Vandals deface Stoughton church

When the pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Stoughton arrived to say morning Mass Feb. 3 he never expected to find his church covered in dust and disarray. It was only after he had celebrated Mass that he realized the extent of what had happened in the building overnight.

Someone broke windows in order to enter the church, sprayed fire extinguishers all around, drank the sacramental wine, urinated on the altar and in the holy water and tried to steal money from a safe and several donation boxes.

"I was obviously shocked and dismayed ... I didn't know whether a pipe had broken someplace or what had happened. I couldn't figure it out and I didn't have time to, either," said the pastor, Father Joseph P. McDermott, who had arrived 10 minutes before he was to celebrate the 6:45 a.m. Mass. "I got ready and celebrated Mass and then came in and dealt with it." And it was only then, he said, that he realized the vandalism had take place.

Father McDermott then called the local police department, who later received a call that a 14-year-old boy had gone to school intoxicated. The boy’s mother had also called the police to report that her son had not come home that night. According to Father McDermott, the police put “two and two together” and arrested the boy, who later implicated 18-year-old Andrew Studebaker. The older boy was arrested at his home later that day.

Father McDermott said that the boys broke in through a basement window, got into the “tonic room,” where the parish stores soda for bingo, and then went upstairs into the sacristy. He said the two drank a “considerable amount” of sacramental wine. Their actions resulted in over $10,000 in damages.

According to the Associated Press, Studebaker and the 14-year-old boy face charges of breaking and entering in the nighttime to commit a felony, malicious destruction of property over $250, larceny under $250, breaking into a depository, vandalizing a church and other offenses. In addition, Studebaker was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Father McDermott called the archdiocesan insurance company immediately, and the repairs and cleaning were finished in time for the weekend Masses Feb. 7 and Feb. 8. He said the younger boy is a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Parish, but does not attend Mass. He would not speculate what caused the two to vandalize the church.

"I don't have any understanding why these two individuals did what they did," Father McDermott said. "I just don't understand why."

Associated Press materials contributed to this story.