Franciscan trainee charged in gunshot slaying of Ohio priest

AP, Dec. 9, 2002
PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

A man recently dropped from a training program to become a Franciscan brother was charged Monday in the slaying of a Roman Catholic priest who was shot to death and burned in a rectory fire, police said.

Daniel Montgomery, 37, had been training to be an assistant at the priest’s parish but not to conduct religious rites. He was charged with murder and arson, Police Chief Edward Lohn said.

Investigators have not given a motive for the killing of the Rev. William Gulas, 68, pastor of St. Stanislaus Church for nine years.

Montgomery was in the seventh year of an internship to become a Franciscan brother, or parish assistant, when the order’s head of training traveled from Chicago last week to tell him that he was being fired, said the Rev. Thomas Luczak, an official with the Franciscans.

Montgomery had been transferred from Chicago to St. Stanislaus this summer. Gulas reported on Montgomery’s performance but did not conduct or discuss a review with him, Luczak said. Luczak also said it was clear Montgomery was not suited to be a brother, but did not give specifics.

Gulas was shot once in the chest and struck on the head Saturday before the fire was set, the coroner said. His body was found inside his first-floor office.

Montgomery had spoken with television reporters Saturday as authorities removed Gulas’ body from St. Stanislaus.

“The flames were that high, I could not do anything,” Montgomery, who was comforting parishioners outside, told the media. “I couldn’t hear him, he was probably overcome by the flames by the time I got there.”

Franciscan spokesman Ned Whelan said Montgomery had been an assistant with St. Stanislaus since the summer.

“He was doing a variety of tasks — elementary, fundamental tasks — housekeeping to helping out at the parish house,” Whelan said.

Church members said Montgomery attended Mass on Sunday. He was arrested Monday and jailed pending an arraignment scheduled for Tuesday; it couldn’t immediately be determined if he had obtained an attorney.

The fire caused an estimated $50,000 damage to the church, which was dedicated in 1891 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gulas came to St. Stanislaus in 1993. He was previously pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Saginaw, Mich.

Parishioners said Gulas was a beloved pastor who led a recent $1.5 million campaign to renovate the church and was helping to rehabilitate the working-class, residential neighborhood.

City Councilman Edward Rybka, a member of St. Stanislaus Church, called the slaying “incomprehensible.”

“He was a good, holy person who cared about other people and for him to be the victim of an incident like that at a holy place during a holy time of the year demonstrates the mind of a person who lacked respect for life,” he said.

Mass at St. Stanislaus is sometimes celebrated in Polish, since about a third of the 1,500 parishioner speak the language. Lech Walesa, former president of Poland, spoke there in 1999.

Hundreds of parishioners gathered for a prayer vigil outside the church in bitter cold Monday evening.

“The light of hope is always here, here at St. Stanislaus,” Mayor Jane Campbell said.

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