Matt C. Abbott
March 3, 2010
12 years later: the Father Alfred Kunz (unsolved) murder
By Matt C. Abbott

Father Alfred Kunz's life came to a tragic end either late March 3 or very early March 4, 1998. His body was discovered the morning of March 4, the victim of a homicide (his throat had been cut).

It's been 12 years and the case remains unsolved, although a person of interest has reportedly been monitored by investigators over the last few years. More on this a bit later.

I asked two individuals who knew Father Kunz well attorney Peter Kelly and businessman Chuck Weigel to contribute their fond memories of the priest.

Peter Kelly wrote:

    '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.

    'I never forgot that about Father. In my new book Cleansing Fire Welcome to the New Springtime, I was really describing Father Kunz when I was writing of the character 'Father Patrick Archer':

      'He prayed for every soul whose body waits in the yard. That was his constant habit. He was their caretaker, their religious guide and father. He tended to their spiritual and sacramental needs. He baptized their babies, heard their confessions, counseled them, offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for them, married them, administered Extreme Unction to them, and buried them there. Then he cut the grass and raked the leaves above their remains. But always, he prayed for them....'

    '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.

    '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.'

Chuck Weigel wrote:

    'As a 'cradle Catholic,' I have spent the past 20 years learning what a traditional Catholic is and what had been discarded by Vatican II. It was during the years 1993-1998, attending Mass by Father Kunz, when I learned that the dogma of the Faith does not change, but man can change and so had Father.

    'When growing up I thought all priests were probably born fully circumcised but with their Roman collars intact. After knowing Father for a year, I was shocked to learn from local parishioners that back in the 1980s, he would celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass with plaid vestments and ukuleles playing in the sanctuary. Words failed me. The locals explained how Father gradually realized the Mass had become modernism-on-the-march and was detracting from sacredness. Quite simply, he had the raw courage to look critically at what he was doing and look at the history and traditions of the Church and realized he was on the wrong track.

    'I remember in mid-1993, for the Sunday 10:00 a.m. Mass, about half the time Father would have the Novus Ordo (always using the Roman Canon) and half the time the Traditional Mass. By December, the 10:00 a.m. Mass became only the Traditional Mass. He had been using the church bulletin over the summer and fall to publish a line-by-line comparison/commentary of the New Mass versus the Old Mass so everyone could read the deficiencies for themselves. It was a very intelligent thing to do.

    'Father was often referred to as a 'throw back' priest trying to turn the clock back. He was portrayed as a 'stuck-in-the-past,' strict, dogmatically-rigid person who never changed. The reality is quite the opposite; he had already 'lived' on both sides and realized the modern innovations were both untenable and counterproductive to the Faith.

    'Father once told a very devout parishioner that when he processed up the aisle to offer Holy Mass, he would keep his head lowered and his eyes downcast. He explained that years ago when he had built this church, he put in some very modern-looking stained glass windows...and now he just could not bear to look at them.

    'I moved my family to Dane in 1995 and was soon shocked that about half of the Catholics living in and around St. Michael's Parish went to Mass elsewhere! I had just spent two years driving an hour each way to attend Mass by such a good and learned priest. Yet half the local parishioners drove five to eight miles to the surrounding churches. So I had to ask, why? In listening to them I found the reason was always personal they didn't like Father, didn't like his sermons, or didn't agree with the way he did things. There was never a serious comment about the Mass, doctrine, administration of sacraments, or any substantive criticism...just personal. It was a very odd situation.

    'I guess this is related to one of Father's sermons when he said, 'very, very few people leave the Church because of doctrine or Church teaching. They leave simply because they want to do what they want to do.' So they would leave St. Michael's to attend Mass where they could hear what they wanted, or they left the Faith altogether. It gave new meaning to the term 'cafeteria Catholics.'

    'Father carried many crosses, some of them perhaps self-inflicted, some inflicted by fellow priests. My wife and I wanted to have a Traditional Nuptial High Mass in 1993, so he obtained permission from the bishop for our Mass. We then sent a note to our current parishes to post our bans of marriage. A few weeks later I met Father in the church sacristy and he was extremely upset. He said, 'Why did you do that? Why did you notify your parish priest about getting married here? You have no idea how difficult you have made my life! You don't know the problems you have created!' He explained that there had been a priest deanery meeting and Father had gotten publicly chewed out by many of his fellow priests for daring to have a 'Latin Mass.' That was my first exposure to just how much hostility and hatred there could be by priests toward one of their senior priests, one who had for years been their judicial vicar.

    'We had also attended the diocesan marriage prep course and were shocked by the extremely heterodox section on sexuality in the diocesan-approved marriage-prep booklet. I asked Father in a very blunt manner, how could the diocese allow this to be published for years and give it out to all engaged couples? He paused, smiled and said, 'It happens because half the priests in the diocese do not believe in Humanae Vitae.' Then he walked away.'

Now to the murder investigation.

The best and most thorough article on the case (in my humble opinion) was "The Devil and Father Kunz," by journalist Chuck Nowlen, published in 2001.

Nowlen pretty much covered all aspects of the investigation up to that point in time. There have been various theories bandied about that are considered conspiratorial, but still plausible. In the last few years, however, investigators have reportedly been focusing their attention on the young male teacher who "happened" to be the one to discover Father's body the morning of March 4, 1998.

The motive is murky, and investigators have been (understandably) very tight-lipped, but it appears Father was quite unhappy about the teacher's behavior in the days, weeks or months prior to the murder.

From Nowlen's article:

    'Several other sources, however, confirm that the investigation is targeting the teacher who found Kunz's body. After moving in with Kunz's friend, Rev. Fiore, for six months immediately after the murder, the teacher eventually moved out of state and was recently engaged to be married.

    'The teacher was interviewed by investigators at least once in late March with a lawyer present. A team of forensic psychologists is also part of the police team, and a crime reconstruction yielded 'some evidence' that is being evaluated.

    'After finding the body and calling 911 on the morning of March 4, 1998, the teacher passed police questioning, although they took his bloody clothing, leaving the teacher wrapped in a blanket, gathered with other shocked parishioners in the Dane Village Hall across the street from St. Michael.

    ''I called (the teacher) the day afterward and asked how it went,' Fiore says of the recent police interview. 'And all (the teacher) would say to me about it was, 'Father, I just can't talk about it to anybody.''....

    'Fiore and others who knew the teacher well, however, cannot imagine any connection to the murder. The teacher was not injured in any way on March 4, and Kunz apparently put up a mighty, if short-lived, fight before his throat was slashed. The teacher also showed no visible signs of anger toward Kunz at any time before or after the attack, as FBI profiles assert the killer would have done. No strange behavior before or after the murder another profile high point. No drugs or alcohol to ease the torment either.

    ''(The teacher) loved Father Kunz,' Fiore says. 'I remember, sometime before the murder, Father Kunz joked to him, 'You know, as a teacher, you're one of the best hall monitors we've ever had.' And (the teacher) didn't blink an eye. He just stood there laughing, right along with everyone else. That's the kind of kid we're talking about.'

    'Adds attorney Kelly, who has been contacted by the teacher, but is not officially on the case: 'I can't imagine anyone in a position like that, living with Father Fiore for six months and silently carrying that kind of incredible burden around inside for three full years. I mean, you'd have to go crazy at some point, wouldn't you? Frankly, I don't think (the teacher) is that diabolically clever.'

    'Still, one police source warns: 'Hey, sometimes a murder is exactly what it looks like at the beginning; and, let's put it this way, we're not getting the right answers to a few things. And, you know what? With every murder case I've ever been on, nobody can ever imagine them doing it.''

Fast-forward to 2010. It's my understanding that Father may have been struck on the head and incapacitated before his throat was cut, which would have made it impossible for him to resist, even briefly. Also, I should point out that Father's "joke" about the teacher being "one of the best hall monitors we've ever had" was not exactly a compliment. Finally, Peter Kelly said in a 2009 e-mail, "I guess it's fair to say that while at the time I was skeptical about the teacher's guilt, and while I have not been shown the evidence collected at the crime scene by the police or witnessed their interviews with the teacher, I think the teacher certainly should be on the short list of suspects for this particularly devastating murder."

Father did have a sense of humor, by the way. Susan Gorski of Illinois had talked with him several times over the phone (she never got to meet him in person), and when she once remarked that "it seems every man I like enters the seminary," Father responded, "We need you on the front lines!"

Requiescat in pace, Father Kunz. And may your murderer be brought to justice.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

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.

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback from readers. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me... (more)

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