Jennifer Neville, Special to The Catholic Virginian

 

Sacred items, which will cost several thousand dollars to replace, were stolen from St. John Nepomuceme Catholic Church, Dinwiddie, in late July.

Stolen were an Infant of Prague statue, monstrance, presider’s chalice, processional cross, two censors of incense, an antique wooden icon and a plastic statue of St. Peregrine. The items’ monetary worth is still being determined, but parishioner Ron Franzyshen said the items have “spiritual and personal value and are irreplaceable to many parishioners.”

For example, parishioner Patsy Root said the wooden antique icon from Czechoslovakia on which Mary and the infant Jesus were painted was at least 100 years old, and parishioners cherished the Infant of Prague statue which parishioners cloaked in liturgical colors each Church season.

“It’s a small parish, and a lot of parishioners have been here all of their lives,” Root said. “The stuff they stole means something to the community and it’s irreplaceable. My prayer is that they give the things back.”

No desecration, vandalism or intrusion on the Blessed Sacrament occurred in the robbery, said Father Joe Goldsmith, parish administrator, yet the robbery is bound to be upsetting to the approximately 100 families in the parish.

“I think it will be an unpleasant jolt to the parish community that our sacred space has been intruded upon,” Father Goldsmith said. “I don’t know if we can recover what was lost, but I hope we can have a conversation about the value of our sacred items and why the Eucharist is the most precious of all.”

Root feels that jolt.

“To me, it feels like someone broke into our home. It really does hurt your heart,” Root said. “The church belongs to the community. When something like this happens, it happens to all of us.”

Franzyshen and said the robbery “didn’t make sense.”

“What baffled us is they took certain things and didn’t take other things that may have been of monetary value,” said Franzyshen, who discovered the break-in two days later.

What really raises a question is why the plastic statue was taken, Father Goldsmith said.

Although Major William B. Knott, chief deputy of the Dinwiddie County sheriffs’ office, said there are no leads as of Friday, July 31, the types of the stolen goods may help the investigation.

 “The items are not ordinary like watches, rings or guns. They will stand out,” Knott said. “The items they took are unique which should raise a red flag to the pawnbrokers.”

Knott said that whenever someone brings in an item to sell, the pawnbroker must report it to law enforcement which enters it in a database of pawn-shop purchases from across the country.

Franzyshen noticed items missing when he made a routine visit to the church July 29 to replace the candle in the sanctuary. The break-in may have occurred Monday, July 27, because neighbors later offered potential clues. 

One spotted a grey SUV or van in the church parking lot around dusk and another reported seeing someone put items in a SUV or van in the parking lot, Root said. She explained that the neighbors did not call the sheriff’s office at the time because it is common for cars to be parked in the church parking lot where drivers/passengers say they get better phone service than at home.

Knott encourages anyone with any information about the theft to report it either to the Dinwiddie County sheriff’s office at 804-861-1212 or to Petersburg/Dinwiddie Crime Solvers via a form on the sheriff office’s website. Individuals can share the information anonymously. If law enforcement uses the information to make an arrest, the person may be eligible for up to a $1,000 reward.

“They can call in anything. No matter how insignificant a person thinks it is, we want that information.  Maybe it’s the link we are missing to be able to solve the case,” Knott said, adding that the sheriff’s office follows up on all leads.

“We take any break-in seriously, and want to solve it, but to me it is especially troubling that they took items from a place of worship,” said Knott. “We want to work with the church to find the items, give them back to the church and hold people accountable. We will work diligently to do that.”

Knott said investigators dusted the church for fingerprints and swabbed for DNA samples from the crime scene which they sent to a Virginia Department of Forensics lab in Richmond, but it may take a while to receive the results because the lab prioritizes cases with homicides bumping up to the top of the list, he said. The sheriff’s office will continue to investigate the crime as they look for witnesses and suspects.