CAMDEN, N.J. — On a bright, unassuming Sunday last week, children clothed in white were preparing to make their First Communion during the 12:10 p.m. Mass at St. Anthony of Padua Church.
Outside of the building, Delvonte Olmo-Pagan, 20, clothed in black and carrying a gun, was making preparations of his own, readying himself to steal that day’s collection from a face he knew well.
Karl Koenig, OFM, and two ushers were carrying the bag of money, containing about $500, from the church to the rectory on May 4, when Olmo-Pagan approached from behind them.
“Just as I went for my key to open the door, he grabbed the bag of money and ran,” Karl said. “He did not say a word to us.”
Seconds later, ushers Jose Garcia and Francisco Torres ran after the robber.
“Before I even said anything, they took off after him,” the friar said. “I was going to say no because of the gun, but they were off.”
Olmo-Pagan darted in front of the church, where pastor Jud Weiksnar, OFM, and the First Communion recipients were exiting the building after Mass. As the thief raced up 28th Street toward Hayes Avenue, a parishioner in an SUV also began pursuing him. Olmo-Pagan pointed a gun at the driver, causing the car to swerve. He jumped over a fence into a neighboring yard and the bag of money fell to the ground. An usher retrieved it as Olmo-Pagan escaped.
Though the robber wasn’t immediately apprehended, Karl and the ushers suspected they knew him, despite his disguise. Olmo-Pagan had assisted at the 12:10 Mass in the past.
“He was familiar with my routine,” Karl said. “I had my habit on. I had the money. I was a target.”
The next day, Olmo-Pagan turned himself in at the local police station and admitted to the crime. He has been charged with robbery, aggravated assault by pointing a firearm, and weapons charges, and is being held on $960,000 bail.
Afterward, Olmo-Pagan’s family came to Karl to explain problems he had been facing throughout his life.
“They were very upset and taken aback by this,” Karl said. “They felt they owed us an explanation and I gladly accepted it. I told them that Jud and I were concerned that he needed help, not jail time.”
In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jud also expressed his hope that Olmo-Pagan will get help.
“If somebody’s going to steal money from a church, they’re probably very desperate,” he said. “The guys who chased him were saying, ‘We have to pray for this guy, he’s probably in a very bad situation.’”
This wasn’t the first time a Camden friar had been robbed, while moving the collection from the church to the rectory. In the 1980s, a man hit Thaddeus Sapio, OFM, over the head and stole the money from him. In response, the parish created a policy that requires two ushers to accompany the friar carrying the collection between the church and friars’ residence.
Now, the police will stand guard as the money is transported. The officers volunteered to be present following last week’s incident.
“We had a police escort this Sunday,” said Karl. “It worked out very well.”
He is grateful that no one was hurt during the exchange. Karl told the Catholic Star-Herald, the newspaper of the Camden Diocese, that this “was one of the largest collections the parish has ever had but it wasn’t worth anyone getting hurt.” Earlier that day, the parish broke a record during the 9:30 a.m. Spanish liturgy for the most people at Mass — an estimated 1,000, nearly double the usual attendance.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Jud provided the image above.