Matt C. Abbott
Father Richard Heilman inspired by slain pastor
By Matt C. Abbott
August 8, 2018

Thanks to Father Richard Heilman of the Diocese of Madison for providing me with the following reflection (slightly edited). After reading it, click here to read part one of a three-part series on the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, published by Catholic World Report, written by Joseph M. Hanneman and contributed to by me. The series contains some new information pertaining to the murder investigation.


It was in the year before Father Alfred Kunz was murdered (1998) that I became acquainted with him. This was a time in which I found myself uneasy with the direction of the new Mass and spent a great deal of time praying and studying. I had a deeply spiritual sense that we had allowed the Mass to lose its ability to help the faithful become predisposed to the supernatural grace offered.

I shared this with a friend, who was a religious sister. She said, "I understand," with a big smile on her face. "I want you to meet someone." She introduced me to Father Kunz. There was something sublime about him. I felt like I was in the presence of a truly holy man. He was humble, gentle and kind.

He spoke to me about a need for greater attention to the supernatural. Our Church was spiritually sick and in great need of more who believed in the supernatural power of God. We especially need more holy priests.

It was not long afterward that I received an experience of a lifetime. It was a Papal Mass – my first Papal Mass – with Pope John Paul II, on the Feast of the Presentation. It was my tenth anniversary sabbatical, and I had been studying in Rome for three months. The priests studying received a beautiful engraved invitation; we were thrilled to be going. We were told that we should go two hours ahead of time if we hoped for a good seat. I joked that I don't go that early for anything, even for the pope.

We arrived about 30 minutes before Mass, and they were right: there was no hope for a seat, and we were destined to stand in the back, which was about a city block away in that huge basilica. With five minutes to go, an usher looked over at a priest-friend and me. Now realize, there were hundreds of priests there. He signaled for us to come over to him. He proceeded to take us up the aisle. He kept going and going and going until we got to the two front rows reserved for bishops and cardinals – the only rows with velvet kneelers. He motioned for us to sit there. To this day, I have no clue why he singled us out among the hundreds of priests in attendance to sit in front with the cardinals.

There we were, in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, about to pray with the Vicar of Christ. As Mass began, glorious sacred music filled the basilica – and my soul. Of course, being a Papal Mass, there was great attention given to precision (like a military honor guard), which struck me as beautiful order and honor due to the majesty of God. But it was more than that. While I had always loved the Mass, I felt, maybe for the first time, that we were truly glorifying God. On that day, February 2, 1998, I was truly changed.

I recalled Father Kunz's words, and I began to ask myself, "What have I been doing?" I had spent the first ten years of my priesthood buying into the common notion that, if we create all kinds of trendy nuances to the Mass, while we kept the Mass as whimsical and entertaining as possible, people would hear about how "cool" and "fun" and "with the times" we were, and come running. We were treating the Mass as a commodity that we needed to somehow market to the world.

Worse than anything, I realized we were all but throwing out any sense of divinity; any sense of the supernatural. Where, in all of this, was any sense of awe and wonder in God's presence? Where was the sense of God's glory and majesty? Saint Francis of Assisi said, "Man should tremble, the world should quake, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the altar in the hands of the priest."

What happened to me that day, February 2, 1998? I was awakened to the most important battle of our times.

In a speech given on June 13, 1998, titled The Secular War on the Supernatural, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand spoke of a private audience in 1965 she and her husband, Dietrich von Hildebrand, had with Pope Paul VI. She confided how her husband "shot from the hip," as he usually did, saying:
    Your Holiness, you realize that the Church is going through the worst crisis in history, worse than the Protestant Reformation (which I usually refer to as the Protestant Deformation). The pope seemed to be surprised and my husband continued: 'What has taken place is that people have lost sight of the supernatural.'
In this same speech, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand said:
    Now let us abolish the terms 'conservative' or 'liberal,' the terms 'left' and 'right,' which are secularistic. I suggest that we say from now on 'those who have kept the sense of the supernatural and those who have lost it.' That is the great divide; that is the essence.

    Do you look at the Church and her teaching, whether dogmatic or moral, with a supernatural eye, or do you look at it with secular lenses? That is the divide. Left and right confuses the issue. Let us re-discover the greatness and the beauty of the supernatural and I claim that it is so difficult in the polluted world in which we live, that if we don't pray for it every single day, we are going to be infected. It is the air that you breathe, the newspaper that you read, the television show that you see, time and again you will see this is a fight and attack on the supernatural.
It was shortly after this profound, life-changing experience, while I was still in Rome, that I received the call about Father Kunz's murder. I realized, in that moment, that Father Kunz had been praying for me, and this is why God positioned me to have this experience. Right there and then, I asked Father Kunz to continue to be my prayer warrior in this battle to reclaim the surrendered ground of the supernatural in our Church.

I believe he has, every day of my priesthood.

© Matt C. Abbott


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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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 also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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