sacred trust that so many had placed in me. I was wrong and I’m profoundly sorry for the pain and suffering I’ve caused so many people.”

Kreuper, who became a nun when she was 18 years old took a vow of poverty when she entered the service. Her lawyers argued that the 80-year-old recently became mentally ill and it caused her to steal the money.

The 80-year-old was originally charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering back in July 2021. At the time, the prosecution was recommending 24 months of prison along with three years of supervised release.

According to Judge Wright, he struggled to hand out an appropriate punishment for Kreuper because of how great a teacher she was. The California nun retired in 2018 and had spent over 30 years with the school district.

Mary Margaret Kreuper California nun
Mary Margaret Kreuper was sentenced to one year in prison after she stole over $800,000 from St. James Catholic School. The California nun must pay the money back. (Credit: St. James Catholic Church)

According to court documents, Kreuper admitted to stealing the money from 2008 to 2018. The money, which came from donations, school tuition and fees, was used for gambling trips to Las Vegas and other areas in Southern California.

School officials say that Kreuper was in charge of collecting tuition money and had control of the school’s bank account, credit union account, and a separate account for the nuns’ living expenses. Mary Margaret Kreuper would divert money from all three of these accounts into her personal account.

She also asked students’ parents to donate to the school because they were running low on funds. Annual tuition for St. James Catholic School is $6,000. Prosecutors argued in court that the California nun stole over $83,000 a year, which was equal to about 14 students’ tuitions.

During her trial, the California nun said she falsified reports and told the school that everything was OK. It wasn’t until a school audit when Kreuper was caught. The prosecution argued that the former principal convinced staffers to destroy financial documents.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Poonam Kumar spoke about the nun’s actions and said, “This was really an abuse of position of trust, right. She was the principal. She was running the school that these parents had chosen to send their children [to], and not just for the academics. Many of the letters I cited … and many of the people who spoke, talked about wanting something more from their children’s education.”

According to reports, many parents of St. James students sent letters to the judge and pleaded with him to give the former principal a lighter sentence. Kevin Kearns said that he is using this as a teachable moment for his son.

He told the Los Angeles Times, “The church tells us to forgive those who have trespassed against us. I’ve used this to teach my son that we’re all human, we all make mistakes, but the power of forgiveness is the most powerful tool that we have.”

Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, where Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper is a member, released a statement saying they were praying for the California nun and those who were affected by her crimes.