Break-in at church won’t stop celebration

| February 14, 2010

Greenwood’s oldest Catholic church doesn’t plan to let a Friday night break-in put a damper on the celebration today of its 100th anniversary.

“They didn’t get anything important,” said the Rev. Jason Welle as he surveyed the scene Saturday morning at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. “Everything we need for the rededication is still here. Most importantly, our love for the church is still here.”

Welle, who was ordained last month, is one of the priests who will be on hand this afternoon for a special Mass celebrated by Bishop Jo-seph Latino to consecrate the recently refurbished church’s new altar.

Church members discovered Saturday morning that the church on West Washington Street had been broken into sometime after 7 the night before. The unknown intruders gained entrance by knocking out one of the stained glass windows. Once inside, they broke into a locked vesting room and ransacked drawers and cabinets throughout the church.

Police were called to the scene, where they dusted for fingerprints. The only items that appeared to be missing were a compact disc player and a lavalier microphone.

The church keeps no money in the building, said Bill Hughes, pastoral associate at Immaculate Heart.

After the initial shock, several church members said they were gratified the damage caused by the intruders wasn’t worse.

“We’re fortunate that they didn’t destroy the inside of the church,” said Laura Stainback.

Stainback was one of more than a dozen women who had spent the prior day polishing the pews, vacuuming the carpet and generally making the church look pristine for today’s anniversary.

Many of those same women were back Saturday putting the interior back in order — vacuuming up the muddy tracks left by the intruders, sweeping up the debris and trying to erase most of the signs of what had earlier brought some of them to tears.

“It’s just like someone hit me in the stomach,” said Alice Barth, who rebuilt the front altar that is being consecrated by the bishop today. She and her husband, Barry, volunteered hundreds of hours building speakers’ stands and restoring artifacts during the church’s $800,000 construction project.

“You get tired of getting broken into time after time,” said Barry Barth. “We’re going to have to start putting fencing up, burglar alarms. Maybe that will do the trick.”

The church and its adjoining facilities have been burglarized or vandalized several times in recent years. The incidents had at one time prompted the church to consider moving, but its leaders decided to stay put and invest in the location where it was founded a century ago.

Immaculate Heart of Mary today has about 210 families, most of whom are expected to be on hand for the 3 p.m. Mass and reception that follows. Hughes said a number of former parishioners as well as former pastors are also expected to attend.

Josephine Leflore said the church has been a main part of her life for 80 years. She was baptized in it, married in it and commemorated her 50th wedding anniversary in it. Today she will be in the choir, where she started singing at age 16. As she helped with Saturday’s cleanup, she said a prayer of thanks to the church’s namesake that the situation wasn’t more dire.

“I just thanked the blessed mother for looking out for us,” Leflore said.

Welle, the Franciscan priest, said he will be telling parishioners to pray for whoever committed the burglary.

“I feel really bad for that guy,” he said. “What goes on in the mind of a person who breaks into a church?”

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Category: Church Security

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