Friday, December 13, 2002

Slain priest returns in coffin to church he served

Congregation gathers to mourn; funeral is today

By Paul Singer
The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - As bells rang Thursday, clergy, parishioners and police escorted the body of a slain Roman Catholic priest to the historic church where he had been shot days earlier and then burned in a rectory fire.

Eight pallbearers carried the coffin of the Rev. William Gulas from the hearse into St. Stanislaus Church as the congregation and residents of the Slavic Village neighborhood gathered to remember him.

Parishioner Kim Ludwig, 42, had tears in her eyes after the brief prayer service, which was said in English and Polish.

"Earth wasn't good enough for him. There is no one who can do the things he did," Ms. Ludwig said, remembering his appearances at parishioners' birthday parties and other events.

At an afternoon prayer service, auxiliary Bishop Roger Gries urged about 200 priests, nuns and lay people to carry forward Father Gulas' good works.

"Father Willy has been rewarded for a wonderful life," Bishop Gries said. "He now touches the face of God."

Franciscans preach peace and work among the poor in the tradition of Francis of Assisi. Many of the priests at the prayer service wore the traditional plain brown robes and open-toed sandals of the order, despite the snow melting on the sidewalks.

As Bishop Gries was speaking, workers next door hammered shingles onto the damaged roof of the rectory. Broken windows from the fire have been boarded up.

Father Gulas, 68, was found dead Saturday. A coroner said he had been shot in the chest and hit in the head.

A Franciscan brother in training, Daniel Montgomery, 37, has pleaded innocent to the shooting and arson. A police report filed in court Monday said he admitted the killing in writing.

Ms. Ludwig said she met Mr. Montgomery for the first time on Sunday as he comforted parishioners upset by the loss of the priest.

"He hugged me and my son and my husband," she said. "When I found out it was him, I wanted to burn my clothes."

Mr. Montgomery was in his seventh year of training and was told Nov. 28 that he would be dismissed effective Wednesday from his church internship. The Plain Dealer has reported that a key reason was his use of foul language at the church's elementary school.

Father Gulas' funeral is today at the church. He is to be buried in Wisconsin.

During the funeral procession Thursday, people stood in clusters on the sidewalk to watch officers on horseback and in cars lead a hearse for four blocks past modest homes and storefronts.

Flowers, notes and green construction-paper wreaths cut from the outlines of children's hands hung on a metal fence outside the rectory. One note, which appeared to be penned by a child, read, "We Love You."

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