CLINTON TWP./SHELBY TWP. — Police suspect that a pair of Easter break-ins at churches in Shelby and Clinton townships are likely connected.
The night of Easter Sunday, the thieves made off with thousands of dollars in cash and checks from St. Luke Lutheran Church in Clinton Township and St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic parish in Shelby Township.
Shelby Township Police Det. Lt. Tom Kohl said the sophistication of the break-ins suggests that they were the work of an established, professional crew that seems to be targeting churches.
Police say the methods employed to enter the churches and cut into the safes were similar — and on par with a burglary that occurred the night of Feb. 17-18 at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Utica. In all three break-ins, the thieves broke through locked doors and used tools to cut into locked safes.
At St. Therese, the thieves stole chalices and about $40,000 in cash and check donations. Church personnel discovered the break-in after arriving to the church around 6 a.m. the morning of Monday, April 1. The church had been locked up since 9 p.m. the previous night, police said.
Linda Maccarone, administrative manager at St. Therese, said the church’s parishioners were angered by the burglary. “This is our faith home. This is like having your own personal home robbed,” she said.
Clinton Township Police Capt. Richard Maierle confirmed that the thieves cut the security alarms at St. Luke before breaking in and cutting into the church’s safe. Maierle estimated thousands of dollars were stolen.
Officials from St. Luke declined to comment on the thefts.
While police continue to investigate the crimes, local businesses have responded by offering rewards.
After learning about the St. Therese theft, Thomas Guastello, a former state legislator and local business owner, offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction. In addition, he donated $1,000 to St. Therese.
Guastello, owner of the Comfort Inn in Utica and Shelby Town Center in Shelby Township, said he hopes the reward puts the burglaries to the forefront of people’s attention, perhaps jogging the memory of someone who saw something suspicious that night but didn’t think much of it at the time. Or it may motivate someone who knows the burglars to report them to police, he said.
“I really believe a reward can make a difference. It’s an incentive,” Guastello added.
Upon hearing of Guastello’s reward, Joe Fawaz, owner of Joe’s Quality Home Improvements in Utica, offered to match the reward and donation. Fawaz, whose children go to St. Lawrence Catholic School, said he hopes the rewards deter future thefts.
“These are very, very close to where my kids go to school, where I do business,” he said. “To break into a church, I mean, this has gone too far.”
Church attendance tends to increase on the Easter holiday, and thus so do donations, so it is possible that it wasn’t a coincidence that the break-in happened after the holiday weekend.
Joe Kohn, director of public relations for the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, said the archdiocese provides an extensive checklist of security measures to local churches. The Catholic archdiocese also encourages churches to take their own security measures, like soliciting security recommendations from local police officials, he said.
At some parishes, electronic donations have grown in popularity in the last decade, which adds to the security of church funds. For instance, St. Therese offers a “cashless giving,” or electronic funds transfer, option through its website.
Though the thieves used a level of sophistication that churches weren’t used to, the archdiocese still would take another look at its security recommendations, Kohn said.
In light of the St. Lawrence burglary in February, St. Therese was moving toward getting a security system for the church, Maccarone said.
She said the church takes other safety precautions and will review if there are any others that can be made.
But sometimes, she added, “no matter what you do, some people find a way to get around it.”
Anyone with information about the break-ins can contact Shelby Township police at (586) 731-2121 or Clinton Township police at (586) 493-7847.