“The MPD (Milwaukee Police Department) fears another parish/school may be hit this coming weekend, so please be vigilant. Make sure all doors are locked and all items secured.”
Incident reports from the Milwaukee Police Department state that the St. Patrick Parish robbery which left several doors and a cabinet door destroyed, as well as money missing from a cabinet drawer, occurred April 17, while Our Lady of Lourdes Parish was targeted May 6, and Blessed Sacrament Parish and parish school were hit May 15.
The incident report for Our Lady of Lourdes Parish said that the thief or thieves “used an unknown type of pry tool to case knife the north office door to the church office, enter, and pry open several file cabinets obtaining approximately $50 in U.S. currency.” A representative at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish declined to comment about the incident when contacted by your Catholic Herald.
The Blessed Sacrament Church incident report stated that money was stolen from the brass donation or poor boxes that were pried open. The parish school report listed $10 in stolen money, but noted that the door was forced open and cabinets, closets and desk drawers were pried open.
Fr. Robert Turner, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, said that the maintenance man called the police after discovering the robberies when he opened the church and school Monday, May 16.
“Somehow they jimmied the door open in the church, and then they got in that way, but to get into the school, we have a tunnel door which joins the buildings together and they actually broke down that wooden, tunnel door,” Fr. Turner told your Catholic Herald in an interview Tuesday. “They got into the school and went directly to the school office, didn’t do anything else, like they knew exactly where to go and they broke down the office door of the secretary, the office (door) to the principal’s office and a locked nurse’s room where there (are) different records which are kept and so on.”
Fr. Turner said he doesn’t allow any money to be left in the school overnight, and while there was vandalism done to the room, equipment and computers were left intact.
“We assume that there were some things taken, and we’ve alerted people to the fact that it happened and there’s been nothing – nothing has happened since,” he said. “We assume that, again, they were searching for money. I think when they went through things, they just disregarded any papers that were there.”
Fr. Turner said that four of the eight donation boxes at the church were broken into and completely damaged, and that anywhere from about $100 to $200 may have been stolen.
“We’re no longer, now, going to have poor boxes on the wall – to avoid temptation,” he said, explaining that the church will pay to have the boxes removed and replaced with something decorative. “We’re going to come up with another system of giving.”
Fr. Turner said multiple changes will be made to the parish and school.
“I’ve ordered to have a metal door put in (instead of wood), and we’re getting different locks and deadbolts, and I’m having bars put on some of the windows of the rectory and also I’m getting an alarm system put into the church and the school, the school office and also the rectory,” he said, admitting that the changes will cost them “but we have to do it.”
He advises other parishes and parish schools to do the same.
“My suggestion also would be to have it well-lighted outside…” Fr. Turner said, which is something Blessed Sacrament had already installed before the robberies occurred. “We have new lights – much brighter ones – because light is a deterrent, too.”
Jesuit Fr. Jose Moreno, pastor of St. Patrick Parish, said his parish has also had incidents of robbery before – the parish garage and car were broken into a few years ago, and more recently the garage was broken into and the snow blower stolen – but this is the first time that someone broke into the rectory. And like Fr. Turner, Fr. Moreno said the trail the intruder or intruders made makes him think they knew where to go.
Fr. Moreno called police early April 18 after discovering wood debris littering the floor on his way to warm up water for a cup of coffee. He said he talked with police and concluded that someone may have stayed in the church after the 6 p.m. Sunday Mass, when they then smashed the frame of the door that connects the church to the rectory, destroyed the door to the office and stole about $2,900, collected from weddings, baptisms and other celebrations, that had been in the drawer.
“We’ve done many things, my friend, because I got scared,” Fr. Moreno said of the actions taken immediately after the incident. His fear, he explained, came from realizing that if the thief or thieves stayed after church until everyone left, people could have been harmed – like the parishioners who sell rosaries and other items after Mass.
“(It’s) just a little thing, but they have to put everything away so they stay alone, the two women, and then they check that all the lights are off and everything is OK, and then they leave. So, what’s really scary is that I mean whoever was in church could have done something to them,” he said.
Fr. Moreno said beyond fixing the damages, they now have men stay to double check the church areas and to ensure doors are locked, and they have installed a lock to the choir loft to prevent anyone from hiding there, secured safe boxes in the offices so that no money is left out and installed motion lights to alert them of intruders.
Fr. Moreno advises members of other parishes to take precautions to prevent an incident like what happened at St. Patrick, though insurance did recover some of the stolen funds and pay for damages, less the parish’s $1,000 deductible.
“My main advice is never leave money on the counters or anyplace, (put it) in the safe or in a place where it is safe. Now, we have safes everywhere….” he said. “And especially, check, because churches are so big and there are so many places where people can hide.”
As of press time Tuesday, your Catholic Herald could not obtain information on the incident that occurred at St. Matthias Parish School.