It was an Indian Summer Thursday night in late September of 1968 as the unlikely pair of priests strolled casually around the Malloy High School campus reading their breviaries.

Father Al Stopa, a stocky man with short dark hair, walked with a natural swagger and had fists of steel that had been used on many a Malloy student throughout the years. Father Timothy O’Shea on the other hand, was substantially younger than Father Al and had a dainty way about him with soft hands that showed no calluses. His body make-up was delicate as well and he spoke in a gentle manner. He was somewhat in awe of his rugged clerical companion. As the west side Chicago neighborhood was changing for the bad, it was thought best that priests would walk in pairs of a night to lessen the chance of a mugging.
“What a lovely evening, Father,” Father Timothy said with a bit of a lisp.
“Yes, Father, it is a particularly good night for this time of year,” Father Stopa replied with a thick Chicago accent, having grown up in an old Polish section of Chicago. He spoke from the side of his mouth as his neck was stiff through years as a Marine. ”Let’s go past the school. I always like to check the doors just in case Emil might forget to lock them.”
Emil Droszcz was the janitor who kept the school spotless with solutions so that one could eat from the floor if so desired. The likelihood of the ever responsible concentration camp survivor to forget to lock a door was near zero, but Father Al made a point to always check doors with secret hopes that he might someday meet up with a lout that wanted to rob his dear school.
After years of finding locked doors, Father Al was in luck this warm evening. Father Timothy had never paid much attention to Father Al’s inspections as a door had never been found ajar, until now. When Father Al became excited that a gym door opened to his touch, Father Timothy’s hand tightened on his breviary. This had never happened before.
“Someone’s in there,” Father Al whispered and pushed the door in.
“What are you doing, Father?” Father Timothy cried in an undertone with distress.
“We’ve got burglars, Timothy. We’re going to get them.”
“But we can’t do that! We must call the police and let them take care of this.”
Father Al smiled impishly. “Yes, Father. You’re right. I want you to go to the rectory and call the police at once.”
“But what are you going to do, Father?”
“Don’t worry, Timothy. You just go fetch the authorities.”
“Take this,” Father Al said handing over his breviary. “I don’t want to lose it.”
Father Timothy looked as if he’d been asked jump into a pit of poisonous snakes. He held onto both breviaries and said, “Please don’t do anything rash, Father.”
Father Al patted him on the shoulder. “Move along now, Timothy. We mustn’t lose any time.”
Exasperated, Father Timothy raised his cassock to his shins and scurried off toward the rectory which was located behind the school while Father Al eagerly entered the dark gymnasium.
Below in the basement next to the boiler room was a storage cabinet with electronic equipment for the labs and copy machines for the office. Snapping open a cabinet padlock with a bolt cutter was a former convict that had been on a truck earlier in the week that delivered machines to the school. Frankie Gale was out on parole, but needed cash for a fix and knew where equipment that would bring the needed money was available. He had a powerful body from years of weightlifting in prison and had a nasty disposition. He was armed with a long bladed knife. Jimmy Aiello, a slight man, had grown up with Frankie and idolized the former convict, so much so that he was sorry he hadn’t accompanied him to the prison in Joliet. His weapon was a .45 automatic that he had never fired before. In fact Jimmy had never fired a revolver in his life, but he carried the pistol in case someday he might need it. Jimmy also had a dreadful fear of hell in the afterlife, which was somewhat baffling for one so apt to break the law.
“I think I heard something, Frankie,” Jimmy whispered shinning a flashlight beam on the former convict.
“It’s nothing,” Frankie assured his partner. “You’re imaging things.
“But what if someone’s coming?”
“We’ll take care of it. There’s just priests here, and they’re not much.”
“It’s not good to hurt a priest, Frankie,” he said with a sense of panic in his voice. “We might go to hell.”
“Don’t worry about hell, Jimmy. Just worry about getting these machines out.”
“I will, Frankie. But I just don’t want to go to hell. I don’t want none of us going to hell.”
Frankie removed the busted padlock and opened the cabinet door to begin removing equipment he had just recently delivered when a sound came from the dark hallway.
Father Al Stopa had opened a door from a stairway and cursed mildly to himself that the door squeaked, requiring oil. He made a mental note to mention the need to Emil when he had a moment. He moved forward and stopped when he heard the faint sound of voices. It couldn’t be the police as Father Timothy wouldn’t have had enough time to fetch them.
“Who’s there?” the priest called out in a harsh voice that had reprimanded many a Malloy student through the years. There was no reply, but there was not an ounce of fear in the priest who had been a Marine Chaplin during World War II. In fact, he relished the prospect of a fight though he figured the intruders might well be carrying weapons.
“You have a chance to leave and I won’t have you arrested.”
It was then that Frankie Gale stepped out into the hallway brandishing his knife which shone in the glare of Jimmy’s flashlight. “We’re here to rob the school and you’ll be wise to let us be.”
“I can’t let that happen,” Father Al stated wondering who and how many ‘we’ comprised. “Our students can’t be deprived of what they need.”
“Suit yourself,” Frankie said raising the knife. It was then that Jimmy stepped out from the dark waving the gun in his hand.
“Please, Father,” he pleaded. “Don’t make Frankie angry. We don’t want to hurt you and go to hell.”
“Don’t say my name you idiot!” Frankie yelled.
“Oh my God,” Jimmy cried out. “I’m so stupid.”
“You sure are,” Frankie admonished his loyal friend. “Give me the gun.”
“No,” Jimmy screamed. “You’ll kill him and we’ll go to hell.”
“I have to kill him. I’m not going back to prison,” Frankie yelled grapping the .45 which was now held in a vice-grip by Jimmy. Inexperienced with firearms, Jimmy squeezed his hand and the gun went off with a deafening explosion, increasing the level of Jimmy’s anxiety. He pulled harder on the revolver, causing the full clip in the automatic to empty with ear-shattering blasts. Bullets ricocheted wildly throughout the hallway. Dropping the gun and plugging his ears with his fingers, Jimmy shrieked at the top of his voice and began to sob.
In the commotion Frankie had dropped the knife and, at the same time, Father Al lunged forward and grabbed Frankie, smashing his head against the wall. He then began to pummel the former convict with rights and then lefts. Jimmy, in turn, continued to squeal pitifully until Father Al turned quickly and punched him above the nose, causing his head to crash against the wall. He slid down unconscious and the priest returned to working over Frankie. An additional combination of rights and lefts brought the former convict to the floor, unconscious as was his partner.
Certain that he had foiled the burglary, Father Al switched a light on to see the thieves stretched out in a bloody heap on the floor. He smiled and stood guard until two patrolmen appeared several minutes later with Father Timothy.
“Father Al,” the younger priest cried out. “Are you all right?”
“I think it’s the other two you should be worrying about,” one of the policemen said to Father Timothy as he picked up the discharged weapon and knife from the floor.
It was then that Jimmy began to come to. Dazed, he looked around and saw his idol still unconscious, and then eyed Father Al standing above along with the policemen. The hapless burglar commenced to sob again and cried out to the policemen, “What took you guys so long. He almost killed us.”
The cops chuckled and the one with the weapons in his hand turned to the priest whose knuckles were bruised and bleeding. “You should have waited for us. You might have gotten hurt.”
Father Al grinned and said, “These poor boys needed the penance I provided to perchance mend their ways.” He then turned to an ashen Father Timothy and cheerfully directed, “Come Timothy. We’ll let these fine officers do their work while we continue with our prayers.”