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Churchgoers mourn NJ priest found slain in rectory

Liz De La Torre

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From The Associated Press

CHATHAM, N.J. – A crowd of about 300 parishioners gathered for Saturday morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Church, a day after their pastor was found slain his clerical robes in the church rectory.

Churchgoers climbed over knee-high crime scene tape as police and church officials guided them into the school gym next to the Roman Catholic church in a light drizzle.

Once inside, many wiped away tears as church leaders remembered the Rev. Ed Hinds, saying he would have wanted parishioners to go on and find strength in their faith.

“We’re strong and we’re hope-filled, and we know we’ll get through this. We have each other, we have Christ, and we’re not afraid,” the Rev. Owen Moran said afterward. “The idea of Father Ed’s life is that he was planting seeds here in this parish for six years. And now the seeds must grow and continue the mission of Christ in this world.”

The 61-year-old Hinds was found dead at about 8 a.m. Friday after he failed to appear for morning Mass. Authorities say the priest’s work with the needy may have made him vulnerable but will not say whether they have a suspect.

Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi was tightlipped about the details of the crime, but said preliminary autopsy results confirm that Hinds was the victim of a homicide, the first violent death in Chatham since a 1990 manslaughter case.

Hinds appeared to be brewing a cup of coffee when he was killed.

“It makes absolutely no sense,” said Bishop Arthur Serratelli of the Diocese of Paterson.

No arrests had been made as of Friday night and Bianchi would not comment on whether any suspects have been identified in the death. He said several witnesses were being questioned.

The pastor was last seen alive around 11 p.m. Thursday, after a safety seminar at the church in which police fingerprinted and photographed young children.

“Until a suspect is caught, people should be hypervigilant,” Bianchi said, noting that Hinds’ injuries were significant.

Chatham is a New York City bedroom community of about 10,000 residents.

Hinds, who was born in nearby Morristown, had been at the parish since 2003, after serving at St. Michael Church in Netcong and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Boonton. He was ordained in 1974.

Following an early stint at St. Patrick’s, he went on to become the vice chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson and secretary to the bishop from 1978 to 1985.

Another service was scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday, a Mass that usually draws large crowds. The gathering of 300 at the morning service dwarfed the usual attendance of a few dozen.

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Churchgoers mourn NJ priest found slain in rectory