Money Stolen, D.C. Priest Hot on Heels Of Suspect

Rev. Bill Hegedusich, 48, of St. Peter's.
Rev. Bill Hegedusich, 48, of St. Peter's. (Courtesy Of Saint Peter's On Capitol Hill - Courtesy Of Saint Peter's On Capitol Hill)
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By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 8, 2008

As he bounded out of through the church door just 20 minutes before Mass, the Rev. Bill Hegedusich was greeted by confused looks from his parishioners at St. Peter's on Capitol Hill. He offered them a simple explanation.

"I said, 'Hey, I'm going to go catch a thief,' " he said.

Then, in his black shirt and white clerical collar, Hegedusich, a marathon runner, darted after the man who had just swiped the church's collection money.

"It's not my typical Sunday morning, I'll tell you that," Hegedusich said.

Hegedusich, 48, a priest for 2 1/2 years, eventually got close to the thief. But, fearing that that the man could be armed, Hegedusich kept his distance and yelled that he just wanted the money back. The man, who had swiped two bags, threw one on the ground on North Carolina Avenue SE and continued running with the other.

Hegedusich picked up the bag and went back to the church, in the 300 block of Second Street SE, where he celebrated 11 a.m. Mass a few minutes late.

Church officials didn't know how much was stolen, and, by yesterday afternoon, they still hadn't counted the money that was reclaimed. Hegedusich estimated that the thief made off with $125 and that he recovered about $60. No arrests had been made.

"It's just people's offering for the poor," Hegedusich said. "It was just kind of disheartening."

The incident started about 10:40 a.m., when Hegedusich, who was getting ready for Mass, heard someone enter the sacristy. He said he did not think anything of it: On weekends, the room that houses the church's safe is open for people who want to light prayer candles or talk with church officials.

But Hegedusich knew something was amiss when he heard the door of the unlocked safe rattling. He went back to the sacristy, where he found a man. After a brief conversation, the man sprinted away.

Hegedusich said he asked the man not to run in the church and then turned his attention to the safe, which had been unlocked because officials were preparing for Mass. By the time he realized two bags of money were missing, the man was hightailing it for the door.

As the man darted down an alley, Hegedusich circled around to another street, where he knew the alley came out. As the moment of confrontation drew near, a new thought crossed Hegedusich's mind: "What am I going to do when I catch him?"

"I said, 'Okay, I'm not going to tackle the guy. I'm not going to trip him. I don't want any harm to come to him,' " Hegedusich said.

Hegedusich, who runs regularly, said the chase lasted about two city blocks. "I just went running this morning," he said. "If I knew I had to run at 10:30 this morning, I wouldn't have gone out at 6."

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