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Candlelight Vigil to be Held for Slain Priest

Monday, December 9, 2002 at 1:33 PM

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A candlelight vigil is scheduled today at 5:30 PM for a Cleveland priest who was killed Saturday. Police have arrested a suspect in connection with the death of a Cleveland priest, who was killed Saturday. The suspect's name is not being released, and no charges have been filed. But a spokeswoman with Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell's office reavealled the suspect is a seminarian. The community of Slavic Village has been shocked and saddened by the death of the pastor of St. Stanislaus church. He was found dead Saturday amid the remains of a fire. ideastream's Renita Jablonski has the story.

Renita Jablonski: Saturday was supposed to be the night of the annual St. Stanislaus Dad’s Club christmas party. Just before one o’clock that afternoon, Cleveland firefighters responded to a call for a fire at the church’s rectory. Father William Gulas was found dead in his office. As parishoners gathered around the church, they assumed it was an accident.

Unidentified Parishioner: We don’t have the details yet, but we’re aassuming it’s an electrical fire.

RJ: But the biggest shock was yet to come. The Cuyahoga County coroner’s office performed an autoposy on Gulas yesterday. It revealed that the 69-year old priest had been shot.

Jacqueline Lewis: The investigation is in its very early stages. We’re waiting for the more substantial finding from the coroner about the cause of death, but there was a bullet fragment of pellet found in Father Gulas in his upper torso.

RJ: Cleveland police Seargeant Jacqueline Lewis says the police are counting on neighrborhood residents for some direction.

More than a thousand people filled the 129-year-old church this weekend to mourn the loss of their pastor. Most sat in the pews crying. Others stared blankly. Parishoner Ben Stefanski says Gulas was as much of a leader in the community as he was in the church.

Ben Stefanski: He supported the school here - we have 300 children in the school. The parish was in debt $400,000 to the diocese. He not only paid that debt, but then he raised a million and a half to do the restoration of the interior of the church.

RJ: Gulas first came to St. Stanislaus in 1993. He led a campaign to restore the historic Gothic-style church to its original grandeur. The $1.5 million project was completed in 1998. Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell and Congressman Dennis Kucinich mourned along with parishoners. Both had worked with Gulas in efforts to revitalize the Slavic Village neighborhood.

Jane Campbell: There’s housing revitalization going on in this neighborhood. We’ve been together on a number of occasions. There is no question this will be a great loss for this community. And you could see how quickly people gathered, this enormous outpouring here.

Dennis Kucinich: This is a community of faith and a community with a strong ethnic tradition, and it’s very shaken by the loss of Father William, who was central to both of those important traditions.

RJ: Gulas, originally from Pennsylvania, was ordained in 1961. Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla says Gulas had extraordinary impact on those around him throughout his life as a Franciscan priest.

Anthony Pilla: It’s a personal relation, a great tender love between a father and his people. It’s hard for people to reconcile, to understand how a tragedy like this could occur, and it’s hard for them to reconcile that with the goodness of this man. It’s just a very human problem.

RJ: Homicide detectives and arson investigators will begin looking for answers today. A candlelight vigil to remember the Reverend William Gulas is planned for 5:30 this evening, outside of St. Stanislaus. In Cleveland, Renita Jablonski, 90.3.

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