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Remembering Father Alfred Kunz: A Murder Unsolved

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Father was fluent in both Latin and in the language of engine maintenance. He even had a set of coveralls which he would wear that exposed only his Roman collar, lest no one would recognize that the greasy fellow who just slid out from under the car in the parking lot of St. Michael's was the pastor and chief mechanic of the parish.

In the early morning of March 4, 1998, Father Alfred Kunz, a priest and canon lawyer of the Diocese of Madison, Wis., was found brutally murdered in his parish school, St. Michael's, in Dane, Wis. His throat had been slashed. To date-17 years later-the murder remains unsolved.

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Highlights

By Matt C. Abbott
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
3/5/2015 (5 years ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Matt C. Abbott, Father Alfred Kunz, Catholic priest murdered, Peter B. Kelly

CHICAGO,IL (Catholic Online) - In the early morning of March 4, 1998, Father Alfred Kunz, a priest and canon lawyer of the Diocese of Madison, Wis., was found brutally murdered in his parish school, St. Michael's, in Dane, Wis. His throat had been slashed.

To date-17 years later-the murder remains unsolved.

I've been following the case for a number of years. It's frustrating that the authorities, while reportedly having at least one person of interest, haven't had enough solid evidence to make an arrest. (The murder weapon was never found.)

Catholic attorney and scholar Peter B. Kelly, who was a friend of Father Kunz, wrote to me the following reflection (slightly edited) that gives you an idea of how devoted the priest was to his work:

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There are a number of points that I recall about Father Kunz. They all deal with his pastoral style which people might characterize as true 'servant leadership.' It was that - and so much more.

Father did not have a great deal of financial resources upon which to draw to support his school and his teaching staff. Still, he tried to do what he could to help make life a little easier for his underpaid teachers. One 'fringe benefit' that his teachers received from their boss was free auto repair. As a Wisconsin farm boy, he was as good with a wrench as he was with his traditional Catholic theology.

Father was fluent in both Latin and in the language of engine maintenance. He even had a set of coveralls which he would wear that exposed only his Roman collar, lest no one would recognize that the greasy fellow who just slid out from under the car in the parking lot of St. Michael's was the pastor and chief mechanic of the parish.

Father was also literally the 'chief cook and bottle washer' of the place where he cared for the people. Back in the old days, it was common for Catholic parishes to have Friday night fish fries to serve as a fundraiser for the parish, a social gathering for the parishioners and a relatively convenient source of the family meatless dinner.

As a very traditional Catholic parish, the people of St. Michael's were encouraged to keep the habit of meatless Fridays all the year round and not just on Fridays in Lent when the bishops reduced the penitential practice down to that.

On fish fry nights, Father would put on another garment of service. This would be his white cooking apron which again would reveal his collar, often left open when the heat of the kitchen would require it. It would be Father himself who perfected the art of deep frying the fish and french fries.

He would do the cooking himself because he wanted his people to enjoy the best fish available in the area. I had been to one of his fish fries and the school cafeteria was packed with people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

I would often have to call Father to arrange radio station recording time into his busy schedule. I soon learned that I would do well to call him late at night after he finished his holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. That would mean I would have to call him between 11:00 p.m. and midnight.

One night when I called late Father answered but he did not sound like himself. He could barely speak. I asked him if he was alright. He said he was; he just was out mowing the cemetery behind the church and his 'hay fever' or allergies were acting up. He could barely breathe, much less talk.

Father was always giving of himself and he gave of everything he had. He gave up his rectory and made it available for people who needed a place to stay temporarily. Father would bunk in a small room off the main hallway of his school - just a few feet from where his body was found in a pool of his own blood after his life was so brutally taken from him.

I try not to think of how his life ended any more. Rather, I try to remember how he lived. That is because, as a Catholic, I realize how short our lives are. We all will come to an end...sooner or later. What really matters is what we do, in keeping with God's plan, while we are here on this planet. Father Kunz knew that. He knew why he was here on earth and he made an eternal difference.

In closing, my favorite story I heard from Father 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, Wis., 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.

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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.

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Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He has been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR and WLS-TV in Chicago, and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

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