Praying parishioner foils theft at S.J. chapel

A bang startled a parishioner praying in the chapel of a South Jersey church Tuesday evening. Curious, she looked up to discover a man pulling dollar bills with a wire and hook from a donation box near a bank of votive candles, church officials said. Wasting no time, she left the chapel and called police. 

Officers from the Gloucester Township police department arrived minutes later. Inside the chapel adjacent to Our Lady of Hope Roman Catholic Church in Blackwood, they spotted a man counting out money and stuffing it into his pants pocket. 

A quick look revealed a damaged donation box. A search of the man turned up a flashlight, wire and $29 in small crumpled bills, police said. 

Police charged Kenneth Heil, 40, of Mount Ephraim with theft and possession of burglary tools. 

"We were fortunate the police were so close by," said church business manager John Collaianni, Jr., who said the chapel had been open all day for the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Nothing else was taken. The main church, he said, was locked up tight at the time. The incident marked the church's first attempted theft. 

"Somebody was praying and spotted someone doing a little fishing in the box," he said.

"He must have been pretty desperate," Collaianni said. "We're going to pray for him."

Police took Heil, who also had a warrant for his arrest out of Burlington County,  to the Camden County jail in lieu of $500 bail.