Parishioners Recall Priest and Suspected Killer

| October 25, 2009

Parishioners at the New Jersey church of a popular Roman Catholic priest who was stabbed to death in his rectory last week on Sunday remembered fondly both the victim and the unlikely suspect who the authorities said had confessed to the crime — a 64-year-old janitor at the church.

The janitor, Jose Feliciano, of Easton, Pa., was described as a warm, friendly family man who often played with parish children, parishioners at St. Patrick’s Church in Chatham, N.J., said after morning Masses on Sunday.

Mr. Feliciano admitted to stabbing the pastor, the Rev. Edward Hinds, 61, during a quarrel on Friday evening, wounding him 32 times and leaving his body on the kitchen floor, according to the Morris County prosecutor’s office. He pretended to discover the body the following day with a church deacon and even made a half-hearted attempt at CPR, said the prosecutor, Robert A. Bianchi. Mr. Feliciano has been charged with first-degree murder. A motive remains unclear.

The Rev. Owen Moran, a former assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s who celebrated the Sunday Masses, asked for support for the janitor.

“We pray in a very special way for Jose, a prayer of hope and consolation,” he said. “The Father Ed we know would forgive Jose. Father Ed probably did forgive him before he died.”

Mr. Feliciano began working at St. Patrick’s in 1992, after moving to the area from Puerto Rico, parishioners said. He moved to Pennsylvania several years after that. In 1996, he was baptized after completing a class at the parish. He has two children, a daughter in the eighth grade at St. Patrick’s school, and a son who graduated from the grammar school and is now in high school, Father Moran said. Both children were undergoing grief counseling, he added.

“They have a very important place in the community of St. Patrick’s, and they always will,” he said during one Mass. “They are innocent victims of this. This is their parish.”

Parishioners left the church in tears, and outside, expressed a disbelief that seemed to be unanimous.

“This is a good man,” said Maureen Haggerty, a former trustee at the church, referring to Mr. Feliciano. “Whatever happened, maybe it will become clear someday.”

The janitor was particularly good with children, friends said. “Jose was a nice man,” said Lily Garrison. “His kids grew up with mine. I know him and his wife. There’s just evil in the world — what can I say?”

Just last week, Mr. Feliciano was seen cheering up a teary-eyed preschool boy, playing with his hat. “He would sing, dance and fool around with the kids,” said Michele Fischer, 42. “He was a jovial soul.”

Mr. Feliciano confessed to the killing in a written affidavit, prosecutors said. In the affidavit, he said that he and Father Hinds were arguing in the rectory at 5 p.m. on Thursday. He then got a knife and stabbed the priest, according to the affidavit.

Afterward, he cleaned the scene with rags and paper towels and took them, with Father Hinds’ cellphone, back home to Easton, the police said. The police later tracked the cellphone to Easton.

Mr. Feliciano and a deacon went into the rectory after Father Hinds did not show up for 8 a.m. Mass on Friday morning. After attempting CPR, Mr. Feliciano looked up and said, “There’s nothing we can do,” the police said.

Another parishioner, Dr. Neal T. Collins, an oncologist, said he wondered if Mr. Feliciano had suffered some sort of head injury or brain tumor, provoking the attack. “He was much more than a janitor,” said Dr. Collins, 50. “He was like family.”

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Category: Church Security

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