Churchgoers mourn NJ priest found slain in rectory

| October 24, 2009

CHATHAM, N.J. — Parishioners climbed over knee-high crime scene tape to enter Saturday morning Mass and remember the pastor they called "Father Ed," who authorities say had been slain in his clerical robes while brewing a cup of coffee in the rectory kitchen.

Police and church officials guided about 300 parishioners in a light drizzle into the school gym next to St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. Once inside, many wiped away tears as church leaders remembered the Rev. Ed Hinds, saying he would have wanted parishioners to go on and find strength in their faith.

"We're strong and we're hope-filled, and we know we'll get through this. We have each other, we have Christ, and we're not afraid," the Rev. Owen Moran told the Star-Ledger of Newark afterward. "The idea of Father Ed's life is that he was planting seeds here in this parish for six years. And now the seeds must grow and continue the mission of Christ in this world."

The 61-year-old Hinds was found dead at about 8 a.m. Friday after he failed to appear for morning Mass. Authorities say the priest's work with the needy may have made him vulnerable but will not say whether they have a suspect.

Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi was tightlipped about the details of the crime, but said preliminary autopsy results confirm that Hinds was the victim of a homicide, the first violent death in Chatham since a 1990 manslaughter case.

Hinds appeared to be brewing up a cup of coffee when he was killed.

Chatham is a New York City bedroom community of about 10,000 residents and Hinds was a familiar face to many there, especially those who live near the church.

Joe Korkuch is not a member of St. Patrick's parish, but said he spoke with Hinds almost every night as Hinds walked his dog, a cocker spaniel named Copper, through the neighborhood.

"We'll all be a lot better once the person that did this is arrested," Korkuch said Saturday while standing in his yard about a half-block from the church. "I was shocked and surprised. Father Hinds was a friendly guy. Everyone knew him."

Korkuch and others in the neighborhood say they've heard Hinds was killed with a knife, a report that police refused to comment on Saturday, referring all questions to the county prosecutor's office.

Pat Patello, 52, a member of the parish who lives a block from the church, says she deeply misses Hinds.

"It's so sad. I don't think this town will ever get over this, it really gets to the heart of the community," she said Saturday afternoon while walking her dog. "I'm so shocked and saddened … I'm used to seeing him out walking his dog every morning on my way to work. He always waved to me as I drove by."

No arrests had been made as of Saturday afternoon, and Bianchi would not comment on whether any suspects have been identified in the death. He said several witnesses were being questioned.

The pastor was last seen alive around 11 p.m. Thursday, after a safety seminar at the church in which police fingerprinted and photographed young children.

"Until a suspect is caught, people should be hypervigilant," Bianchi said, noting that Hinds' injuries were significant.

Hinds, who was born in nearby Morristown, had been pastor at the parish since 2003, after serving at St. Michael Church in Netcong and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Boonton. He was ordained in 1974.

Following an early stint at St. Patrick's, he went on to become the vice chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson and secretary to the bishop from 1978 to 1985.

Another service was scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday, a Mass that usually draws large crowds. The gathering of several hundred at the morning service dwarfed the usual attendance of a few dozen.

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Category: Church Security

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