Father Robert Keighron thought the chalice – a special gift from his parents, in keeping with tradition – would be something he’d have for the rest of his life, but thieves apparently thought otherwise.
The priest at St. Helen’s in Howard Beach told The Courier that the Roman Catholic church was broken into sometime between noon on Thursday, February 25 and 6 a.m. Friday, February 26.
It was on Friday morning that Monsignor Al LoPinto opened the church and discovered that the innermost doors had been forcibly opened, though there was “minimal damage.”
The poor box was dismantled and its contents were removed, though there is no way to know how much was inside before the robbery. The doorknob to the sacristy door was broken and three locked cabinets inside appeared to have been forced open. There were a number of chalices in the sacristy, but only two were stolen, they say.
“The chalice that was stolen was given to me on my ordination day by my parents and family,” said Keighron. “It was designed by me, and custom made for me in the Netherlands, and was valued at about $10,000.”
The other chalice stolen, belonging to the monsignor, was out in the open, on a countertop, already having been laid out for 7 a.m. mass.
There was also an amount of cash stolen from a blue bag in one of the lockers. Keighron figures it was probably less than $100.
“The robbers probably had a familiarity with churches in general and this church in particular, though the sacristy is open most mornings and even a cursory look during mass would let someone know that we store valuable things there,” ventured Keighron
He continued, “I didn’t feel the loss on Friday, but when I told my parents, it was sad.” He explained that the chalice serves as a reminder of the family and how they helped. “I’ve used it every Sunday since I’ve been a priest, about four and-a-half years. When I used another chalice on Saturday night, it hit me how much it meant to me.”
Keighron went on, “The other chalice was given to Monsignor Lo Pinto about five years ago by a former parishioner, during a pilgrimage they were taking in Rome.”
LoPinto said that the burglary has left them with a “sense that the place has been invaded, and it does make you very suspicious.”
“It was a shock to find that the place was broken into,” he continued. “It was extremely upsetting that Father Keighron’s chalice was stolen, it was a gift from his parents, and I know how special that is to someone. I didn’t even realize that my chalice had been taken until the early afternoon.”
Existing security at the church, said Keighron is a set of cameras that “need to be placed in more appropriate locations, to catch the right things and make sure that there aren’t any blind spots.”
Both men of the cloth agree that, in light of the incident, the security at St. Helen’s must be increased.
“We now have to make the place as secure as we can; it almost makes you feel that you’re living in a prison,” said LoPinto, who met with a security company to discuss ways to further secure the church on Monday, March 1. “It takes away some sense of freedom that you had.”
He continued, “It (added security) also adds a lot of cost, and that takes resources away for where you’d like to use them. It’s money that could have been used in the service of people. It also inhibits people’s use of the church. We have an elderly population here, and there’s a lot of anxiety among them, they felt free to come as they pleased, but now they’re more apprehensive.”
For now, they are closing the church after the sacristan leaves for the day, usually by noon.
“It raises anxiety in the neighborhood,” said LoPinto. “[People feel] If they did that to the church, how safe is my home?”
Keighron’s chalice is described by police as silver with four figures engraved – Mary, Joseph, Peter and Paul. At the base of the chalice is a black onyx stone; at the bottom is a Celtic cross engraved and under the cross is a Latin saying which is “Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei” ("This is the cup of my blood").
If you have any information regarding this case, contact the 106th Precinct Detective Squad at 718-845-2260.