Holiday Heist: DePaul parish adds security measures after burglary
January 9, 2023
A Christmas time burglary left the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Lincoln Park with thousands lost in donations from Sunday and Christmas Day mass collections.
On Monday, Dec. 26, an unidentified male broke into the parish office and church sacristy around 8 p.m. The perpetrator was seen leaving the building at 8:16 p.m., according to the church’s lead pastor, Fr. Joseph Williams. Williams said the burglar obtained this information from security footage acquired from DePaul University’s Public Safety officers.
Because the church staff had Monday off for Christmas celebrations, the burglary was not discovered until Tuesday morning when the maintenance crew entered the building. Shortly after, the maintenance team contacted DePaul security and then Chicago police to file an official report of the incident.
“Within an hour of calling DePaul security, they were able to get footage of [the individual] walking out the back and a clear image of his face,” said Jennifer Olson, the director of operations for St. Vincent de Paul Church.
According to Williams, the burglar accessed the safe where the parish keeps the Christmas collection and took an estimated $10,000 in donations and a small amount of money from the church sacristy used for candle funds.
Fr. Chris Robinson, a religious studies instructor at DePaul University and one of the first people on site after the burglary, said it is still unclear how the perpetrator was able to enter the parish office.
“[A] window into the Center on the south side of the building, facing Webster Avenue, seems to be [the] most likely [point of entrance],” Robinson said.
Robinson said he was on site Tuesday morning working closely with DePaul Public Safety and the Chicago Police Department, since Williams was away at the time.
Although none of the outside doors and windows were damaged, the perpetrator broke through multiple doors inside the parish office to access the safe, according to Williams.
“They broke through two doors to get into the office,” Williams said. “We need to rethink our security.”
After the recent burglary, the church plans on adding security measures to deter future theft.
“We have this assumption that we are safe, and you realize when something like this happens, people can get in,” Olson said.
According to Williams, the church is going to invest in front lights, cameras among other security measures.
“We’re definitely going to work toward getting cameras in the front of the rectory and really as a deterrent,” Olson said. “I think he must have known there weren’t cameras there. He knew he could get in without being watched and there were no fingerprints so he was definitely wearing gloves.”
To recover lost funds from the burglary, church parishioners decided to start a GoFundMe fundraiser. The goal was set to $10,000, but according to Olson, the church exceeded this goal within 24 hours of starting the GoFundMe Tuesday, Dec. 27.
“Saint Vincent de Paul Parish was prompted to launch a GoFundMe page because Christmas collections are traditionally greater than the usual Sunday collections or offertory,” Robinson said. “In other words, the theft meant the church community lost both Christmas and Sunday. This is a hard hit.”
Now, over a week later, the church has raised over $18,000 in donations, $8,000 more than the original goal.
“We are so totally and completely overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from people,” Olson said. “Many of those donations were anonymous.”
The extra funds raised from the GoFundMe will go toward outreach programs, building maintenance and new security measures Olson said.
To Williams, the donations are much needed after the pandemic caused financial instability due to reduced mass attendance and therefore, fewer offerings than usual.
“That was a real blessing,” Williams said. “Our parish has been struggling since Covid to get back to normal. We’re not quite back to normal so we’ve been running a deficit, a small one, but nonetheless a deficit from our budget. So, this [money] will help a lot.”
Despite the financial losses from the burglary, parishioners are maintaining a positive outlook on the situation.
“Certainly in this case, the good has outweighed the bad,” Olson said.
According to Olson, none of the church staff recognized the perpetrator from camera footage.
“We didn’t recognize him. Other than his picture and what time he left the building, we have no other explanation on him,” Olson said.
The investigation is still ongoing and police have yet to identify a suspect.