Chatham priest found dead at church suffered ‘significant’ trauma, authorities say

| October 23, 2009

CHATHAM BOROUGH — The children from St. Patrick’s School in Chatham Borough had gathered in the adjoining church with a few other parishioners for this morning’s 8 a.m. Mass.

But 8 o’clock came and went and the Rev. Edward "Father Ed" Hinds, known to be so scrupulously punctual that he would ring a doorbell at the exact second he was expected, still wasn’t there.

Growing concerned, a church janitor went to the nearby rectory to see if anything was wrong. There, in the kitchen, he discovered Hinds, bloodied on the floor.

Hinds, 61, pastor at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church for the past six years, had been beaten to death, authorities said later. He was wearing his black clerical garb and collar when he was found, they said.

"This makes no sense," said a distraught Bishop Arthur Serratelli of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson. "There would be no reason for anyone to do this."

Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said Hinds died from severe trauma.

"There was a significant amount of … injury to the body," Bianchi said during a news conference at the church. He would not be more specific about the location or description of the injuries because, he said, he did "not want to taint the statements by witnesses."

"The fact is that this was a community leader whose arms were wide open to downtrodden," Bianchi said. "Maybe one of those individuals was involved. That kind of generosity is preyed upon."

No one has been arrested, and authorities would not discuss possible motives.

Hinds was last seen alive late Thursday, after a police-sponsored safety seminar at the school during which which young children were fingerprinted and photographed.

He was with his dog in the rectory kitchen and apparently was making coffee before he was killed, said Msgr. Kenneth Lasch, a retired priest and close friend who knew Hinds for four decades.

John Polanin, a trustee of St. Patrick’s Church who has been a parishioner since 1993, said his wife was among the congregants gathered for morning Mass.

He said his wife told him that after Hinds was discovered, a deacon, Joseph Wisneski, came out and told parishioners the service would not be held because Father Hinds "had an accident, and asked everyone to pray for him," Polanin said.

By the stricken look on Wisneski’s face, it was clear something was seriously wrong, his wife told him.

The school was closed and children were sent home.

Serratelli said the church, located on Washington Avenue, will hold Masses on its normal schedule today with another priest, the Rev. Owen Moran of St. Rose of Lima Church in East Hanover, officiating.

A down-to-earth priest who wore a straw hat to open air Masses, Hinds also served as chaplain for the local fire department. He was known for a golf shot that was straight and efficient — mirroring his practical nature off the links.

Hinds grew up in the Green Village section of Chatham and entered seminary at age 21, when he was sent by the Diocese to Rome for theological studies, Lasch said.
Chatham priest found dead at church

He was ordained at age 25, and Lasch believes he began as a priest’s associate at St. Patrick’s. In the late 1970s, Hinds worked as vice chancellor for the Paterson Diocese, which covers Morris, Sussex and Passaic counties, and later as secretary to former Bishop Frank Rodimer, Lasch said.

Hinds eventually became priest at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Boonton in 1989, and served there for 14 years until returning to St. Patrick’s in 2003.

He was planning to go to Rome in January to visit classmates from his seminar days at the Pontifical North American College, a school near the Vatican for highly regarded seminarians, said Arlene Conte, of Boonton, a longtime friend.

"He was an exceptional, exceptional man," she said. "He didn’t offend anybody. He didn’t take on issues, he didn’t use the pulpit to take on anything political. A lot of time he’d talk and he’d say, ‘Well where’s God in this?’ That’s the kind of man he was. It was always, ‘Where’s God in your life?’"

While at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Hinds oversaw various capital improvements undertaken for the church’s anniversary in 1997, including roof repairs, new stained glass doorways, new masonry and landscaping.

State Sen. Anthony Bucco, (R-Morris), a parishioner at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, knew Hinds well.

"It’s a sad day when people in our society start killing priests," Bucco said. "It makes you stop to think what has become of our society.

"I used to go to 6:30 a.m. Mass that he officiated every morning. He was very active, very people oriented, very much in love with his faith," he said.

Kenneth Mullaney, a lawyer who represents the Paterson Diocese, said Hinds was a well-regarded priest who had no complaints or history of disciplinary action against him.

Lasch called Hinds "a fine priest from head-to-toe."

"Ed was the kindest person; he was the essence of kindness and gentleness," he said. "Ed didn’t have any enemies. I couldn’t even imagine him having an enemy."

He also was punctual to a fault.

"I used to tease him. I said, ‘You’re the most on-time person I ever met," Lasch said.

Lasch said he obviously had not yet prepared a homily for his friend and colleague, but that it would likely focus on his simplicity.

"He was the essence of simplicity," Lasch said. "And he was a good preacher, so I’ll be trying to live up to his standards, which won’t be easy."

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