Thursday, March 4, 2010

Church Break-in Shocks Parish Community

Chalice Stolen, Offering Box Looted

By Patricia Adams

The discovery of a break-in at St. Helen’s Church sometime between last Thursday afternoon and Friday morning has sent shock waves through the parish community and left one priest missing a valued treasure he’d hoped would be with him forever.

Father Rob Keighron says that despite the fact that a priest should always be filled with hope, he has serious doubt that the person who stole his one-of-a-kind chalice from a locked cabinet in the church’s sacristy will ever return the vessel. “It’s so disheartening and sad,” said Fr. Keighron, “and I just don’t have confidence that it will be returned to me.”

The chalice, a custom crafted art work, was made for Keighron by the Adrian Hamers Inc., the world’s leading manufacturer of church items for over 120 years. The chalice was a gift to the priest from his parents and siblings on the day of his ordination to the priesthood nearly four years ago.

“The chalice is a symbol of my religious life,” Keighron said. “In addition it came from my parents, my family-- and was given to me on the most special day of my life. It was something I knew I would have with me always to keep them close to me. Now it’s gone”

The chalice was created with representations depicting the symbolism of his vocation and has a large black onyx orb at the junction between the stem and the cup. “I chose the symbols on the chalice to signify the path of my calling as a priest and my religious life. Everything in the design represents my vocation and my love for the church.”

Detectives from the 106 are vigorously investigating the crime, pouring over surveillance videos from cameras around the
church and the school across the street. Inside sources say Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has instructed those handling the case that it is to be treated with the absolute highest priority.

Dozens of churchgoers lined up to offer their sympathy and support for the young parish priest after mass on Sunday. “I really am sickened by this,” said Justice August Agate, a lifetime St. Helen’s parishioner. “I am only hoping for everyone’s sake that whoever did this will realize the gravity of their crime and return this blessed chalice to Fr. Rob.” Others just shook their heads as they tried to comfort the man who at most times is comforting them.

On Friday morning, shortly after 6 am, Monsignor Alfred LoPinto went to open the church and found the premises had been vandalized. He called police and Fr. Rob at once to inform him that his chalice was missing.

Police believe the thief entered the church through the front door at some time during the snow storm on Thursday, toward the later part of the afternoon, possibly toward the evening. The door was broken into and in- side the church the offering box to the poor was ripped out of its slot on the wall. The door to the sacristy was forced open and the cabinets used to store valuables werebroken open.

“At first I didn’t really process it,” said Fr. Keighron. “I never leave the chalice in the sacristy. I only use it on Sundays and I keep it locked up in the rectory.” This was the first time, according to Fr. Keighron, that it was ever left in the sacristy.

One point that police and parishioners hope will get out to the thief is that the real value of the chalice is not in the precious metals used in its construction. “The real value is in the fact that this is a usable work of art and in the craftsmanship,” said Fr. Keighron. But the fact that the chalice has an estimated appraised value of more than $10,000 makes hopes a little dimmer that it will be returned.

According to Howard Beach jeweler Denis Croce who owns Marlowe Jewelers, the thief has in their possession something of great value to its owner but of little worth in the open market. “I am sure that whoever stole this chalice will come to realize very quickly that it’s not an item that you can just unload at a pawn shop or have melted down.” Croce explained that it would be extremely difficult for anyone to sell the item and that even if an unscrupulous dealer were located, the amount of money they would offer is nowhere near the estimated value of the chalice.

Now as Fr. Rob and his parishioners sit and wait in the hope that his chalice will be returned, plans are being made through insurance to replace the vessel. “The insurance company will pay for me to have a replacement, identical to that of the chalice that was stolen.” But he says it’s hardly the same.

“I will get something that looks exactly alike but it will not be the chalice I used to celebrate on the most important day of my life. It will not have come from my family and it will not be the chalice that I have used at every Sunday mass I have celebrated since becoming a priest. So no, it will not be the same. It will never be the same.”

The police are asking anyone with information to please call Crimestoppers at 1-800- 577-TIPS.

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