Worcester thieves ‘violate’ Vernon Hill church

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Thieves broke into Our Lady of Czestochowa Church on Vernon Hill over the weekend, ransacking portions of the building and stealing thousands of dollars in electronic equipment and other items.

Police are investigating the theft, which parish officials said occurred early Saturday morning. Parishioners were alerted to the incident by the Rev. Ryszard Polek, church pastor, at weekend Masses.

Rev. Polek discovered the break when he opened up the church for the 6:30 a.m. Mass on Saturday, July 2. Church officials believe the break took place between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Saturday.

“I am so heartbroken,” said Rev. Polek, who marked his second year as church pastor on the day of the break. “It was a really sad day.”

The intruders gained entrance to the facility by breaking a basement window and making their way through the downstairs kitchen area and the church hall before climbing a set of stairs to the sacristy and the church nave.

Parishioners expressed relief that none of the church’s sacred items, including the statues and paintings, were damaged.

“Frankly, someone came in and violated us,” said Donald Courtney a former Worcester Fire lieutenant, who serves on the parish council. “I’m steaming.”

The thieves stole a projector and several microphones, among the items.

A metal stand filled with votive candles was also smashed by the intruders in an attempt to get money from the enclosed and locked donation box. John Kania, parish sacristan [like a sexton, someone who looks after a church, or parts of it], said the thieves got little or no money from the box because he had emptied it of contributions the night before.

Full cost estimates of the damage and lost items were not available, though the candle stand, which was manufactured in Ireland, cost $2,400. The projector was worth at least $500, an official said.

The kitchen also was damaged.

The church, established by Polish immigrants in the early 20th century, is located at 34 Ward St. and abuts the eastbound lanes of Interstate 290 near Kelley Square.

Parishioners had been preparing to install a set of surveillance cameras to prevent break-ins.

The church is relatively easy to get into because it is isolated on the side near the highway.

In the early 1970s, gunmen robbed the then pastor, Msgr. Charles Chwalek, during a daylight stick-up at the rectory. Years later, a painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa was stolen during a break. The art was later recovered.

Police have promised to step up patrols in the area as a result of the incident. Parishioners and area residents are invited to discuss the incident at a church council meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 7.

Courtney, who learned about the break from a phone call by Rev. Polek at about 6:50 a.m. Saturday, is advising parishioners to keep an eye on the property and to immediately call police, if they see something suspicious.

He and others are hoping that someone in the neighborhood might have some information to help police.

“As they say, ‘loose lips sink ships,’ “ Courtney said.

Rev. Polek said he was appreciative of the support by parishioners and church friends. After the 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday, someone gave him a $250 check.

Over the weekend, yellow police crime tape prevented individuals from entering the cafeteria. In the nave the candle stand was covered by a blue tarpaulin, and broken glass and wax littered the floor. A sign on a nearby kneeler said police were expected to take fingerprints.

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