LAKE GENEVA, WI – I recently emailed my April 29 Catholic Exchange article “The Haunting Unsolved Murder of Fr. Kunz” (a version of which appeared April 4 at The Published Reporter) to various Catholic bishops and priests.
Readers may recall that on the morning of March 4, 1998, the staunchly pro-life Kunz, a canon law expert who celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass as well as the Novus Ordo Mass, was found brutally murdered in the hallway of the school attached to his parish, St. Michael, in Dane, Wisconsin. His throat had been cut.
Several prominent clergymen responded to my email and article as follows.
- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey: “I read with interest your article on the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz. I hope your work helps bring his murderer to justice.”
- Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison, Wisconsin: “Thank you very much for writing this and sharing it with me. The unresolved nature of Father’s murder leaves troubling questions but his legacy is one of spiritual fruit and conversion, I believe.”
- Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago, Illinois: “Thanks for this. Fellow canon lawyers and I remember our collaboration with Father Kunz over the many years and how upset we were and have been with his unsolved murder. Thanks too for the profound reflection of Father Heilman. His message still rings with relevance.”
- Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, California: “Interesting story. I knew nothing about this poor murdered priest. I taught Rick Heilman at Mundelein Seminary and remember him fondly. The von Hildebrands were, of course, right about the loss of the supernatural.”
- Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee: “Very sad article. The year I entered seminary in 1979, an elderly priest was robbed and killed by two teenagers. He was the longtime pastor of the Shrine of St. Joseph in St. Louis. It was a church in great disrepair and the place of a recognized miracle. Now it is restored and stunning! May they both [the St. Louis priest and Kunz] be at peace. Blessings and again thanks for sharing!”
- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota: “I remembered [Kunz’s] story in broad brushstrokes….I’m a fan of Father Heilman from his work on Relevant Radio and in men’s ministry, and I deeply appreciate the point he expressed in his reflection….These are challenging times in the world, in the Church, and in the archdiocese.”
- Father James Martin, S.J.: “May he rest in peace.”
I truly appreciated hearing back from these clergymen — a few of whom, I might add, almost certainly would not agree with some of the commentaries I’ve written, and may continue to write, over the years.
Another reflection comes from Catholic attorney Peter B. Kelly, who was a friend of Kunz:
My favorite story I heard from Father [Kunz] himself. It was the story about his own ‘personal saint’ to whom Father would pray for special intercession with Our Lord. Back when Father was an assistant pastor at St. Victor’s parish here in Monroe, Wisconsin, he would make regular visits to patients in the local hospital. There was an African-American man on a rather long-term hospital stay there. He was in a terminal condition.
The man was not Catholic. In fact, he was never baptized into any denomination. That meant to Father that he had a soul to save. Father would stop into the man’s room on a regular basis and, in a friendly manner, would ask the man if he felt it was a good day for a baptism. Usually the man would smile and politely respond in the negative.
But one day, the man knew that his health was failing fast. He must have liked that friendly but persistent priest who took a sincere interest in his soul. So when, predictably, Father stepped into the room to ask once more if he could baptize the man, the patient weakly agreed. Father happily complied and completed the baptism. In that man’s condition, the baptism not only wiped clean original sin from his soul, but also removed every other sin the man ever committed together with the temporal punishment due for those sins. As a consequence, then, there before Father was a man with a pure, clean soul due solely to Father’s persistence as a pastor.
If the man was to die in the next second following his baptism, his soul would immediately enter heaven for all eternity. The man was grateful to be baptized into the kind priest’s Church even if he did not understand all of the significance of that sacramental act. He did moments later however – and for all eternity. After the baptism, the man reached up to embrace his pastor. He put his arms around the neck of Father and, in that very moment of thanksgiving, his heart stopped. As Father gently laid him back down in his bed, the new, truly ‘born again’ Catholic was hearing the words of his Lord: ‘Well done good and faithful servant…’
Well done to you too, Father Alfred Kunz.