Parochial house targeted by thieves as priest attends mass

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Parochial house targeted by thieves as priest attends mass thumbnailRev Peter McLaughlin outside the Parochial house, Sion Mills, with St Theresa's Church in the background.

A PRIEST has spoken of the terrifying moment he realised that burglars had been in his home.

The parochial house on the Melmount Road, Sion Mills, was targeted on Saturday evening as Rev Peter McLaughlin was saying Vigil Mass in the adjacent St Theresa's Church.

The culprits broke in through a living room window of the property causing damage to the window. Nothing was taken but Fr McLaughlin says he has been left shaken by the incident.

Speaking to the Strabane Weekly News on Monday, the parish priest recalled the fear that gripped him and says it was nothing like anything he has ever experienced.

He explained that initially he thought that the culprits had only attempted to break-in but it wasn't until after midnight that he realised that they had succeeded in gaining entry after he noticed that the inside of his home had been disturbed.

"When I came into the living room I noticed that about half of the vertical blinds on one of the windows was laying on the floor. It was only then when I went over that I discovered that the window was open. I knew that wasn't right because I always close the windows when I'm going out." he said.

Further investigation revealed damage to the window. The priest then surveyed his home and initially found that nothing had been taken or disturbed and reported the matter to police.

"The police came and took a statement etc. I actually unknowingly mislead them in the sense that I didn't believe anybody had succeeded in getting into the house.

"It was only when I went to bed around midnight that I noticed a piece of furniture - a chair - had been disturbed. I then checked a chest of drawers which contained some of my personal items and it was then that I realised they had been gone through. I know how I leave things so I knew then at that moment that someone or some people had been here."

Fr McLaughlin - who has been in ministry for over 40 years - said it was at this point that he was overwhelmed with fear.



"I had the most extreme experience of fear; something of the like that I've never felt before. It was midnight, I was alone and it was totally overwhelming.

"I have spoken before to people who have experienced the trauma of burglaries and it's only now that I can fully appreciate those feelings. It is most upsetting.

"In recent times there have been situations where families have been threatened and injured and when other priests and their parochial houses have been targeted. I'm just thankful now that I wasn't in the house at the time. I'm emotionally injured but the house wasn't wrecked and nothing was taken so I'm lucky in that regard.

"There were obvious items laying around such as a mobile phone that wasn't taken so my guess is that whoever was in was looking for money. There is no money in this house, nor is parish funds managed here."

The priest informed his parishioners at Masses on Sunday and he is now urging others to be vigilant.

Asked if he had anything to say the perpetrators, Fr McLaughlin said he had no words but said his traumatic experience will not detract from his duties.

"Firstly, it is a great insult to the Lord that someone would use the Lord's time, when we are celebrating the Eucharist, to do this. And secondly, it's a great insult to the people of the parish. Whilst this is my home, it belongs to them. It was their money that built this eight years ago.

"I'm very annoyed about it all but as a priest I have very public duties and I'll move on and put it in the past but I would hope other people out there will read this and perhaps be a bit more vigilant," he added.

Appealing for information, a PSNI spokesperson said: "Police are appealing to anyone who noticed any suspicious activity in the Melmount Road area on Saturday evening between 6.15pm and 7.15pm to contact officers in Strabane on 101 quoting reference number 1198 18/02/17 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111."



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