GETTING TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER

by Sister Mary Lucy Astuto

We Know Not the Day or the Hour!

It’s been on my mind now for several days. I wake up thinking about it and I go to bed thinking about it. The thought of it leads me to intense and fervent prayer in part because I am so baffled. It is so unbelievable. But I pray also for all persons involved.

My preoccupation involves a brutal murder here in Omaha last week! It was horrendous, shocking and deeply disturbing. Of course all murders are horrible, but this one involved a sacrilege and a personal loss as well since I had, at one time, taught for this traditional, loyal servant of God.

An 81 year-old Diocesan priest, Father William Kleffman, was found bludgeoned to death. He had just retired a few months ago and had vacated the rectory of his things. The Archbishop had given him permission to move into the empty parish convent. However, he went back to the rectory the evening of August 20, 1997 to watch a little TV and work at emotionally withdrawing himself from the house where he had lived and served for 29 years. He had not wanted to retire. He had not wanted to leave that rectory. He had been known to say that he would like to die in that house. Little had he known that on the last evening he would spend there, he would die indeed, but hardly from natural causes. He would be murdered...beaten to death with a hammer which the murderer left by his body, bloodied and laden with fingerprints.

Police worked fast. A transient, Rogerio Gallegos, was arrested when he got off a Greyhound bus in Ogallala, NE. Gallegos had spent a few days at Fr. Kleffman’s rectory pulling up floor strips (with a hammer) to prepare for the laying of carpet. He was working to earn a bus ticket back to San Francisco. Actually Fr. Kleffman had not requested the help of Rogerio. Rogerio was sent to Fr. Kleffman’s rectory by another priest a few blocks away because he knew that Fr. Kleffman needed some help.

Rogerio fooled several people. He fooled the young pastor of the other parish and a couple of Sisters who utilized Rogerio’s help in moving furniture before he was sent to help Fr. Kleffman. The Sisters who were interviewed by a local TV network publicly stated that they could not believe that Gallegos was capable of committing such a crime. Gallegos had been so polite to them; called them "Maam;" and was a gentleman in every way.

Upon hearing their public witness I wanted to crawl under my chair and not come out. I wanted to inquire of those Sisters: "Since when does a criminal want to give the impression that he is a criminal?" I wanted to ask those Sisters: "How many people do you think are incarcerated because they first won the trust of their victims before they victimized them?" I couldn’t believe the naivete’of those Sisters. I thought to myself: "No wonder some people think nuns are a few bricks short of a load!"

Investigation into Gallegos’s past revealed quite a rap sheet. He had been arrested at least six times since 1969 for rape, robbery, grand larceny, assault on a federal officer, aggravated assault, felony assault and assault with a deadly weapon. The last arrest was in 1993 when he beat someone on the right side of the head and face with a concrete reinforcing rod. (Fr. Kleffman was beaten on the right side of his face.) This makes for a nice guy, eh?

The matter is still under investigation. Police are not telling all they know, but the evening paper revealed that Father Kleffman’s pant pockets had been turned inside out and money was missing from his wallet.

Why do I write about this for your reading? The reasons are three-fold. First of all, Our Lord’s words ring out true... "You know not the day or the hour!" Who of us knows WHEN we will die, HOW we will die, and WHERE we will die? Do we not often live our lives as though we were going to live on this earth forever? But the reality is that each of us will die some day.

Secondly, I write to remind you that no one today can assume that he or she is impervious to violence. Satan today is stronger than ever. Our Lady of Medjugorje has said that satan wishes to destroy us and the planet on which we live. "Prudence is the better part of valor." More than ever we need to watch and pray lest we, too, become victims of violent crimes. More than ever we should not hesitate to keep our house doors and car doors locked. More than ever we must not trust a stranger just because he acts very politely and courteously. Prudence, caution and wariness are in order for today.

Thirdly, I write that you may pray. Pray for the repose of the soul of Fr. Kleffman. Pray for the family members who survive him. And, yes, pray for the perpetuator. Jesus died for his salvation, also. And pray for those Sisters who have not yet learned what Our Lord meant when He said: "Do not judge by appearances, but give JUST judgment."