Diocesan churches fight vandalism, theft

CHARLESTON — Two diocesan parishes were victims of crime in this joyous season.

St. Mary Church in Charleston will continue to keep its doors open during the day, although special precautions will be taken regarding the church’s silver altar crucifix, which was stolen and then returned to the parish last week.

The 20-pound crucifix was believed stolen sometime on Dec. 1, while the church building is in the midst of an ongoing restoration project. After determining over the weekend that the crucifix had not been removed for cleaning, Charleston police were notified and the search for the object began. Media attention was given to the effort through The Post and Courier newspaper and local television outlets. After a Dec. 8 front-page article appeared in The Post and Courier, a downtown antiques dealer contacted Charleston police, saying he had purchased the crucifix the previous week for $15. Although the exact age or value of the crucifix is not known, similar objects cost between $10,000 to $20,000 in religious item catalogs, said Gary Malec, maintenance supervisor at St. Mary’s. However, added Malec, that estimate did not take into account the age and history of the stolen crucifix.

The crucifix was returned undamaged to St. Mary’s on Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. As a security precaution, the crucifix will be removed from the altar following each Mass, said Malec. Efforts could possibly include placing the crucifix in a glass case, or perhaps bolting it to the altar.

Police continue to search for the man who sold the crucifix to the antique shop.

St. Joseph Church in Columbia sustained $10,000 to $12,000 in damage the evening of Dec. 5, when a man who had attended the 5:30 p.m. Mass began ransacking the church following the liturgy.

According to Msgr. Charles Rowland, pastor, damage was inflicted to marble floor squares around the altar area, the Paschal candle, the handcarved lector stand and candle holders, and the metal Advent wreath, which will be repaired in Italy.

The handbell table was overturned, resulting in the destruction of several handbells, and stones were thrown at the crucifix and tabernacle.

Msgr. Rowland was eventually able to jostle the man outside of the church as people who had attended the Mass locked the doors behind them, denying re-entry into the building.

When police arrived Msgr. Rowland requested that the man not be arrested, but instead taken for psychiatric evaluation, where he currently remains.

Msgr. Rowland and Father C. Thomas Miles, parochial vicar at St. Joseph’s, have visited the hospital where the man is being held. The pastor said that the man’s relatives have expressed their regrets over his actions.

“Our biggest concern is that he gets the help he needs,” said Msgr. Rowland. “We’ve let him know that he’s been forgiven.”